The main idea is that contemporary computer technology dramatically decreased cost of distributing ideas, accessing information, communicating, and organizing collective actions. All this together leads to dramatic changes in society including methods of organizing groups, setting their objectives, and achieving results. This change is occurring right before our eyes.
CHAPTER 1 – IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO FIND A PHONE
It starts with the story of lost cell phone that finder refused to return. The well educated and reasonably well to do owners started campaign on Internet shaming the finder and even initiated legal action. This resulted in eventual arrest of the finder and return of the phone by police. The story is used to demonstrate the ease of access to distribution of information and ability to communicate to practically infinite amount of people without high cost as long as communicator has ability to attract attention and stand out in huge flow of information. The main point here is that technology practically not only removed limitation on one to many type of communications, but also converted it to many to many type of communications with the power residing with communicator most capable to bring people to his/her side by own personality and content of communication.
CHAPTER 2 – SHARING ANCHORS COMMUNITY
This chapter look at another huge change in human ability collect and use information, make decision, and organize synchronized actions of multitude of people. It starts with analysis of two way communication network between individuals and then proceeds to describe spontaneous generation of visual report about Mermaid parade in New York with pictures provided by multitude of independent individuals using organizational website. The resulting report was by far more detailed than anything provided by professional reporters without any significant loss in quality of pictures. The second part of chapter looks at managerial history from initial organizational charts and strict hierarchical structures that supported practically all activities of industrial age and concludes that it is rapidly becoming outdated, opening way to the new organizational structures based on peer networks. The hierarchical structures of industrial age were effective in organizing collective actions of multitude of people, but they also carried huge cost of professional bureaucracy and deterioration of information during transfer from one level of bureaucracy to another. New peer networks have practically no costs and transfer information without any distortions.
CHAPTER 3 – EVERYONE IS A MEDIA OUTLET
This starts with the reference to cost of publishing in newspaper age, stressing positive side of it: high levels of professionalism that resulted from very limited access to ability publish one’s opinion. Internet removed this cost, allowing everybody to publish own opinion regardless of the quality. The interesting deviation here is reference to medieval scribes and their currently lost skill of calligraphy, killed by printing press. The eventual result of printing press was wide availability of high quality reading material and disappearance of profession.
CHAPTER 4 – PUBLISH, THEN FILTER
This chapter is about another side of the process. During industrial age with its high cost of publication the filtering of information and quality control was done upfront before publishing. Now it is turned upside down because compression of time: it is so easy to publish that any delay puts one behind the curve, consequently it makes sense to publish first and only then filter. All this causes revolutionary changes in culture that are currently in process with very unclear future outcome.
CHAPTER 5 – PERSONAL MOTIVATION MEETS COLLABORATIVE PRODUCTION
This chapter is about interplay between personal effort/motivation and resulting collaborative production. Author uses example of Wikipedia to analyze individual contribution and quality of interaction in what he calls unmanaged division of labor. Two graphs nicely illustrate his points:
CHAPTER 6 – COLLECTIVE ACTION AND INSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES
This is about challenges that spontaneously organized groups could pose to legacy institutions and organizations. It starts with the story of Boston Globe uncovering evidence of catholic priests molesting children and being covered up by the church. It caused lots of publicity, but real change occurred only when self-organizing activist groups put pressure on the church. The main point here is that molestation and cover up went on for centuries, but there were no organized power to counter it. Only when technology allowed easy organizing the power of multitudes become overwhelming and forced action.
CHAPTER 7 – FASTER AND FASTER
This chapter is about speed with which people can organize into a group cooperatively acting to achieve some specific objective using Internet and communication tools. The examples reviewed are: flash mobs in Belorussia demanding political change, protests in Philippines, on the flight organizing of stranded air passengers who managed to reach CEO and force actions, and blitz information distribution about the arrest of Egyptian activist. The tools and speed which they could be used are continuously improving, which changes nature of cooperative actions regardless of their type.
CHAPTER 8 – SOLVING SOCIAL DILEMMAS
Here author looks at possibility that new technology could optimize solving of various social dilemmas by increasing speed and scale of iterative solutions. Another point here is that new capabilities allow much better opportunities for socializing. One does not need to leave house to meet multitude of people, discuss something with them, and agree on some actions. It all could be done online now. Author also looks at downside: losses from substituting professional work with unpaid amateurish work, damage to existing social bargains, and finally the most harmful – empowering terrorist and criminal networks to collect and distribute information and disinformation on the mass scale in order to achieve their objectives.
CHAPTER 9 – FITTING OUR TOOLS TO A SMALL WORLD
This is elaboration on interconnection of the world with stress on the quality and diversity of connections. Instead of complete interconnection, in reality it is more like connection of clusters. It has a nice graphic representation of this:
CHAPTER 10 – FAILURE FOR FREE
This is another very important point: due to the decrease in cost of publishing and overall information processing, the cost of failure is also decreasing, opening huge opportunities for trial and error methodology of discovery that was not available before. In the past high cost of attempt inevitably led to significant part of any effort being planning and modeling. With current environment it could be substituted with actually trying.
CHAPTER 11 – PROMISE, TOOL, BARGAIN
This chapter is about use of social tools and issues that arise in process of their use. Author discusses some of these issues, especially issue of governance using example of “White bicycle”, LA times website, and a few fan groups of TV shows.
The final word here is to stress value of social networks and technology that made them possible. At the same time it stresses needs for managing, however loosely, such networks and danger of government interference. It also discusses future of collective actions: spontaneous organizing of people around some issue that become possible due to technology, stressing that it is much easier to do for protesting, than for productive cooperation.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is a very nice review of issues related to newly created abilities to generate and distribute ideas in process creating groups of self-selected individuals based on interests with no relation to location of its members, their wealth or lack thereof, their background and anything else. This is something new in the history of humanity and I believe it will lead to dramatic changes in how society works, opening way for a lot more free society than it would be possible to imagine before. Obviously this would require new methods of resource generation and distribution because current methods are becoming increasingly obsolete, not capable to provide level of resources people consider appropriate, and consequently could loose legitimacy much faster than ever before due to tremendous increase in flow of information between people that makes any notion of accepting one’s place in the society as given outdated.