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Clay Shirky on the Falling Barriers to Group Action: Video Interview

Submitted by on February 17, 2009 – 10:03 pm2 Comments

I spent much of last week on assignment in Las Vegas at the FastForward ’09 conference.  FastForward is devoted to Search (more on that in the next post – along with a mindbending, Minority Report style video on the future of search).   One of the highlights of the conference was this interview with Clay Shirky.  He is one of the most incisive and articulate thinkers regarding the impacts that technology is having on society and business.

Here are some of the items that we cover (The annotations below  were provided by Faheyr on his blog, Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.  I have made slight modifications to them).

  • Clay’s essential thesis is that “Group Action Just Got Much Easier”.  Humans are inherently social, but historically there has been a significant hassle factor/transaction cost in grouping together. The Internet/Mobile technologies provides lots of new ways to lower this burden and efficiently coordinate group action.  The speed of communication and dramatically falling cost are creating massive disruptions for businesses.
  • The traditional model for most businesses (and governments) is to “service the demand” e.g. Government creating services in response to citizen request.  The alternative that new collaboration makes possible is to make it easier for people to service themselves (i.e. by making information open and easy to consume). Examples include Apps for Democracy, Show us a better way, Fedspending.org.
  • Businesses often ask the wrong questions when responding to disruption.  Typically the question is “how do we preserve our profession and the way it’s currently constituted?”   Thinking we can preserve the existing status quo (e.g. in Publishing) is unrealistic. The transition will be achieved by those with the lowest cost of experimentation with the highest value e.g. theguardian.   Additionally the solutions that each business finds will result in a wide variety of different businesses emerging from the same pond (publishers that survive will evolve into radically different looking businesses in 10 years)
  • The winners and losers will be separated by who is learning and adapting the fastest through continuous experimentation.
  • Information overload has been the normal case for literate citizens since the 1500s i.e. since there were more books than a person could read in a lifetime. Information has been expanding continuously for 500 years. Information overload is caused by a lack of effective filters. When someone says they’re experiencing Information overload (a normal life experience), what they are saying is, “there is a great business opportunity for someone to build a better filter through which I can find meaningful content.”

A big thanks to the fantastic FastForward Blog team for hosting me last week.

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