May 26, 2008
I can't remember when, exactly, I discovered
Clay Shirky, but I suspect it was around 2003 or so. I sent him an email about micropayments, he actually answered it, and we had a rather nice discussion on the topic. I've been a fan of Clay's writing ever since. (In case you're curious, Clay was right -- micropayments are dead -- and I was dead wrong. All the more reason to be a fan.)
I don't think you'll find a smarter, more articulate writer on the topic of internet community than Clay Shirky. His A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy, for example, is the seminal article on the folly of addressing social software problems purely through technology. I've referenced Clay a number of times on this blog, and his writing seems more and more prescient with each passing year. It's Clay Shirky's Internet; we just live in it.
Gin, Television, and Social Surplus is a more recent example:
Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.
And I'm willing to raise that to a general principle. It's better to do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too." And that message --
I can do that, too -- is a big change.
This is something that people in the media world don't understand. Media in the 20th century was run as a single race -- consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you'll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.
It's exactly this sort of deep, penetrating insight which
makes me wonder if Clay Shirky will be looked back on as one of the key historical figures of the nascent internet era. Maybe I'm just a naive fanboy, but the guy seems to see a lot farther than everyone else. So you can imagine the great interest I had in Clay's new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.
(I'm showing the UK version of the book cover because it's about a zillion times better than the US cover. Seriously, what were they thinking?)
Here Comes Everybody, I'm happy to report that it does not disappoint. I'd even go so far as to say if you're developing social software of any kind, this book should be required reading. I feel so strongly about this, in fact, that I just gave my copy to my stackoverflow coding partner. And I will be following up with pop quizzes. What's that, you say? You don't develop social software? Are you sure?
So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms.
How will this software get him laid?
That got me a look like I had just sprouted a third head, but bear with me, because I think that it's not only crude but insightful. "How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).
"Social software" is about making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.
As Jamie Zawinski once said,
these days, almost all software .
is social software
If you're not able to devote the time to the book, I encourage you to at least check out
Clay's 42 minute presentation on "Here Comes Everybody" from earlier this year.
I found the introduction particularly inspiring; I've transcribed it here.
I've been writing principally for an audience of programmers and engineers and techies and so forth for about a dozen years. I wanted to write this book for a general audience, because the effects of the internet are now becoming broadly social enough that there is a general awareness that the internet isn't a decoration on contemporary society, but a challenge to it. A society that has an internet is a different kind of society, in the same way that a society that has a printing press was a different kind of society.
We're living through the largest increase in human expressive capability in history.
It's a big claim. There are really only four revolutions that could compete for that:
The printing press and movable type considered as one broad period of innovation.
Telegraph and telephone considered as one broad period of innovation.
Recorded media of all types, first images, then sound, then moving images, then moving images with sound.
Finally, the ability to harness broadcast.
These are the media revolutions that existed as part of the landscape prior to our historical generation. There is a curious asymmetry to them, which is the ones that create groups don't create two-way communication, and the ones that create two-way communications don't create groups. Either you had something like a magazine or television, where the broadcast was from the center to the edge, but the relationship was between producer and consumer. Or you had something like the telephone, where people could engage in a two-way conversation, but the medium didn't create any kind of group.
And then there's now. What we've got is a network that is natively good at group forming. In fact, this isn't just a fifth revolution. It holds the contents of the previous revolutions, which is to say we can now distribute music and movies and conversations all in this medium. But the other thing it does is move us into a world of two-way groups. Thirty years from now, when I'm presenting this book, if I had to describe it in one bullet point -- this is what the bullet point would say:
Group Action Just Got Easier.
This is, in the context of change in our historical generation, the big deal. This isn't just a new way of broadcasting information, it isn't just a new way of having two way communication, it actually engages groups.
In this medium, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly are all now the same freedom. And the spread of that capability is the big deal.
Now, it could be that blogging and working on stackoverflow is clouding my perspective, making these social software issues unusually relevant to my work. When I
I realized, that's it. That's it exactly. That is what is so intensely satisfying about writing here. My happiness only becomes real when I share it with all of you.
I didn't realize the serendipitous parallels between that sentiment and Clay's claim that
the internet runs on love:
In the past, we could do little things for love, but big things, big things required money. Now, we can do big things for love.
I have no idea if stackoverflow will be a "big thing" or not. But it sure is nice to wake up in the morning and work on building a community of people who love computers and code as much as I do.
Or maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
You'd be surprised at how many couples (myself included) play WoW together.
oscar: Eurovision is *serious*? For real?
Jeff: You said "almost all software is social software".
Are you quite sure about that? Maybe you're living too close to the Web Social Software Clique?
There's a lot more software in the world than "social networking" websites, forums*, MMORPGs, and IM clients, though one might not think that if one just followed the hot topic of the moment on download sites.
(* The Devil.)
I'm a huge believer in the fact that the social aspect of the internet is a passing fad. People often forget that the internet is litte more than tv, print, and the telephone all rolled into one. At its core it's nothing more than a means of communication and often times it feels like people get confused into thinking it's a magical world where anything is possible.
Secondarily, groups DO NOT always think up the best solutions by consensus. Often you will find superfluous elements, disagreement, lack of other necessary elements, and in general lesser quality offset by greater quantity. (ever hear the jok about how the platypus being a duck designed by a committee? or have you watched a good portion of the user created content on youtube? granted there are a few gems but they're amongst a vast amount of utter trash.)
Secondly, I would propose taking a look at a reatively big "crowdsourcing" project: Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk.
The vast majority of the "tasks" they have listed are spamming techniques such as "post a link to here" or "write a review about something here" or "give me ideas on how to make money with X" or "call up this customer service number here" and on and on and on...
All at a remarkably low pay.
This is a perfect example of a relatively noble effort to harness group effort into something that benefits both parties involved that has gone relatively wrong.
I can only say that you should expect more of this to happen in the years to come.
Don't worry Jeff.
There are a lot of people who love you and your blog.
We love code. Yes. Really.
We will make SOF work. Just don't be afraid.
Curiously television was early in the fifties seen by some as primarily a revolutionary social media, where groups would self-organize and communicate by television. Didn't quite happen that way ;-)
I believe that stackoverflow will become something good because all of us reading Coding Horror will want to contribute, an opinion that relates to your post as well...
Thanks for post and recommendation.
these days, almost all software is social software.
"The Devil" is correct--to judge by this comment (and to be honest, I think you just got carried away in a momentary delirium of new-media fanboyism), you are too close to the current hipness centroid, and are losing sight of the wider picture of software development.
The overwhelming majority of software is *not* social software. Twitter, Facebook, and the billion little startups with dorky Web 2.0-compliant names are a small fraction of what's going on. Most software is still the Linux kernel, Nvidia drivers for my Mac, internal webapps for companies that make physical products, Oracle, screamingly hideous CRM Elder Gods. Most software is bespoke automation of internal business processes, and it never sees the light of day outside its originating company.
The stuff that *is* social software does have a cultural impact far well beyond its proportion to the rest of the software universe; that's great, but it's important to bear the real proportions in mind as well.
We all love code...
Jeff may be you can use that statement as a punch line for stackoverflow : ))
We all love code, but do we all code what we love?
Because these days, almost all software is social software.
Couldn't agree more. The substance of the Internet itself is social media.
How is stackoverflow.com going to get me laid?
(well, I'm one year off the target demographic, but close enough)
As Justice does, perhaps we should try to see the good sides of things, but also the bad ones, if any...
I use to think that these new ways of communication between people turns societies into a high scaled brain, each of us being like a small a neuron that receives, micro-process and sends information again. I feel dizzy thinking of it, and I see it as very good news. But..., is there a "but"? Is it too good to be true? Is there a hidden dark side inside social autoregulated systems?
Only an example: Here in Spain we all were free to choose our singer to represent us in Eurovision contest. Many countries chose their better singers. Spain, however, chose a "freak" with a funny (and bad) song, and some musicians and other people said that it was not the right choice sending a clown to a serious song contest. Summing up: A few music experts opinion was unable to stop the massive non-expert opinion of the rest of people, and the freak went to the contest.
The point is: Is a freely autoregulated system always able to evolve to higher levels? Is there a risk that the system, when choosing the easiest (or funniest) way to do something, will also choose the worst?
Another example can be PHP, as you said before.
"My happiness only becomes real when I share it with all of you."
If that isn't true I dont' know what is. And if you have a hard time understanding this or just agreeing with it, I recommend seeing the movie "Into the Wild." I promise it will present a new perspective to how you view everything (the world, your work, coding....whatever).
How is stackoverflow.com going to get me laid?
Jeff, this is why I read your blog. Not because I always agree with you (only about half the time!) And not because your topics are always entertaining (they are most of the time.) No, I read your blog because they always provide me with new information, new knowledge that I didn't have before. Keep it up.
And there is some great foresight there by Mr. Shirky. Interactivity is only going to grow. People want to connect to other people. We are social animals. We need to feel wanted, to feel like we matter, and we get that through social response.
How is stackoverflow.com going to get me laid?
Instead of struggling all night long with a problem, you visit stackoverflow.com and find the solution to your problem and can go home early, to work on the "get laid"-part of your life.
I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.
No way! That is the problem with social networking, nobody sits around and tries to figure out whether Betty Rubble is just cute, or if Wilma is a filthy bitch in bed. Go to the pub and you will (if you're a red-blooded male) have a conversation just like that! (ok, and which of two opposing sides will kick who's ass, whether that's sports teams or generally incompatible creatures - eg Godzilla v a transformer).
OK, it is pretty sad if you're in your basement by yourself comparing Allison Cameron or Meredith Gray for hot babeness.
On the computer, via a 'network' things are different than when you're with other people. Consider the kind of posts you see all the time from people who consider themselves alone and anonymous (and so free to say any old inflammatory guff). I think this is an important, but relatively overlooked fact. So all that social software.. its really just electronic masturbation, and will not help anyone get laid. Quite the opposite.
I never knew why Orkut is so insanely popular in Brazil (you can even notice from the amount of news in slashdot with Brazil and Orkut in the title)
"How will this software get him laid?"
Now I know. Everbody with a internet connection here has an Orkut profile, for almost half the people here internet IS orkut, the other half is orkut+youtube. Seriously, google praticaly owns Brazil internet.
Micropayments seem to be working well for the XBox 360's downloadable content. Although most things cost about $10 a piece, so maybe these are more like centipayments.
Super quoter strikes again.
We'll see what happens to computing, internet and otherwise, when the median per capita energy budget drops to what it was in 1920. In about 5 years.
How is stackoverflow.com going to get me laid?
Easy, if you visit SOF, you'll get smarter , then if you're smarter you'll get a better job, with a better job, you'll make more money and everybody knows that women like rich guys... CQFD
Thanks for every thing you do. People like you make this place a better world.
On the down side, stackoverflow is blocked at work, with the tag "social networking site." :(
It's not all roses: stackoverflow.com is blocked here at work, with the tag "social networking site."
I'm not a big fan boy of social networking, but that YouTube video was the most informative 42 minutes I've spent today.
Thanks for sharing.
Your web filter is blocking it before it even really *exists*? Wow, now that's proactive.
Great article. I've been on the fence about whether I should read "Here comes Everybody" or not, but this just put me firmly on the side of "must read".
YouTube video from the post was removed. Anyone have a new link?
Great find Jeff! Thanks. I gotta pick up that book.
I'm your typical anti-social geek and I would not be interested in social networking were it not for the YouTube community which is highly effective at forming friendships between strangers. Much as I prefer to express myself in writing, I acknowledge the power of video. Facebook and even Twitter are clearly not the future of social networking if they do not incorporate video. Seesmic deserves more of the hysteria.
Facebook and even Twitter are clearly not the future of social networking if they do not incorporate video.
Considering the ease at which you can link to or embed YouTube video, I don't really see why they need to!
If that's the UK version of the book cover, how come "organizing" and "organizations" are spelled with a zed?
I'm with Carr; I call bull. Here's why:
Have you ever been driving down the road, doing your usual five or ten miles per hour over the limit, and then noticed that there's some dipshit tailgating you, and he's so close that you can't even see his hood ornament. And then that guy, who is very clearly in a hurry, finds a spot to pass you and charges off into the distance at a thoroughly unsafe speed? And have you then caught up to that guy at the next stoplight and been mired in the same traffic he is, all the way to the next destination?
I won't bother embarrassing anyone by asking if they've ever been that dipshit. Almost every driver has.
Which is the real issue. Creating user content on the Web is, by and large, much like that tailgating and passing and speeding. It makes the person committing the actions *feel* like they are doing more to accomplish their goals, and they tell their friends that they accomplish more because they "don't follow the rules like those sheep". These people do not, however, get to their destinations any faster or create anything more memorable than dime store bumper sticker slogans.
I agree with Shirky's premise about "cognitive surplus", but I think you could class the vast majority of Wikipedia content on the "dissipation" side, instead of the "harnessed".
Because these days, almost all software is social software.
I've noticed an increased trend among the companies that I develop software for, and that is that they are all asking for 'collaboration features' to be added to them. I mostly develop corporate intranets or websites and features that are increasingly popular is blogs, wiki pages, rss, podcasts, rich media content and even live chatting.
I believe Chris D0herty is right in saying that all software is not social software, but if you narrow it down to software developed for the web, I believe that quote is becoming more and more true. It's hard to find a popular site theese days that are not centered around collaboration and contribution.
I believe that quote would be more correct if it said something like
I'm pretty sure that World of Warcraft is getting very few people laid, and they seem to be doing pretty okay with that.
Tom Slee had a great review:
"The questions then become ones of what kind of structures will form and persist in the online world, and if you are going to talk about these questions then you have to address the economics of the problem."
Actually, MMPORGs do a huge business in getting people laid. The significant others of the people playing the MMPORGs as they get new relationship nookie with someone who doesn't have their head in a computer screen.
Going off on a tangent here, Jeff has a tendency to be melodramatic and to exaggerate.
Here's the latest example: "these days, almost all software is social software."
Seriously, Jeff, do you really believe that? I mean, seriously believe that?
Is the majority of software written is social? Obviously not.
Is the majority of software BEING written is social? Extremely unlikely.
Is the majority of software USED is social in nature? Almost certainly not.
It's hard to take you seriously (I know I don't) when you make such large, unfounded, exaggerated statements.
My thinking is that social software just makes more NOISE in certain communities than other kinds of software (of course it also makes money, but that's hardly unique).
Back to your regularly scheduled discussion.
"... And that message -- I can do that, too -- is a big change.
This is something that people in the media world don't understand."
I'd take that point further and assert that there are some very big people in the media world who *do* understand, and it scares the crap out of them. They want to actively prevent people from thinking "I can do that, too". It breaks their monopoly on defining what 'culture' is, and what technology is 'supposed to do'. Hence the unending efforts to impose DRM, make the open internet into the new TV (net neutrality, anti-P2P initiatives) and other barriers of entry into modern creative media and participatory culture in general.
Anyway, end-of-rant :/
I prefer the term "hopeful romantic"; don't you?
Thank you, yet again you introduce me to another perspective of the web that I hadn't considered.
I am amazed at how much social software, especially the idea of anonymous internet communities has caught on. I guess everyone loves to have a say but we are stuck with the old saying "empty vessels make most noise" or to be more blunt about it, how do you stop the stupid people contributing (me included).
This obviously raises an interesting question of who are the stupid people :) Read over the comments on this piece and identify the stupid ones, I'll bet its completely subjective, not only to the reader but also to the mood/motivation of the reader at the time of reading.
If social software is to progress then I believe that this is the immediate challenge.
Another thought occurs: Even in actually social software, sometimes it's a *bad idea*.
Look at YouTube. Sharing videos? Good. (even if I'd like to be able to save them and have less opaque links, to remove the sheer fragility and user-hostility of the content and URLs.)
YouTube *comments*? The actual "social" part? BAD.
My God, I feel like I lose twenty IQ points simply by glancing at them.
(And don't even get me started on "Wikis, Wikis, everywhere", especially "See our Documentation Wiki!" - the latter translates to "we have no god-damn documentation, but we're gonna *pretend* we do.
But I'm not bitter.)
You'd be surprised at how many couples (myself included) play WoW together.
News flash: it takes two to make a couple.
How will your social software get your users laid?! Hardly the thing to ask if your site targets children and tweens... I sure hope clubpenguin, webkinz and their ilk aren't thinking about getting their visitors laid.
@M and others
re: "these days, almost all software is social software."
Isn't any software that you create and share with a person other than yourself "social software"? Whether or not you intend the software to create a community or connect groups of communities, they will none the less be created around your product either online or offline. Consider this: If I make a specialized utility for my organization to edit come data in our CRM system. Even though I haven't created my software with the intent of being social, there will almost without fail be a small group spawned who talk about the software comprised of users and bystanders. This little group will share insight, observations and critiques about my app, in much the same way that social/network software does in the "traditional" sense. My little LOB app just became social without me trying. Now that doesn't mean that they'll form a Facebook page around my app, but there is indeed a "social" aspect of my application now.
re: "Isn't any software that you create and share with a person other than yourself "social software"?"
No. It isn't.
That reasoning sounds like wishful thinking to me, or at least very much bending the definition of social software and communities. By that definition, anything you do is a social act that forms communities.
Wearing a T-shirt saying "I hate this job" (which IS a social act) to work would certainly cause some people to snigger, maybe make them mad, or happy. But that doesn't make it an actual community.
There are communities (MANY!) around Linux, but the Linux kernel is not social software, nor is GCC, even though they are created by communities.
Also, you use the software at the ATM all the time, but I wouldn't call it "social". Nor is the software (lots of it) in your car.
Microsoft Office is pretty big, makes a lot of money, and is in use by millions of people, but it's not social software.
The MATLAB community is big, but I wouldn't call MATLAB "social software".
I hope I've made my point, at the very least.
"There are communities (MANY!) around Linux, but the Linux kernel is not social software"
I'm not sure that you're right. Sure, individual coders may not be thinking socially, but from the perspective of the guys at the top who manage the kernel, and have to take the millions of submissions and filter them to produce the finished product, there's a massive social aspect to the software that needs considering. It's certainly not just a pure technical issue of making it easy for people to deliver files. They've also got to inspire people to volunteer *time* and *energy* for this work, for borderline nothing.
And even at lower levels, there's a lot of collaboration and peer review, especialy for anything important.
Actually, I was wrong. I AM sure that you're NOT right.
For what it's worth (and it's probably not worth much), the US cover actually looks *much* better in person than it does online.
The reason for this is that there is some very subtle embossing indicating network connections between the people shown on the cover, which reinforces the core ideas of the book much more than a bunch of buttons.
I like it.
You guys are conflating (a real word, look it up!) two different things: "social software" and "software with a society around it".
You should have read my comment more carefully, Jeff. Indeed MATLAB community is large, as I said. But MATLAB is not social software. It is a software for engineering, profiling, calculations. It DOESN'T CARE about sharing, other people, internet. It cares about matrices.
The Linux kernel community is a large social effort. The Linux kernel is not social software.
Mediawiki? Social software.
Lotus Notes? (Anti)social software.
MATLAB? Engineering software. (and not social engineering either :)
Look at it from another perspective: if ABC_AnalysisLib is social software because there's a large developer community, then does that mean that XYZ_BlogAndWiki software is NOT social because it's being developed and deployed by one user?
Social software is software for social purposes. Unless, like I said, you are willing to expand the criteria so that it includes virtually everything (thus becoming useless).
I agree with M.
Sometimes through reading these different blog posts, it seems like you are alluding to the non-existence of programming outside 'internet social sites'.
I second the recommendation to watch Into The Wild. I was just rescanning back through some notes of mine which included a link to this post. Since I read this post the first time, I saw Into The Wild. This time around, I immediately made the connection with the quote from the movie: Happiness is only real when shared.
I'd like to recommend the website www.morethansound.net for some excellent dialogues between Daniel Goleman and various innovative thinkers. One particularly relevant is entitled Socially Intelligent Computing with Clay Shirky and Daniel Goleman. In this dialogue, they discuss social intelligence as it relates to online interaction. Check it out!
If social software means anything useful, it must be something like what Wikipedia says Social software encompasses a range of software systems that allow users to interact and share data. In that case not all software is social software. In some of the comments you seem to be redefining social software as software of interest to more than one person, which is pretty much software and isn't that useful.
If you actually are saying all software is social, well come on Jeff, there are 5 worlds just like Joel says (
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FiveWorlds.html). Your older posts are relevant to all of them. These days IMHO you seem to be more focussed on your own current application area.
People are still writing software embedded into mobile phones, cars, refrigerators, central heating, aircraft, nuclear power stations... Software to image process movies on the fly for broadcast on TV, science models used for safety studies on big industrial plants... Device drivers, operating systems... Whatever the heck those enterprise applications do... Traditional shrinkwrap desktop applications like spreadsheets and word processors, custom stuff for individual clients...
None of that is social in any meaningful way.
Wasn't invention of writing the most important communication revolution? It also groups and maintains individual communication.