I’ve listened to about the first 45 minutes of Clay Shirky’s talk on “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations.” http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/2008/02/shirky. Well worth the time spent – especially for my current employer’s product set, which enables organizations to manage their data used to communicate with and connect their members with each other through event planning – all the goals that associations and non-profits strive for every day.
My favorite example, since I’m fascinated with wikis for documentation, has to do with setting up a community of practice faster than ever known in history. On Flickr, a group dedicated to High Dynamic Range photography became a popular destination and learning and collaborating connection.
Before the web, it would have easily taken five to seven years to build up the community – starting from the time when a professional photographer figured out the technique, to the time when ordinary people having the knowledge to accomplish HDR. Using Flickr, it took three months to build a community of practice, because when a photo goes up, people talk with each other, ask how photos were done, and examine the photo examples to learn. In this case, the technology became a platform where people help one another get better.
This group has no commercial incentive whatsoever, as a side note.
The community is as important as the content, a humbling thought for us writers. Just like the Architecture of Participation that Tim O’Reilly talked about in 2004, the participation of community members to generate and test content is as key as the content itself. He even states, “the fundamental architecture of hyperlinking ensures that the value of the web is created by its users.” Google Page Rank further adds to the value by including inbound links in its ranking algorithm.
On The Content Wrangler site there’s a great post asking where does user participation fit in our world? There are plenty of answers, and my interest lies in the case studies that show the amazing power of what results when users actively participate. If you’re interested in user participation and social networking, check out Tom Johnson’s interview with Scott Abel about social networking.