Clay Shirky's masterpiece: Here Comes Everybody

Back in September, I had the extreme good fortune to read an early galley of Clay Shirky's long-awaited masterpiece, "Here Comes Everybody: How Digital Networks Transform Our Ability to Gather and Cooperate," and now that it's on shelves, I am doubly fortunate to tell you about it. Clay has long been one of my favorite thinkers on all things Internet -- not only is he smart and articulate (and it doesn't hurt that he introduced me to my fiancee), but he's one of those people who is able to crystallize the half-formed ideas that I've been trying to piece together into glittering, brilliant insights that make me think, yes, of course, that's how it all works.

Clay's book makes sense of the way that groups are using the Internet. Really good sense. In a treatise that spans all manner of social activity from vigilantism to terrorism, from Flickr to Howard Dean, from blogs to newspapers, Clay unpicks what has made some "social" Internet media into something utterly transformative, while other attempts have fizzled or fallen to griefers and vandals. Clay picks perfect anecdotes to vividly illustrate his points, then shows the larger truth behind them.

Clay's gift here is in explaining why the trivial minutae of Internet communications -- Twittery nothings and LiveJournalish angst -- matter, and why the weighty gravitas of the Internet -- dissidents risking arrest, victims finding succour -- aren't the only thing online that's worthy. In so doing, he manages to illuminate the way that every institution is prone to being recast by the net, and how to manage that change for the best possible outcome.

Unlike a regular business book -- something with a one-sentence punchline that could be explained in a longish New Yorker article -- Here Comes Everybody is dense and rich, with new insight on every page. It's the kind of a book that you can open to any page and be delighted by -- especially if you love the Internet -- and the kind of a book that you'll want to read aloud from to your friends.

I've been waiting for this book for years -- something I can hand to people who dismiss the Internet and amateurism and social activity as distractions or trivia. Now I have it. Link

See also:
Clay Shirky defends the Internet
Shirky explains why Keen is a Luddite
Shirky: stupid (c) laws block me from publishing own work online
Clay Shirky: An "expert Wikipedia" won't work
Shirky: Pro metadata will lose to folksonomy
Shirky: Wikipedia is better than Brittanica on net-centric axes
Clay Shirky's ETECH presentation on the politics of social software
Shirky: Wikipedia's "anti-elitism" is a feature, not a bug
Shirky explains: destroying limitations is good for culture
Shirky: Net is a kayak, driven by its environment


  1. Cory, dude, –YOU– just sold me a book, and it’s not even one of yours. Why don’t you start a Doctorow’s book club? You could be like Opra, but smarter.

    “… he’s one of those people who is able to crystallize the half-formed ideas that I’ve been trying to piece together into glittering, brilliant insights that make me think, yes, of course, that’s how it all works.”

    IMHO, the above is beautiful writing.

  2. Literary Nerd Sidenote: In James Joyce’s book Finnegans Wake the main character is named HCE which stands for Here Comes Everybody. The character was meant to be an allegorical representation of all mankind. Although seemingly incomprehensible at first glance, the book is written to mimic the disorienting, shape-shifting style of a dream. And the story is basically an overview of the Judeo-Christian history of humankind.

    It’s an interesting choice for the name of Clay’s book. Mad English major props to him!

  3. Boing commenters are the best. I was ready to chime in with the HCE reference, and there it was, succintcly stated in the 3rd comment.

    of course its Joyce, so there’s lots more fun:

    riverrun, past Eve and Adams, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth, Castle and Environs.

  4. Dude – I love to nerd out on FW. That line you posted is, I think, one of the most beautiful sentences ever written. I have an audio track of Joyce reading it.

  5. MikeyLikesBoingBoing: couldn’t agree more about the covers. Unfortunately, that’s the final US cover. The one with the buttons is the UK cover.

  6. This looks interesting. It’s the kind of book that corporate decision makers might ignore until its too late.

  7. Howth Castle and Environs, Haveth Childers Everywhere, Haroun Childeric Eggeberth, H.C. Earwicker: The universe of Finnegan’s Wake is located within the dreaming mind of this collapse patriarch, i.e. HCE, an acrostic which represents a psychic state, probably the dreaming male mind. -parahrased from intro to Finnegan’s Wake by John Bishop, 1999, Penguin Books 9th Ed.

  8. That the U.K. and U.S. publishers are using such conceptually different covers seems to contradict Sharkey’s premise, or at least his book’s title. It’s more like “Here Comes Everybody Over Here and Here Comes Everybody Over There and Here Comes…Wait, Who Are They? and Ah, Here Come Everybody Else.”

    Oh, and Cory, that’s minutiae. And the phrase “trivial minutiae” is of course redundant.

  9. Trivial minutiae is not redundant. Trivia is unimportant, mundane and Minutiae is small. That means: slightly unimportant little details.

    Off Topic: The next time you’re in Dublin, go on a James Joyce pub crawl. Quite fun to see some of the watering holes that one can read about in the Dubliners.

  10. Oy.

    No, Jeff.

    From American Heritage Dictionary’s definition of “minutiae”: Small or trivial details.

    “Trivial minutiae” are therefore “trivial trivial details.”

    Off-topic: I don’t recall whether I’ve ever done a Joyce pub-crawl in Dublin, but I’ve been there for several Bloomsdays (June 16), which were also biggish fun.

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