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.
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