Friday, July 18, 2003

Social Software, Groups, and Collective Minds

Franci Penov (whose homepage I don’t know) posted this
 over on the win_tech_off_topic mailing
list. It’s an absolutely fascinating speech given by Clay Shirky earlier this
year about the effects of people on software and vice versa. Since I’m willing
to bet that just about everyone reading this is involved somehow in connecting humans
to computers or vice versa, I feel comfortable predicting you will find this relevant.

The piece is entitled “A Group Is It’s Own Worst Enemy”, and I think
the central lesson of the paper can be summed up this way, “Your users will
do things their way, individually and collectively. Deal with it.” There’s
some great bits. Here’s one of my favorites:

The Calvinists had a doctrine of natural grace
and supernatural grace. Natural grace was "You have to do all the right things in
the world to get to heaven..." and supernatural grace was "...and God has to anoint
you." And you never knew if you had supernatural grace or not. This was their way
of getting around the fact that the Book of Revelations put an upper limit on the
number of people who were going to heaven.

Social software is like that. You can find the
same piece of code running in many, many environments. And sometimes it works and
sometimes it doesn't. So there is something supernatural about groups being a run-time


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