One of many suggestions from Andy Shaindlin when he presented at work last months was to read this book, so I sourced a copy from a nearby library. It’s always a challenge reading books that relate to technology, as the landscape changes so quickly.
This book is from 2008, and has only a few references to community sites that have now closed down, which certainly helps the reader to take its main insights on board. Shirky takes us back across a couple of decades, and shows the difference that different kinds of collaboration tools have made on similar situations separated by years.
Shirky’s main thesis is that the influx of social technologies has dramatically lowered the barriers toward organising a group of people. If you have a promise that resonates with people, a tool that supports collaboration, and some kind of bargain with your audience that motivates them to keep participating.
There are lots of insights in the book around the exponential growth of complexity as group size grows; the power law distribution of participation (the most prolific people will post an order of magnitude more than the next group, and the median will be much lower again).