Radar Interview with Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is one of the most incisive thinkers on technology and its effects on business and society. I had the pleasure to sit down with him after his keynote at the FASTForward ’09 conference last week in Las Vegas.
In this interview Clay talks about

  • The effects of low cost coordination and group action.
  • Where to find the next layer of value when many professions are being disrupted by the Internet
  • The necessary role of low cost experimentation in finding new business models

A big thanks to the FASTForward Blog team for hosting me there.

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  • Great discussion. Thanks for this video. Clay Shirky never ceases to impress me with his insight.

  • So, some things to toss in the mix that I’ve figured out from observing the Open Government crowd in action, taking them as an example of the lowered costs of group action.

    1. There is a natural incentive for and tendency towards corruption among those best positioned to be leaders for the benefit of products in which they have direct or indirect interest.

    By this I mean that industry leaders tend to conflate their own products with potential solutions and thereby inspire group action that helps those products, not the group.

    A contemporary example is Congress’ new deal with YouTube. Apparently taxpayers paid for hundreds or thousands of hours of lawyer and staff time to construct a contract between the federal government and Google. This is celebrated as a “success” because it gets congressional video on youtube. Yet, had Congress simply dumped “.ogg” video files on an FTP site, YouTube would have picked them up just fine, entirely at their own risk, with no taxpayer money at all spent on needless negotiations and de facto “YouTube” brand building.

    2. There is incentive and tendency towards corruption by neglecting the problem of giving users tools to self-organize and take action without unduly subordinating themselves to the surveillance and control of but a few firms.

    “We”, as a community dedicated to freedom, ought to be developing and promoting on-line tools and techniques for consuming the new wealth of data, organizing, and taking action but without having to prostrate ourselves to the “terms of service” hassles and surveillance hassles of the likes of Google, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, etc.

    Taking “open governement” concerns again, as an example: our industry leaders are busy trying to influence how elected officials receive and understand the significance of citizen-generated on-line feedback. Perhaps a sunlight.org petition is significant or perhaps not. Perhaps a “friend” or “fan” count on Facebook is significant or not. Perhaps whitehouse.gov should adopt a particular “comment ranking karma system” software that’s worked on slashdot – or perhaps not. But those are the kinds of questions going around and those kinds of questions are the wrong ones to be asking. They are, again, questions biased in favor of the specific properties (formal and indirect) of our industry leaders here, rather than the concerns of logically preferable forms of organization and freedom from needless entanglements and surveillance.

    Basically, Clay is starting to seem right about the basic outline (re collective action) but I think he ought to take on these corruption issues more squarely.


  • Dave Kebb

    Looks great!

    Could we have an mp3 of the audio for download please?