Apr 5, 2013

Battles of the Suits vs the Geeks - Clay Shirky - Here Comes Everybody - Ch 10

Chapter 10 seems to be running up the flag for taking on the traditional command & control paradigms of institutional IT departments, along with market domination by commercial IT firms - and rather, arguing for community developed & supported open source software -  viz a pragmatic opening quote from Shirky

" The logic of publish then filter means that new social systems have to tolerate enormous amounts of failure."  p 233

He also comments more about the success of Meetup - 

"Meetup actually does best not by trying to do things on behalf of its users, but by providing a platform for them to do things for one another " p 235

"By dispensing with the right to direct what its users try to create, Meetup sheds the costs and distorting effects of managing each individual effort" p 236

However it is interesting to observe what has happened recently in Facebook tribute sites - with porn & other insensitive remarks posted hardly appreciated by bereaved family members - there have been demands that Facebook intervene for what the broad community deems to be inappropriate postings.

And then there's the Italian Google Case - "An Italian judge on Wednesday held three Google executives criminally responsible for an online video of an autistic teenager being bullied — a verdict that raises concerns that the Internet giant, and others like it, may be forced to police their content in Italy, and even beyond.  .... Google called the decision "astonishing," saying it "attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built."  .... Google argued that it removed the video two hours after it received notification from police, which it says is in line with a EU directive that requires it to respond to authorities' requests."

Shirky notes that with digital archiving "is that much casual conversation is now captured and stored for posterity"  p 237 - what was thought to have been ephemeral is in fact becoming more permanent. 

I recall discussion forums, where I had passionately discussed political issues with others back around 1997-98 - then being gob-smacked to see my comments in the forums show up publically on Google searches a decade later.

No wonder we are now seeing tools emerging with which you can destroy your digital archive.

Shirky relates the early stages of the Linux open source computer operating system proposed by Linus Torvalds in 1991 - Torvalds invited others to participate in its genesis & development. It seems to have been a good example of the 90-9-1 rule - once he had initiated the project others were willing to participate - but didn't want to initiate such a project themselves.

I can certainly recall a whole lot of discussion forum emails in the 1990's where so many geeks were advocating Linux as an alternative open source operating system to Microsoft. Perhaps they could see further ahead, then many of us realised back then.

"The existence of Linux has almost single-handedly kept Microsoft from dominating the server market the way it dominates the PC market" p 238

"The Linux project, the most visible open source project in history, has turned the efforts of a distributed group of programmers, contributing their efforts for free, into world-class products...

Because the open source ecosystem, and by extension open source systems generally, rely on peer production, the work on those systems can be considerably more experimental, at considerably less cost, than any firm can afford ... it essentially gets failure for free ... Cheap failure.. is also a key part of a more complex advantage : the exploration of multiple possibilities " p 243 - 247

"The cost of trying things is where Coasian theory about transaction costs and power law distributions of participation intersect." p 248

"There are many actions that might pay off but won't be tried, even for innovative firms, because their eventual success is not predictable enough" p 248

I found when I was on the governing council of our local university, that as public universities now receive far less financial support from national governments, even they must be more cautious with their research programmes - in order to attract funding grants they have to demonstrate a pattern of success & good rankings on the rating scales.

So it really does need a social capital - open source approach to create "a world where anyone can try anything, even the risky stuff can be tried eventually. If a large enough population of users is trying things, then the happy accidents have a much higher chance of being discovered." p 249

And one of those happy accidents running on open source Linux was the genetic sequence of SARS - achieved through the researchers involvement in various participatory networks. It was questioned why China with vastly superior research resources could not achieve this sequencing of the virus - the answer reportedly lay in the barriers to cooperation created by the Chinese government.

However as seen in the Feb 2010 Jacobsen v. Katzer court case judgement - things can get interesting legally with open source.

Shirky cites another case of a joint ATT (now part of Bell Labs) project in the mid 1990's where the contractor, Site Specifics proposed to use the community supported Perl vs ATT's use of C++, which they had invented & were inevitably wed to (& also the darling of uni IT geeks in the early 1990's as I recall). Perl community members continue to provide support to each other altruistically and so Perl continues - whereas ATT had substantially reduced its value over the 10 years that followed. 

He states "ATT was right to be concerned about community; it has not historically been a good guarantor of longevity. The fact that shared interest can now create that longevity is what makes the current change historic" p 258

However in fact it seems that C++ lives on- and is still an active blog topic in its own C++ social community

- but then often many IT related products are periodically pronounced obsolete or even dead - yet they continue.

As a quality manager I can understand the ATT concerns, in order to satisfy auditors there is increasing pressure on the validation & reliability of software, and to maintain full records for many years, not to mention backwards compatibility of different versions of software products.

So what do you do ? You need the 3rd Party certification to win orders.  

Of course you go with the institution with the proven track record.

Just like Clay Shirky describes.

Even though not all commercial IT firms will survive.

Neither is backward compatibility of different versions of software products necessarily guaranteed either.

But to be honest, taking this debate outside of the IT open source software arena, Shirky's views on community, participation & distributed involvement, may well be  just the sort of collaborative approaches we need to take on problems like global warming - of decarbonising our world economies.  



Posted via email from kerrieannesfridgemagnets's posterous

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