Being a community – there’s lots to learn from digital socialism

Being a community – there’s lots to learn from digital socialism

This post is kind of a Part II to my previous post – Digital Socialism – a very practical cultural change. It’s to do with looking a bit harder at the way that digital socialism behaves.

The book Here Comes Everyone by Clay Shirky (a very smart fella) considers the way digital social arrangements develop. Here’s a précis of his four steps.


When we were kids learning to be a ‘good sharer’ was important. Initially we didn’t much like it but over time sharing made life much better in lots of ways. We interacted, we made friends, we played with those friends, we learnt from them and we felt bonded to them. Online we are creating and sharing lots of stuff – images, video, status updates and bookmarks to name but a few. Sharing is the starting point for cooperation.


We do stuff that makes it easier for the community to use the things we’ve made. We tag content with categories, labels and keywords. We do it because it makes life easier for everyone. It also strengthens the power and output of the community. Take Digg and Reditt as examples – their top stories can influence what we consume as much as any newspaper.


“Serious collaborators put in far more energy than they could ever get in return. This is why the sum out performs the parts”

Simply put I suppose collaboration is a more organised form of cooperation. It had baffled me for a long time why thousands of people would write code for open source software projects. Why do they invest their time and energy? The answer is a whole bunch of things; altruism, recognition from their peers, status, reputation, enjoyment, learning and satisfaction.


This is the thicker end of the stick. How are these communities held together in the long term? Who decides what the priorities are? How do they balance direction between the leaders and the rest of the community? While millions of people contribute to Wikipedia, where would it be without the circa 2,000 editors keeping it in check?

I tend to agree with Mr Shirky;

“In the past, constructing an organisation that exploited hierarchy yet maximised collectivism was nearly impossible. Now digital networking provides the necessary infrastructure. The internet empowers product focused organisations to function collectively while keeping hierarchy from taking over”.

Interesting.  I think this is a useful framework for working with groups and organisations in the offline world;

  • Are we making life easier for each other?
  • What are we getting out of the work we do?
  • Are the people in charge mindful of the community?

That’s all for now, just some thoughts really …