Clay Shirky on Social Media Theory and Drupal

Clay Shirky teaches Social Media Theory and Practice at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, and recently described the ways that social media are changing how websites are architechted and built. Listen to the recording on Drupal Voices.
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Some of his points include the following:

When we see technology characteristics that are significantly different than what we are used to, we can not just add those new technologies to existing systems and make the existing systems work better and faster. The first working steamboat was the fourth attempt the inventor had. The steam engine required a re-design of the boat itself. It couldn’t simply be applied to faster rowing of oars.

As we socialize business that were previously run by managerial oversight where the individual users or customers were not involved with each other, then we build those businesses on social platforms, things like content management systems require a re-engineering of the business.

Three examples of the redesign:

  1. Once we add participation, the differences in participation occupy such a wide spectrum that the concept of a user breaks down.
  2. We can target behavior rather than people as the content of the system. If you have spam on a system and the users don’t care, is it really spam?
  3. The possibility of the users owning the system as designers and re-designers of the system (e.g., Stack Exchange).

Shirky talks about how Drupal makes web development more iterative and easier. He also describes ways that the culture of open source creates a culture of failing faster so that you can adapt to the changing conditions without over-investing time and energy into failed strategies. (Those interested in reducing the costs of innovation through faster experimentation should also see the Lean Start-up concepts published by Eric Ries, and you might also follow Eric Ries on on Twitter).

He talks about the Drupal open source community and some of the qualities that help to make Drupal a successful open source project. He talks about how people in the Drupal community apply the principles of Cognitive Surplus, and the role of technology in social change, as well as in the field of journalism.

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