Clay Shirky on the merits of metadata
Video featuring an interview with Clay Shirky with some memorable quotes, found courtesy of Jake Mckee.
One of Shirky’s great points is, that in order to coordinate group efforts on a large scale, one needs to fail informatively, i.e. deliver the metadata to enable the user to identify which projects and tasks are worth pursuing and which are not. Answering a question by Chris Heuer on “how to connect the dots” i.e. groups working independently of each other but often on similar projects : (my emphasis)
The two modes of management we have are the micro manager [and the] grand strategic visionary. Neither of these really work with community. You need something in the middle, which is a kind of facilitation skill. Noone to guide the community, noone to let them go. And it is really, for the individual projects, that’s what you need.
For the, you know, web scale how-do-we-connect-the-dots, the only answer I’ve seen, that really works at large scale, is to work informatively, and to fail informatively.
So if you go on to Sourceforge, which is the biggest collection of open source projects in existance, three quarters of those projects are completely inert, 1 developer, no downloads ever, it’s just nothing ever happened. But on Sourceforge you can always tell what’s working and what’s not, every day. So it doesn’t matter that you’re letting people try things all over, because they can discover each other and move off “this project isn’t working but that one is”. And so you gotta give people the kind of metadata it takes to say : “This is what my organization does, what’s your organization doing, I can find it on Google, I can pull it out of an RSS feed, I can work with it”. If you give people that kind of information, then they’ll find their way to each other, and you don’t have to do anything top-down, you don’t have to do anything to restrict the grand experimentation. But you also don’t end up with lots of little pockets. The open source movement, as so often, they do that better than anyone else, but I think the rest of the world is catching up.
More on the merits of metadata in this post from last year.
Shirky also had an opportunity to expand on the previously prophesized “50 years of chaos” and what happens with the introduction into society of technologies such as the printing press and the internet :
The biggest surprise and the biggest pleasure researching the book was actually the early history of the printing press. Because it became clear, reading the various accounts of what happened between 1450 and 1650, that we didn’t move from situation A to situation B. We used to have this pre-literate world, where scribes were copying bibles by hand. All of a sudden we had science and this enormous up-welling of all kinds of publications and the catholic church was undone as a pan-European force. We didn’t go from A to B. We went from A to a long period of chaos. And only out of that chaos did B arrive. And that’s my thesis for what we’re seing now with the internet. We’re not seing an orderly transition to a new kind of society. We’re actually seeing all kinds of experiments, short term and long term. We can’t tell which ones are gonna last and which ones are gonna be blips. And in the meantime, a lot of stuff in contemporay society is just going to break. And so, things are going to get weirder, before they get saner, I think is the conclusion.