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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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It’s almost trite, but I’ve still got to do it. Clay Shirky—the social pundit with the funny name—has a new column out entitled “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” that is over 10,000 words long. Umm, column? How about treatise? I’m on page six of a single-spaced, thirteen-page printout—I would have been further along, but I was in an all-staff meeting and I had to look like I was participating at times—but so far, it’s a real page turner!

The subject of his paper is how groups distort online communities towards particular ends over and over again. It’s a great elaboration of some basic research and hovers around the same topic that Derek Powazek’s great book Design for Communities covered. Shirky’s focus, though, is on social software, which he defines as “software that supports group interaction,” instead of community Web sites. There’s a lot of stuff there to ponder, and I’ll probably write up my thoughts more completely once I’ve finished the paper.

If you get through this paper, I would highly recommend catching up on some of his other essays like “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality” or “Half the World.” If you like what you see, then subscribe to his NEC newsletter and get a regular Shirky fix.