The Efficiency of Collective Action

Reading the better part of half of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody has provided an interesting number of communication ideas and theories.  Throughout the book, he provides numerous examples that illustrate his points about how the new landscape of communication is changing the game.  There are a couple points that I found particularly compelling.  First, I will discuss the uniqueness of the example from the opening chapter, involving a stolen cellphone.  Secondly, I’ll discuss the idea of collaborative production and the speed at which it and collective action are now taking place.

In the opening chapter of the book, Shirky gives an example of the loss and recovery of an individual’s cellphone.  In summary, a woman left her cell phone in a taxi and an individual picked it up and gave it to his relative.  Eventually, the original owner discovered who had her phone and sent an email requesting it be returned.  After several exchanges, often hostile, it became clear the phone would not be returned.  The original owner’s brother setup a website asking for help.  One thing led to another and it became national news, culminating in the arrest of a 16-year-old girl.  In the end, no charges were pressed and the phone was returned.  The example raises a plethora of questions and ideas.  Initially, we observe the efficiency and power of the “new” Internet communication age.  The swift mobilization provided through new social tools got the NYPD involved and an entire community to recover this phone.  This chapter shows the power to collective action with the new social tools, but also raises some concerns about the future of communication.  Was it fair to the 16-year-old, even though she used poor judgement?  What about people who can’t afford to create a website that mobilizes the masses?  There is still a lot to uncover about the power of the new Internet communication age, and Shirky does an excellent job bringing them to the forefront.

Shirky describes the power of collective action in the opening chapter, but in chapter seven he discusses the increasing speed at which it is happening.  My favorite example is with flash mob protests in Belarus.  Due to the repressive nature of the government, they threatened to crush the protests with force.  What did the people of Belarus do?  They ate ice cream, read books, and smiled.  With the social tools now available, the citizens were able to amass large groups to show up to protest by eating ice cream, reading books, and smiling.  Since the actions are all seemingly harmless, the success is predicated on communicating the purpose of the actions and doing them on a large scale.  When one person is eating ice cream, someone is no longer having a bad day.  When 5,000 people are eating ice cream, a government is having a bad day.  The protests were able to draw large crowds in an extremely short amount of time.  This is a great example of the efficiency and power of new social tools, now we just need to make sure we use them the right way.


Week 5 Blog Q’s

Is the Internet the compounding the disintegration of personal relationships or does it work cumulatively?

How do we combine the efficiency of the Internet with the effectiveness of person-to-person communication?

The birthday paradox…in our iMedia class there are three sets of matching birthdays out of 41 people.

In reference to Coarse’s ceiling, do you think we will experience this with our country?  Is it already too big to function properly?  Ex. USPS.

Basic v. Network: The Information Economy

In The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler approaches various topics dealing with the evolution of networks and communication.  Through the first three chapters of the book, there are several key concepts that I am going to discuss.  Those main concepts are as followed: the networked information economy, the basic information economics, and peer production.  I’ll run through a quick summary of each, and then offer a critique.

The networked information economy deals with the changing landscape of the transfer of information.  Over the past 150 years, information has been packaged in a commercially digestible way, but that is changing.  The idea of the network information economy is completely reversing history.  They deal with a decentralization of information mediums. Benkler argues that this decentralization allows for numerous paths for the flow of information that were previously limited by central media sources.  What makes this possible?  The availability and ease of Internet communication and the dominant form of information is centered on communication.  This allows for a “common good” approach to the exchange of communication.

The basic information economy takes a different approach to information than a networked information economy.  Instead of treating information as a method to help the “common good,” it points towards the individual.  In the basic information economy, an emphasis is placed on ownership, namely copyright.  The networked information economy has shaken up the communication process and has called into question the ideas of creative ownership and distribution.  Traditionally, when someone creates something original, they copyright it and more often than not, try to find monetary benefit.  With this new idea of decentralization, the lines have blurred.  Individuals and groups are creating programs for the public good, questioning the status and position of copyright.

Finally, Benkler discusses peer production.  The idea of peer production is that users pool resources, in an individual or group, and create content for the public.  The perfect example of this is the largest online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  Wikipedia has changed the way we access information online, and it is only made possible by individuals contributing on a massive scale.  The content is user generated and falls into the public forum i.e. no one owns the content.  As the Internet continues to revolutionize the way information is transferred, peer production will be and more of a hot topic.

The three ideas Benkler presents, offer an insightful approach to the “new” information age.  I love the idea of peer collaboration to tackle problems and create massive online resources for the public good, but I struggle with a lack of emphasis on creative property.  Growing up in the U.S., it is engrained in me the idea of owning property and finding ways to capitalize on it, whether it is land, stocks, rights, etc.  I am under the belief that if someone creates an idea, they should be able to retain the rights to the idea and also the ability to capitalize on it.  (Disclaimer: loaded question coming) Which form provides more freedom, allowing someone to own an original creation, or give it up for the public good?  My opinion?  Projects that potentially could have a negative effect on the public good if not made public, then make it public.  If not, I think the creator should determine if the ownership is to be passed to the public.

The Public Networked Sphere

When discussing commercially owned media, what can be done to moderate the content to prevent the dissemination of misinformation?  Bipartisan panel of moderators?

Should we require commercially owned media to provide disclaimers about the owner and political leanings?

Due to the ground-up model, could the public networked sphere be considered an inverse two step/multi-flow theory of communication?

How do we balance what Benkler calls a new “folk” culture via the public networked sphere, with the Internet being an impersonal means of communication?

With regards to copyright, how do we respect the creator’s rights of their material but still allow for an open system?

Blog Response ARG

Alternative Reality Games have taken on a life of their own.  They range in scale and producer, including everything from sock companies to video games to movies.  ARG’s consist of interactive drama being played out in an online arena, using real world spaces.  Masses of people create collaborative social networks to solve a mystery or problem that would otherwise be impossible to solve individually.  This means a mission/challenge is presented to a mass audience, usually web-based, and the participants must work together to find a solution.  I stumbled upon an ARG created to promote the movie Battle: Los Angeles.  In this campaign, they attempted to rally the masses to help “battle” aliens and uncover information about an alien invasion.

The idea behind the ARG was to include the masses in an adventure to uncover information about an impending alien invasion.  They created a Facebook application to enable users to engage in “battles.”  The application would post updates from battles the achievements accomplished during battle.  In addition to the app, the website gives this summary: “Alternatively, by exploring the movie’s viral content at websites like and, you find classified (and heavily redacted) documents, video interviews with alien experts, eyewitness testimonials, and intelligence files detailing the alien invasion. While these files don’t call for much interaction, they do offer a fairly comprehensive preview of the film’s alien antagonists.”  The aforementioned websites are very extensive and provide details to help the participants.  The ARG also gave fans a chance to win prizes through participation.

This campaign wasn’t a new idea compared to other ARG campaigns.  It did seem to blend multiple forms of media together effectively (facebook, website, viral video, etc.).  ARG’s effectively involve the fans/participants giving them a feeling of ownership over the project.  Along with publicity generated from the games, their ARG provides a built in audience.  I’m sure the percentage of people who participated in the game and didn’t see the movie is minimal.  These are also the viewers who will promote the film via word-of-mouth.  The campaign was definitely well funded and executed.  Successful?  The movie generated $202 million at the global box office with a production budget of $70 million and up to $30 million in marketing.  As for summer blockbusters, it isn’t setting any records, but it made the studio a nice chunk of change.



Blog Response 1

Throughout the first few chapters of “Reality is Broken,” McGonigal makes several arguments, some more compelling than others.  In my previous post, I raised three questions: 1) How will gaming affect the health of the world?  2)How will the pursuit of “fiero” in games affect the productivity of the world? Conversely, how would have it affected our past? 3) Removing ourselves from context, how can we explain this concept outside of the Western/Developed world?

I’ll start with my first question about how gaming will affect the health of the world.  Having people spending a collective 3 billion hours a week playing games is troublesome.  At this point, in the United States, for every $6 dollars the government spends, $1 goes to healthcare.  This represents almost 17% of the GDP and totals $2.267 trillion annually and rising.  Granted we spend more money on healthcare than most countries, this is something that needs to be lessened dramatically.  For the majority of video games, they are played in an inactive state.  There have been an increase of “active” video games, but who are we kidding that the Wii fit is improving our health.  Most people probably spend most of the time doing the balancing games, which require minimal efforts.  I digress.   Having billions of people in sedentary states can do nothing but exacerbate the health care issues plaguing the world.  Non-digital games (i.e. soccer, tennis, etc.) can remedy the situation, but that doesn’t leave much room for McGonigal’s argument.  Realistically, the idea of tying non-video game activities to video games is the most logical answer.  McGonigal highlights the opportunity in this connection when discussing Chore Wars, a game allowing real world activity to give you rewards to your in-game avatar.  This issue is definitely something that needs to be addressed, and I’m guessing she will later in the book.

My second question deals with the idea of how pursuing the “fiero” or pride of accomplishment in games will affect the productivity of the world.  With people expending their time and energy in unproductive games, this will diminish their positive productivity outside of games.  One of McGonigal’s answers is to make work more like games, a wonderful concept.  Someone who works in a customer service center for a cable company would benefit from making their work more enjoyable; however, even if they game-ify their work, at the end of the day they are still having to deal with irate customers.  I guess anything that improves their enjoyment of work is better than nothing.  Even if developers succeeded in making “better-the-world” games, why would consumers play them over the newest Halo or World of Warcraft expansion?  For this theory to work, the games would need to be as appealing commercially as other mainstream games, which could prove to be very difficult.  As to the second part of my question, I just wonder where our world would be today if Tim Berners-Lee was too occupied with games to invent the WWW.  I know it is an extreme example, but games inevitably take time and energy that might be better applied elsewhere.

My final question deals with the application of her theory outside of the Western world/developed nations.  The idea that we need video games to create happiness and pride would be a very difficult concept for someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from.  I know Mcgonigal has already created a game geared towards helping third-world nations, but I think we can do other things to help around the world.  On the contrary, if we can find a way to help people around the world through games, then I am all for it.  Again, this is the whole point of “Reality is Broken,” so I’m sure McGonigal with expand on this concept.  I merely just question the viability of it.  This book is directed towards a Western, primarily American audience, so I guess it doesn’t have to apply to the entire world; however, I think we need to be more understanding of what is happening around the world and not just our individual happiness.

Sidenote:  In spite of my harsh criticism, I am thoroughly enjoying “Reality is Broken,” and think McGonigal has raised some very good and realistic points.

Comm 530 Week 1 questions

I found the reading very interesting.  Here are some questions that came to mind:

How will gaming affect the health of the world?

How will the pursuit of “fiero” in games affect the productivity of the world?  Conversely, how would it have affected our past?

Removing ourselves from context, how can we explain this concept outside of the western/ developed world?