In Charge - The Role of Inconvenience in Designing Social Systems

continuing the theme of a power shift in examining who is in charge our next speaker is clay shirky you again I'm really excited to be able to introduce at previous zeitgeist we have James Surowiecki of The New Yorker and of the wisdom of crowds talk about how collective intelligence made a difference in how the world worked and the internet it made this possible certainly has made Google and many other companies possible and I think if if that was the wisdom of crowds Clay Shirky is going to talk about the under the actions of crowds and how we can understand them he's on the faculty of the interactive telecom program at NYU I think of them as one of the same estoy TSA's in technology policy and its interaction with social and political life that there is it's hard to strike the balance between unreasonable pessimism and unreasonable optimism but clay shirky consistently does it please join me in welcoming clay shirky thanks very much thank you so I had a wrote a book that came out this spring called here comes everybody and the thesis of the book in five words is group action just got easier what I looked at was the ways in which all of our new network technologies the internet mobile phones applications built on top of them are changing the way groups come together and get things done now you've got that book in your in your swag bag so I'm not going to talk about that this morning but it is the theme i'm working from very much exemplified by Jennifer's talk before the break what I want to talk about today is something I've been thinking about since then which is the role of inconvenience in the design of social systems so let's start yeah so here we have a photo to athletic young men pursuing a basketball now this is this is curious because these guys are quite well paid right and you would think that one or the other of them would have had the common sense to go buy a sporting goods store on the way to the game and buy a second basketball so they didn't have to spend the whole hour fighting over this alright in fact right these guys have got enough money maybe we could just get a basketball for every member of both teams it's only about 50 bucks apiece of course it's a ridiculous idea the design of basketball requires inconvenience to function that's how it works it needs scarcity it fails with abundance so hold that thought i'm going to tell you about something that happened to a friend of mine last november a former student of mine who's gone on to become a colleague and a friend broke off her engagement with her longtime fiance and in addition to all of the sort of emotional horror and administrative trivia that you have to go once to go through when something like that happens she also had to engage in the 21st century ritual of the changing of the relationship status right she had to go onto facebook and she had to change her relationship status from engaged to single right because what she didn't want to have happen if she didn't want to have the news that she was she had broken up with her fiance show up on the facebook news feed her problem was that she had a lot of friends on facebook but she also had a lot of friends which is to say people she'd gone to high school with people she knew from two jobs ago all of the rest and having it show up in this environment having that be the way she tells people write something she really wanted to avoid even worse many of her recently former fiancé's friends had also friended her and she especially didn't want them to find out this way right because that would be a that would be a terrible thing to do and so right in order to perform this changing of the relationship status she goes on to facebook and she finds this which is facebook's privacy policy very well thought out very clearly state then she goes here which is the interface for managing privacy preferences she reads the privacy policy she reads the instructions she goes to the interface she checks the appropriate check boxes home and finally she can do it and she goes through and she changes her status I'm not seeing the next slide there it is from engaged back to single and presses the button two seconds later absolutely everybody in her contact list got in their newsfeed right your friend just changed her relationship status from engaged to single total privacy wipeout complete disaster exactly the opposite effect of the ones you wanted to create her email started going off I am Twitter the same thing was happening to her former fiance suddenly everybody knew all at once so the question we want to ask in situations like that is who's at fault what went wrong weird how did this happen right so one answer is right my friends at fault right she didn't she'd really understand Facebook she did her graduate thesis work on comparison of Friendster facebook and meet up right if she doesn't get social networks it's well beyond right the average user right so then you say well Facebook has at fault right this this privacy policy isn't clear the interface isn't clear something went wrong there James grimmelman who writes about privacy and social networks at New York law school has said that Facebook has the best privacy policy of any social network service he's ever looked at what went wrong here is that changing your relationship status in a simple and binary way is an unnatural act right we're simply no good at having anything called privacy preferences at all in fact prior to the current era the only person any of us even knew of who had anything that could be called privacy preferences was Greta Garbo right and now suddenly all of us have to manage this set of checkboxes right prior to the current era the principal guarantor of privacy wasn't law and regulation and it wasn't engineering and software it was inconvenience that's what kept us safe right we lived most of our lives not in private or in public at sort of two extreme ends we lived most of our lives in a sphere that we called personal life a word we hardly use anymore except sorry about this our word we hardly use anymore except with reference to technology right in personal life right you could walk around talking to your friend in public yes but it wasn't like anybody was spying on you and it wasn't like every word you uttered was being recorded for all time and now it is like that it's a lot like that and for people like my friend a significant piece of their social life is like with privacy we're not moving from an old engineered system to a new engineered system we're moving from an evolved system primarily based on the inconvenience of the real world into a system that's engineered and we have to figure out how to put the inefficiency back right that's the question there is no amount of formal management of single check box yes or no privacy preferences that's going to accommodate our need for privacy as as we've lived and as I've looked around after finishing the book and started looking at social systems as they're adapting I see this pattern over and over again places where for the system to work we have to have a certain kind of inefficiency there was a moment shortly after friendster launched the original breakout social networking service where young teenagers who weren't allowed to join the service nevertheless joined in droves but there was no place for them to list their age because they weren't supposed to be there so 16 year olds listed at their age is 66 all right 14 year olds listed their age is 64 everybody was in on the joke and you could start to sort of look through the system and because friendster was designed to increase the search ability of the system right how many friends do you have how easy is it defined right the combination of those two factors meant we came to this close to having an effective search engine for 14 year old girls we don't want a search engine for 14 year old girls we don't want that for a lot of really good reasons and that's now obviously widely understood in the social networking service but the general case is that there are some kinds of inefficiency we have to have and that the design of inefficiency in in the digital environment becomes one of the big social challenges of the edge here's an example taken from another domain whoops feckless thank you so this is chris a venir it's a 18 year old and because he's 18 he's grown up in this environment right when he was five the commercial web or the there was already public access to the internet when he was ten the commercial web was already well on its way to being built out by the time he was 15 friendster myspace facebook had all launched before he was 20 he goes to college when he gets to college right he sets up a study group for his chemistry class as students have done since time immemorial but because he's the age he is he sets up the study group on Facebook right he calls it the dungeon / Ryerson college chemistry right and it goes pretty well right he gets a hundred and forty-six of his fellow students to join his chemistry study group they start talking about chemistry and there they are on Facebook and all of a sudden the college calls him up on charges and threatens to expel him how many charges a hundred and forty-seven charges one for setting up the face group book Facebook group and one for each student who joined right they said you can't do this this is a complete violation of the academic code of conduct you must come down and defend yourself right so here's Ryerson's point of view right what you are doing is publishing right what you were doing is breaking out of the environment of the college you were operating as if you owned a television station of printing press away right here's avenues point of view right he's hiding nothing right he's doing this out in the open on Facebook and not just that he called his study group the dungeon because that's the name of the room on the Ryerson campus where study groups meet from his point of view right this was simply taking real-world kinds of engagement and moving it onto the web right and so you have this either or argument right is facebook like a newspaper or is facebook like a study room but metaphor is our great enemy here because if you have to answer either of those questions you'll get it wrong right because it turns out that Facebook is a lot like Facebook right that it does different things than any other system in fact if it didn't do that they wouldn't have a business model at all and it is exactly in the ways that a differs that means there is no obvious choice from previous experience about what to do in this example right so clearly right avenir embarrassed Ryerson clearly they overreacted clearly they're bad actors here the story had a moderately happy ending he was graded down for the chemistry class but not expelled which in Live View was even still a little too far Ryerson going a little too far but there is a deeper principle at work here right what did why what did a venir do that upset Ryerson so much and what he did is that by being given control of convening large groups he caused the two messages that exist inside educational institutions to collide with one another right colleges have an inside message and an outside message the inside message is welcome to the community of scholars we are discursive environment the ideal kind of class to be in is a small seminar where you discuss things with your peers it's about conversation it's about community right the outside message from a college is quality control of individual minds right we take we take students we fill their brains with the information they need the experiences they need when they're ready we slap a diploma on them and ship into you right and the thing that kept those two messages from colliding is inconvenience in the real world right and so as long as that happened the inside message on the outside message don't clash and what a venir did I was just run Facebook right through that distinction but just because Ryerson College is the bad actor here doesn't mean that this is a simple case of do as thou wilt as the whole of the law because here's the thing there may be tables down in the dungeon at Ryerson but there's no tables that see the 146 right if you've got a group of half a dozen people who come together for a study group and somebody shows up and says look I'm just here to free right on you guys right I just want you to tell me how to pass the test but I'm not going to participate right a person gets kicked out small groups are really good at defending themselves against Free Riders large groups are not right and in particular the logic of digital networks is to reduce the harm of Free Riders rather than to reduce the threat of Free Riders in fact many of our most important systems starting with Napster are free right or tolerant right but colleges can't afford to build an educational experience around tolerance of Free Riders any more than you could have a good game of basketball with an abundance of basketballs right we need some way to ensure that participants in a group are actually participating and there's no way and a group of a hundred and forty-six people that some of those people weren't just in there essentially shoulder surfing for the answers to the chemistry test right and that doesn't even bring into account search engines because next year all someone would have to do is just type in Ryerson chemistry study group and get all of the conversation without even joining the group right and so instead of saying we're going to take this principle from the 20th century or that principle from the train station or in the case of education from the 12th century what has to happen is we have to figure out what kind of inefficiency is going to produce the right balance between individual and group effort in educational institutions there's no simple porting of old principles to take this example into account we don't have many good examples of places where people have this out but we do have one actually let's go back from this for a minute sorry we do have one and this is a story that starts in 1980 when Xerox delivers the most important printer in the world right the most important printer in the world was a 9700 was part of the first model of laser printers but it wasn't important for what it did it was important for where it went and what it had when it got there because where it went was the MIT lab where Richard Stallman was a student and what it had when it got there was no source code right and Richard Stallman a programmer of the first rank saw that printer and he saw the future he said if this continues this way it is the end of the community of sharing that I know and love is the end of programmers sharing their knowledge and so another momentous anniversary 25 years ago this year he founded the Free Software Foundation the Free Software Foundation added the new public license otherwise called the GPL and the GPL is specifically designed to inject a certain kind of inefficiency into the act of sharing software right it is in efficiency as flow control it says programmers who abide by these rules can share and programmers who don't abide by these rules are prohibited from sharing in certain ways right is the kind of inefficiency that increases the social density of the community of participants and it's not just the GPL and it's not just software now because the intellectual heritage of this is quite extraordinary all right all the creative commons licenses for content right have have brought this model to all kinds of intellectual production right and so we talk a lot about the really massive scale versions of this linux the apache web server wikipedia and these are all huge and deserving of attention but that's not the stuff that winds me up oh I'm sorry go back that's not the stuff that winds me up here's what gets me right you can go out on the web and find pages devoted to the lego figurine modding community right it's not just for people who collect met Lego figurines it's for people who collect them and then modify them to use in particular kinds of Lego dioramas right and those people will share with you right as long as you credit them right you can go out to the homeschooling community people we think of as removing themselves from society and you'll see incredible curriculum sharing you'll see used textbook networks it's an incredible amount of sharing going on in these mods and all of that derives from intellectual heritage of the GPL but now that the network is becoming so important we're seeing a rise not just in intellectual production but in collective action right here we have an HS book group protesting banks treatment of students right here we have a group of Belarusian kids protesting against the Lukashenko government using livejournal using digital photography for sharing after the event right here we have 40,000 kids walking out of the LA Unified School District to protest anti-immigrant policies a protest organized in 48 hours entirely by myspace and SMS right but here's a curious thing right we've got all of this fecundity in intellectual production and we've got this rise of collective action but all of the collective action examples we have rely on stop energy right there's a huge number of protest movement I should say not all but the but the preponderance up right there's a huge premium on short term high visibility protests and collective action right so what's the gap and here's what I think the gap is there is no GPL for group action there is no license yet for collective action that allows groups to come together and work together over long periods of time around goals related to collective action rather than just intellectual production do this thought experiment assume you and a couple friends neighbors decide you're going to do something to lower the carbon footprint of your neighborhood or 10 and you go down to a bank and you say hey right we all like each other we all share the same goals why don't you give us a bank account right the bank a laugh at you and send you out of the room man if we go away and incorporate in Delaware and come back and say we're a corporation now give us a bank account the bank says okay sign here right the act of incorporating literally of embodying the group injects four kinds of inconvenience into that group the group is hard to set up it's hard to tear down it's hard to join and it's hard to leave and once you do that the state is willing to defer to the group as a real entity right and that's that's what i think is coming now right there are lots of examples of people experimenting with how you do this there is let me bang through this these are infected in britain there's something called a community interest company right and a community interest company is a way of starting a for-profit entity that has social goals built into the Charter right Vermont has become the first state in the Union to add something called the virtual corporation you can form a company in Vermont without having to have paper filings a physical address or a hierarchical management structure and doesn't that sound friendly to net native groups right Vermont is trying to be the Delaware of cyberspace right the meetup meetup is creating something called the meetup Alliance which allows bunches of local real world groups to coordinate their actions on regional and national scale now I can't tell you which of these examples might succeed but I can tell you this the premium for and the effect of getting this right are both going to be enormous because once we have groups where the action doesn't have to be short-term where there is enough structure built in part around inefficiency we can start thinking about the design of social systems that take digital networks that take sharing that take these kinds of things for granted sometimes that means reconsidering ancient habits as with figuring out what privacy means in social networks sometimes it means redesigning existing institutions like coming up with a new bargain between individual and group effort and educational institutions sometimes it will mean the formation of absolutely new institutions doing things like taking on the environmental movement right there's a very interesting effort going on right now called transition towns which is essentially a recipe for doing my thought experiment right get a group of people together and figure out how a bit at a time right to convert your whole town or neighborhood to the idea of lowering energy costs and this this is I think the design challenge that we're heading into right society is not just the sum of all its individual members it's also the sum of all of its groups right we have done an amazing job of handing over a high degree of control to individuals and the results of that as we've seen have been astonishing the period i think we're entering into is to figure out how to accomplish that same task for group action thank you very much

  1. they're afraid of real change. talking about social systems while note letting the real people comment, rate tr share it.
    fucking google.

  2. Excellent. As always.

    If ratings were enabled I would give this a 5.

    If embedding was not disabled I would put this on my blog.

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