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A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

# Filed on Mar 23, 2006 by Anthony DiSante 1 reply

I recently came across a speech given by Clay Shirky called "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy".  The focus is on social software, the internet, and the psychology of certain behaviors that consistently appear in groups using them.  It’s a little long but thoroughly interesting.  Here are a couple of excerpts:

Quoting A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy:

So the first answer to Why Now? is simply "Because it’s time." I can’t tell you why it took as long for weblogs to happen as it did, except to say it had absolutely nothing to do with technology. We had every bit of technology we needed to do weblogs the day Mosaic launched the first forms-capable browser. Every single piece of it was right there. Instead, we got Geocities. Why did we get Geocities and not weblogs? We didn’t know what we were doing.

One was a bad idea, the other turns out to be a really good idea. It took a long time to figure out that people talking to one another, instead of simply uploading badly-scanned photos of their cats, would be a useful pattern.

That one got a chuckle out of me.

Quoting A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy:

In the early Nineties, a proposal went out to create a Usenet news group for discussing Tibetan culture, called soc.culture.tibet. And it was voted down, in large part because a number of Chinese students who had Internet access voted it down, on the logic that Tibet wasn’t a country; it was a region of China. And in their view, since Tibet wasn’t a country, there oughtn’t be any place to discuss its culture, because that was oxymoronic.

Now, everyone could see that this was the wrong answer. The people who wanted a place to discuss Tibetan culture should have it. That was the core group. But because the one person/one vote model on Usenet said "Anyone who’s on Usenet gets to vote on any group," sufficiently contentious groups could simply be voted away.

Imagine today if, in the United States, Internet users had to be polled before any anti-war group could be created. Or French users had to be polled before any pro-war group could be created. The people who want to have those discussions are the people who matter. And absolute citizenship, with the idea that if you can log in, you are a citizen, is a harmful pattern, because it is the tyranny of the majority.

Interesting political analogies going on there, and I especially like that last sentence.  It reminds me of the fiasco that is the southern border of the United States: there are those who believe that anyone who can manage to sneak into the US undocumented should be automatically given the same rights as citizens of this country.  And that is, of course, absurd.  Everyone who is a US citizen is documented and has to follow the rules.  If you want to come to America, by all means, please feel free; but don’t expect to be able break all our rules in the process.

Comments:

01. Oct 8, 2006 at 09:31pm by Tony B:

Well as users and participants in any OS based programme will know, the group can more often than not get in the way of the single-minded development that is more prevalent in the commercial world...

However, the most contentious issues are normally those supported by the silent majority, and it is the "gobby" few who can most frequently change the course of decisions....

Stand up for what you believe and more often than not you will win, purely because most of the world can’t be bothered to argue anymore......

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