PopTech 2008: Clay Shirky in Digital Freedoms

by Shashi Bellamkonda on October 24, 2008


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Categories : Poptech,Swami Speaks


Clay Shirky spoke at Poptech in the session called Digital Freedom. Clay Shirky  is adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate interactive telecommunications program. In February 2008, he published Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.  Other speakers on this panel :

  • Matt Mason author of The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism .
  • Chris Anderson Author of “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More” and author of the forthcoming book ‘Free’. His day job is Editor in Chief if Wired magazine

Clay was absolutely confident and when his presentation did not seem to load on his computer, he took it in his stride and gave an amazing speech on Intrinsic motivation . The message was that things are changing so much that people want to give and people want to get help. Connecting them both is a challenge and users will give only if they are motivated.


He talked about  Josh Groban musician and Grammy nominated singer song writer who had  a great fan following especially women. These fans wanted to give him something for his birthday. Since Josh has everything they decided to collect money for his birthday and donate it to a charity. This idea got a lot of traction at a grass roots level among fans and thy collected several thousand dollars of donat6ions for charitable purposes. Now while Josh Groban started a 503 company to manage the donations under the Josh Groban Foundation the volunteers continued to work under a all volunteer organization called http://www.grobanitesforcharity.org/about/. This is an example of how people will work for success based on “Intrinsic motivation” . The web site that collects money is created by amateurs and does a phenomenal job collecting money. All the money collected goes to charity as there is very little administrative cost.

Making a point on the match making between people who want to give and those who will take the generosity Clay Shirky talked about Napster. Napster was created by Shawn Fanning in 1999 and had a phenomenal growth of 70M users in 18 months. The design here was to make it easy for anyone with a computer to find and get files/information wherever they were. Since Napster made this easy for both people who wanted to share their music and those who wanted to listen  it became very popular. Now Itunes has made it easy for people on the same lines.

Clay Shirky mentioned Howardforums.com ( I am a member there) which was started by Howard Chui who first wanted to share his own experiences with his pone and now has a billion views a year. People spend a lot time answering questions and helping others. The forum polices itself and even thought it is about phones they have a thread on “cats’. This is an example of how an unstructured user built property can be successful vs a process driven company built forum.

Develop a environment where people feel like they are doing the right thing , being appreciated by a small group of people you know is different from being liked by a large group of people who do not know you. Developing intrinsic motivation among your users is key to success. Giving your users autonomy is important.

I will review Clay Shirky’s book ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations “ for a future post.

Other great posts on this panel:






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