I blogged a video with presentation by Clay Shirky before I read his book 'Here comes Everybody'. I'm happy to blog his book too, since I was very impressed by it, despite some weak parts.
To start with the weaknesses: I don't buy into his idea that social media will make organizations obsolete, because they will bring the power of 'organizing without organizations'. His explanation of the raison d'etre of organizations is very simplistic; when you want to organize something with a group of people, you start an organization. First of all he overlooks the fact that there are many more informal and formal forms of organizing - families, networks, associations, friendship groups etc. Secondly, he does not enter into a description of the different functions of businesses, governmental and civil society organisations. Each have a function to play in society and I don't think this function will disappear because people can organize things without costs by using online tools.
What I'm impressed with is his understanding of the impact of new communication tools. "communication tools don't get socially interesting untill they get technologically boring. The invention of a tools doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it". I think that is very well said. The tools don't change us. It is through experimenting with the tools, and becoming at ease with new tools that our behaviour changes. Shirky provides the recognisable example of the cell phone- now with cell phone, we don't make clear appointments, we say- I'll call you later. It's not the cell phone that makes us sloppy, it's the fact that we've become comfortable and used to cell phone that changes our appointment making habits. When anorexia patients meet over the internet, it's not caused by the internet, but it is a latent interest of anorexia patient to connect that gets crystallized into a network because of they make creative use of the new tools. I recall that when the students went on strike, the Dutch newspaper headlines were: MSN calls for strike! But in reality it's the students that called for strike and they were very effective in organizing themselves because they had their MSN networks. Online tools remove the barriers to collective action. He provides a very convincing example of the first groups that used Meetup to connect. They were not the well-established groups you'd expect. On the contrary groups that used Meetup to organize gatherings were groups with a latent desire to meet, but for whom it was difficult to organize it (for whatever reason).
As a result of experimenting, behaviour may change and the balance of power may change too. And that's the exciting - or revolutionary if you wish, part of the story. Clay Shirky: " the most profound effects of social tools lag their inventions by years, because it isn't until they have a critical mass of adopters, adopters who take these tools for granted, that their real effects begin to appear." So this is a stage of intense experimentation. There are definitely chapters of the book I'm going to reread.
By the way, you can find all the weblinks mentioned in the book (often annoying to retyp a paper weblink into your browser) here.