Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Getting Crowded in Here

Thanks to the rise of social media, more people are having their say about things. The audience has begun talking to the stage: consumers, more and more, are talking to the producers; activists/donors are talking to the nonprofits; citizens are talking to the media. The information flow has reversed. The result? A cacaphony of input and ideas, from the ground up. Across society, says Charles Leadbeater, social media are fueling the "rise of the amateur professional." Here's an animated whiteboard that Leadbeater made to explain what he means. He shared it last week in Amsterdam, at the third annual PICNIC idea-fest:

Leadbeater is the author of the book, We Think, about the impact of social media-driven mass innovation.

Clay Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody, also spoke at PICNIC this year. I caught up with him before the conference and I got his take on the rise of mass collaboration and mass innovation. Shirky wonders whether society's traditional institutions are ready to handle this surge of mass input. New types of leadership, he says, are needed to manage it all:

"There's a general awareness now that the Net isn't simply a decoration on contemporary society. It's a challenge to it. A society that has an Internet is a different kind of society than one that doesn't, much like a society with a printing press was very different than the one without it. Unlike all of the media revolutions in human history, though—the printing press, the telegraph, moving images and sound, and finally the ability to harness broadcast—the Internet creates groups. It moves us into a world of two-way groups.

Group action in society just got easier. This is a big deal.
Freedom of speech, assembly and religion are all now the same freedom. We are living now through the largest increase of human expressive capability in history."

The significance for nonprofits and other advocacy groups? "A big part of the traditional organization is going to be comprised now of people you have to convince rather than command," Shirky told Cause Global. "Where the organization is headed will be set partly by management and partly by the members, and it's something employers will have to learn to live with."

For more big thoughts—the top 10 trends stemming from social media shared at PICNIC this year—click here.

(Illustration by istock.com)

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