Just weeks before her wedding, Ivanna got out of a cab in New York, leaving her T-Mobile Sidekick cell phone behind. Her friend sent emails to the Sidekick account offering a reward for the phone’s return. No answer. So Ivanna bought a new phone. When she activated Sidekick she was startled to find that someone was using her lost phone. She then discovered that person, a young woman, was emailing Ivanna’s private pictures to herself and friends and taking photos of herself and friends, using the phone to send them. Since the phone’s data was mirrored on the Sidekick website, Ivanna’s friend then create a web site, posted pictures that the girl had taken with the phone as well as the email address she was using from the phone, and appealed for help from everybody to get the phone back. Quickly thousands of people joined the chase until the girl was located and arrested. (Not that this campaign has stopped such thefts.) That’s the story Clay Shirky uses to open his book about how we use social tools, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Writes Shirky, “… one of the things I most hope readers get out of it, is an excitement about how much experimentation is still possible, and how many new uses of our social tools are waiting to be invented.”Similarly the Internet changed how outraged Catholics could rally for changes when pedophile priests went on trial.The organizing clout of the Internet did not come in time for one of my heroes, Gary Webb. Shirky describes three levels of group activities, made possible by social media (which ones are you and your organization using?):1. Sharing with others, using del.icio.us, Flickr, Slide and other social tools. After September 11th, a midwestern professor of Middle Eastern history started a blog that became essential reading for journalists covering the Iraq war.2. Collaboration, perhaps using Linux or Wikipedia. Kite makers find each other online and collaborate on the most radical improvement in kite design in decades. So are architects.3. Collective action, where groups form to pursue a larger purpose and use social tools, ranging from google or Yahoo! groups to free online social networks such as Ning to share news and tips, recruit others, support each other and remain unified.In a controversial move, Shirky describes why he thinks MoveOn has not succeeded in three ways that Obama has, using social media, beginning with his “wide pockets versus deep pockets” approach to securing many little donations rather than a few big donations.Another example, fighting against the airline industry’s resistence setting standards for passengers stuck on the tarmac, some angry passengers recruited, “tens of thousands of people in a few weeks” to join the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. Each example in his book includes three vital elements:a credible and clear promise, use of the right social media tool(s) and an attractive bargain for and with potential participants. Writing in sharp contrast to Shirky’s view of social media as a collective experience for “us”, Lee Siegel, in Against the Machine, believes the Internet mainly serves “me” and often brings out the banal in “amateurs”.He calls it, “the first social environment to serve the needs of the isolated, elevated, asocial individual.”Then, to prove the power of “us” using the right social media tool, see the lively documentary, 24 Hours on Craig’s List.
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