Network Weaving

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Self-Organizing Kickoff

If you haven't read Here Comes Everybody, grab a copy and you will soon understand why everybody is talking about self-organizing these days.

Clay Shirky, the author, is an engaging speaker with a long list of easy-to-digest videos on You Tube that I highly recommend.

One of the stories he tells of the power of self-organization took place in Belarus in 2006. Not allowed to protest by the repressive regime, young people used mobile phones to gather large ice-cream eating flashmobs. As smiling ice cream eaters were dragged off to prison, their plight was broadcast all over the world, weakening the legitimacy of the ruling party.

In a recent talk, Shirky asked "Why aren't people using Internet communications for positive actions or "online barn raisings?"

Ernst-Jan Pfauth, in a blog post on Shirky's talk, points out

Well, the people from small farm communities live in a totally different social environment. Three important factors stimulate them to organize events like a barn raising:

The farmers owe each other a favor;
The small social density causes social control. Everybody is tracking everybody’s action;
The people they know are likely to be around for some years, so it’s worth the investment

Shirky points out that these same conditions don't exist online so we have to design new environments for collaboration.

In upcoming posts, we'll review some of the ways people are starting to organize online and look at the key design elements of self-organizing, whether online or off.

Jean pointed out that some of you are already experimenting, so please let us know what you are doing by responding to this post!


  • An interesting question, I think, might be "how ARE people using the internet for virtual community barnraising?" And then, of course, how do we encourage more of that?

    By Blogger Nurture Girl, at 1/06/2009 1:58 PM  

  • When I think self-organizing, I think "being used by" rather than "using." That sounds funny, perhaps, but to my mind the most profound examples are those that are not intentionally called into being, but that emerge through the independent actions of the participants. "Designing" self-organization seems oxymoronic.

    But perhaps my purist tendencies are showing. Apologies. ;)

    By Anonymous Siona, at 1/11/2009 3:14 PM  

  • I'm not talking about designing the self-organizing, but a system of support that helps us move from habits of hierarchical systems to skills that enable us to become more self-organized. (see post above)

    Does that make sense?

    By Blogger June Holley, at 1/12/2009 12:57 PM  

  • A vital point about barnraising that isn't being "raised" here is that it is usually only done in response to an immediate crisis/need, i.e., a barn burning down. So it's not something that is often planned in advance. Also, the Amish don't have to plan to self-organize, they simply live their already tightly socially integrated lives (which include aspects of social interaction that most modern people would reject). In my opinion, online communities will *never* be able to have that kind of tight social integration, because online/virtual/techno "relationships" can never have the same intensity and strength as face-to-face interactions. Sorry if that's too Luddite, but I don't see any evidence to the contrary.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 1/26/2009 1:09 PM  

  • Actually, barn raising in rural American were not just for barns that burned down. And, self0organized activity went far beyond barns in many communitites-often one farm had a specific piece of equipment, such as a combine, that was used on several farms with people from those farms acting as a team to get the jobs done. I think there are many examples of self-organizing in our culture but that we do not yet have the lenses to see them.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/28/2009 4:02 PM  

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