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Clay Shirky, live from Yahoo Open Hack Day 2009

We're live at Yahoo's Open Hack Day 2009 in New York City.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

We're reporting to you live from Yahoo's Open Hack Day 2009 at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York City's Times Square.

Today, NYU professor and Internet savant Clay Shirky will address the audience from the Hudson Theatre on 44th St. He will be joined by several Yahoo executives: Jay Rossiter, SVP, Consumer Platforms Group; Cris Yeh, head of Yahoo Developer Network; Neal Sample, VP, Social Platforms; Cody Simms, Sr. Director, YOS Product Management; and Sam Pullara, Chief Technologist.

Here's a liveblog of the festivities, written by Larry Dignan and photographed by Andrew Nusca.

(Note: Posts appear in reverse chronological order. Scroll to the bottom to begin.)


10:40am: And that's a wrap.

10:38 a.m. Do you need populism at the heart of these big community projects? OpenOffice good enough to use, but developer base is shrinking. Good code bad community isn't a good combination. Large collaborative efforts have a core of people where the culture surrounds. As long as the connection between the core stays tight projects can manage through difficulty and growth. The culture of the core of people that thinks this matters allows you to grow. Shirky notes that the goals are getting bigger from those early days of things like Wikipedia and Linux.

10:35 a.m.  More Q&A. How do you develop collaborative leadership vs. dominating? Great question. Shirky points out Lawrence Summers at Harvard. If you have people that are overbearing there are things you can do---social, technology, regulatory, but you need the decision makers who care about the community impact. He points out a few other hacks. You can't rely on the domineering personalities to shut themselves up, but you can regulate. If domineering people are in charge of the cultural systems in the first place don't work. Simply put, Shirky seems to think you can hack the domineering impact of a participant with regulation and hacks. Interesting concept. I'm not sure I'd recommend this at work.

10:33 a.m. Another question. Does the new culture model mean that you have to turn audience away? When scale rapidly different things break than if you grow organically. Gnarlykitty couldn't manage the growth from her attention from the Thailand coup.

10:30 a.m. Q&A: Shirky is asked whether the founders of Linux, Twitter and GPL secretly think they were going to change the world. Shirky says clearly Twitter thought it could be bigger. "They were trying for something that was big," says Shirky of Twitter's serial entrepreneur founders. Wikipedia was on the fence. Linus Torvalds had no prior art. The common thread is that they were small enough to get people into the cause with founders actively participating. "The discipline here was that the invitation says that it's going to be fun even if two dozen of you show up," says Shirky. It's an external discipline on how you invite people to a culture.

10:27 a.m. The hack culture now has the tools where you can start small and get big.

10:25 a.m.  Culture is a huge thing to be worried about. There is no one set of lists covers all cases. For almost everything you say a community has to do you can find a community that doesn't do it. Only one thing that you can posit as almost a universal: Start small and experiment from there. For instance, Torvalds didn't say he wanted to target Microsoft or power statements. He said: "I'm doing a free operating system (just a hobby) I'd like to know what features most people want."

Wikipedia says: "Humor me. Go there and add a little article. it will take all of five or ten minutes."

The big takeaway. You can affect culture in a small way. Twitter started small just aiming to connect phones using text and a dispatch service. "It started with a small social model," says Shirky. Twitter didn't say I want to be a pest to the Iranian government.

10:20 a.m. Here comes an ode to Richard Stallman. Foundation of GPL time. Freedoms include to use software for any purpose, to change software to suite needs, to share software with friends and neighbors and share your changes. Shirky calls this in incomplete contract. Cultural norms are up to you. One of the things underappreciated about the GPL is that from 1980s to mid-1990s it didn't work. What changed wasn't the presence of the license, but the ability for Linus Torvalds to see it and execute ideas via Usenet. Shirky goes really deep on version controls, bitkeeper and Linux development. The point: Version control systems didn't work. The community decided it would rather have crappy technology than harm the community.

10:14 a.m. But it's not all a picnic in this new media world. Shirky uses an example of fines for parents that don't pick their kids up at time. Once the fines were low parents left their kids at daycare longer. His point: Financial motivations are different. Some motivations crowd out other motivations. It's possible to alter a culture with rules---indirect and direct.

This is the choice that our generation has. Culture isn't possible with the tools. There's an opportunity to get it right and the opportunity to get it really wrong. If I'm following this correctly media and the Web need to think about culture a lot more.

10:07 a.m. Now we got to Lego Taj Mahal from a Cleveland math teacher, Arthur Gugick. Shirky is quite the entertainer. The Lego message. The teacher straddles the line between doing something for the love of it and the need to get fresh air. "Why is he doing this? Hobby doesn't answer the question. It just hides it. What's going on underneath. The first obvious thing is that when you have a hobby you can do on your own. There are personal intrinsic motivations. It's autonomy. Then there's competence. I figured this out and I nailed it. But those personal motivations have always been there. Something is different now. It's much more visible. The changes is a site called MOCpages, a place to show off (the Lego creation). The feeling of membership is a profound motivation. The network we've got allows for a much larger sense of membership." In addition, Gugick share his blue print. "The sharing takes all those personal motivations and turbocharges them," says Shirky. The culture of membership and sharing taken together with media tools equals the new definition of media.

9:59 a.m. Publishing has gone from the love of publishing to "hey why not publish this?" Public and private publishing travel together only accidentally. Now costs of publishing have fallen we get personal-public action. For instance, Gnarlykitty does gone fishing posts and a military coup in Thailand. The professional media was shut down. Gnarlykitty posts photos and "she's the go-to spot for the Thailand coup." "She has committed and act of journalism," says Shirky. Next day she gets a new phone and posts about it. The point: She's talking about things in her life---some of it's military coup and some of it is about pink phones. Shirky notes that the Gnarlykitty backgrounder seems like it's written in the "girlfriend voice." She doesn't care if you check her blog out or not.

9:54 a.m. Shirky highlights gnarlykitty.com.

9:51 a.m. The potential complexity of the communications landscape is growing. We have a media landscape that requires different kinds of participations and motivations.

9:50 a.m. Shirky opens up with the Dr. Who Wikipedia page and notes the 8851 edits, 3311 contributors and the 2.67 edits per person. He focuses on one user, chaosworks, who is a "thoroughly improbable creature." The first reaction is to get 1,000 more users like chaosworks, but that would miss the point. The real art of user participation is turning the fanatics with the occasional users. It's about the ecosystem. The media ecosystem is changing and the big media is slowly digesting customer input. The real art is that real people can talk to each other without a hub at all.

9:45am: Clay Shirky takes the stage.

9:40am: Jay Rossiter kicks things off.

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