Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo

When you're a newbie to this stuff, as I know I am, you have the sense that there's a lot of unpacking to do, or a lot of catching up with the curve, or. . . whatever. You get the gist. And so in my case, I'm spending a bit of time, here and there, tracking stuff down (kind of like I feel about my reading--I hated to read as a kid and now that I like reading, I'm constantly playing catch-up to get to to the stuff I should have read a long time ago). All of which is to say, I'm probably going to play catch-up (a lot) with some of these posts or at least track things down to the point where they make some sense to me (and maybe to you). We'll see. Feel free to skip if all of this is old news to you.

So, I see this comment on Peter Brantley's Twitter site: "clay's web 2.0 talk nice short sweet - make every librarian or publishers listen." I take that as a challenge, and so follow the link to clay's talk. First of all, I'm wondering, "who's Clay?" Turns out, its Clay Shirky. I still don't know who he is, but I've got the link and follow it. But first, before following any links, I watch the video. Here it is:



What did I take away from Clay's talk that might have some bearing on working in the world of special collections & rare books? (A question I'll probably repeat again and again as I find new stuff.) First, there was a great quote I snatched from his talk: "Media that's targeted at you, but doesn't include you, may not be worth sitting still for." We probably do a whole lot of targeting. Or maybe we just make people sick. (We "throw up" content on the web--a terrible way to describe what we do--especially if you've ever been sick with the flu). But we don't give them the chance to interact with that content, to collaborate on the content, to produce something new and useful.

That brings me to the second takeaway from Clay's talk: this concept of the cognitive surplus. Time is not an issue. How time is used, is. Gin was the response in the 19th century; the sitcom was the response in the 20th. Given the orders of magnitude Clay mentioned in his talk, there are enormous possibilities to share, produce, and consume new kinds of information or products (instead of watching another episode of CSI).

How might this play out in our own situations? For example, I have a couple of web pages that include scanned images and metadata for medieval manuscript leaves. As they're currently presented, there's no easy way for people to collaborate on those leaves, to add new content (translations, provenance, notes, etc.) except for them to send me an e-mail with their suggested content and then for me to ponder, edit, or whatever the fruits of their labors before I put it up on the web. Its a mediated situation that works, but maybe it could work better. To use another image from Clay's talk, people want to know where the mouse is. They want to be able to interact with the material, to be included in the material. Now, maybe we're nervous about a totally un-mediated situation. So, maybe we look for a middle way, something that might limit the community of participants, but still opens it up to a greater level of participation and production than is currently available.

Maybe we do something similar with photograph collections. Instead of spending a lot of time fussing around with metadata, we post the images and let people have at it. I don't know. Since I'm from the Hawkeye Pierce school of meatball surgery (as it might apply to archives and libraries), I tend to want to get the basics done at then pass the patient off to someone else who can attend to the niceties of care and recovery. (Maybe I'm just mixing too many metaphors here!)

In any event, I think Shirky's on to something here, something worth exploring in the production and sharing of things special and rare. A "lightly edited" transcript of his talk is here.

1 comment:

Lisa O said...

Great post.

Have you considered using a wiki for your medieval manuscript leaves? I have found that to be the best means of collaborating on projects similar to this.