I spent a great high-minded couple of hours yesterday at BCU and the Creative Industries Book Club discussing Clay Shirky’s  Here Comes Everybody — a book about how the internet (and the social internet especially) is transforming the business of “organising”.

Clay Shirky's masterpiece: Here Comes Everybody - Boing Boing
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch! (this isn’t the real cover – but I like it more)

I’d read the book just after the hardback edition came out, which not only meant that I’d missed the Epilogue (where Shirky finally mentions Twitter) but that I’d had to quickly re-read it when Jon Hickman invited me to the club. In fact I’d really whipped through it as I live tweeted a review.

The reason I’d been invited, apart from because they’re all nice people, was that the Big City Talk site I’ve recently developed and “organised” is a very neat case study of the type that Shirky is talking about throughout his book — and rather more close to home (certainly something that Dave Harte was kind enough to say on his blog). I’m waiting for the dust to settle a little before fully documenting the Big City Plan / Talk project, but I’m pleased to say that it’s gone well and has (rather thrillingly) been mentioned in the Cabinet Office’s Power of Information report.

After my brief introduction the assembled minds thoroughly dissected the book, and I think, found it to be a superb (and utopian) introduction to the power of the social web — but lacking in grit or any real depth. Andrew Dubber made a superb point about the idea of how “cheap” this organisation online is — that the marginal cost is cheap, but that you have already to have the tools (the computers/or access) and the skills. This is something I’m thinking about more and more with my work with We Share Stuff around “digital inclusion” — John Kirby’s blog post on the book club has a good account of this.

What Shirky is doing from my perspective is detailing ways in which existing organisational structures fail, and where the looser, more ad-hoc ones now enabled by technology do things more easily (or make possible things that weren’t possible before). He doesn’t, however, offer any solutions — he’s not trying to, for at this stage it’s not possible to offer even a buffet-style array of potential solutions. Each organisation’s situation is — if not unique — something that can only be tackled by culture change within the organisation. Outside people like myself can advise, help and train, but in the end the social tools need to be used by the people closest to the business.

If you haven’t really got a handle on “where all this stuff is going” then Here Comes Everybody is certainly a good place to start, hopefully it’s scary and enthusing in equal measures. And I can always point to examples that are much more “real”.