Social software group dynamics: Clay Shirky

One of the papers I re-read lately is Clay Shirky’s landmark speech at ETech in 2003 “A group is its own worst enemy” where he identifies 4 principles for social software/social network design. These principles are every bit as relevant today as they were 5 years ago.


Group Dynamics
You need to read the paper in full but I particularly draw your attention to the 4 design principles:
1) design handles the user can invest in
2) design a way for there to be members in good standing
3) you need barriers to participation
4) find a way to spare the group from scale
Clay concludes by reminding us of a point that, amazingly, we often forget – “the users are there for one another”:
“That’s part of the problem that the John Hegel theory of community — community leads to content, which leads to commerce — never worked. Because lo and behold, no matter who came onto the Clairol chat boards, they sometimes wanted to talk about things that weren’t Clairol products.”
“But we paid for this! This is the Clairol site!” Doesn’t matter. The users are there for one another. They may be there on hardware and software paid for by you, but the users are there for one another. “

To read A group is its own worst enemy.
Further Reading on Social software group dynamics
Social Network Design: The Network Is A Living System, Design It As Such
Bioteams and Social Networks: New Audio Presentation
Making virtual communities and social networks sustainable


About Ken Thompson
Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities and virtual teams and has published two landmark books:
Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature’s Best Designs
The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks
Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 500 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) – in other words how human groups can learn from nature’s best teams.
Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques. The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps musicians and bands form a unique collaboration with their fans for mutual benefit.