Philippa Thomas Online

Life and leadership coaching


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The End of Big – a wake-up call #EOB

“Here Comes Everybody” wrote Clay Shirky, tech evangelist, five years ago. He’s a cheerleader for the radical empowerment offered by the internet  – new voices, direct access, more ideas, a swirl of intellectual and political ferment. 

Here comes another book on the impact of the internet which takes the next step.  Nicco Mele’s “The End of Big” pithily summarises the impact of what he terms “radical connectivity – our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally.”

But from the preview extracts I’ve read, it poses sobering questions about what happens next, when Big Institutions get undercut. You know the drill. Free blogs undercut paid news. Online protest, old-fashioned politics. Music sharing, record labels.  You Tube uploads, the film studios. 3D printing, traditional supply chains. And so on.  As Nicco Mele puts it, “radical connectivity is toxic to conventional power structures”.

But if and when the big guys have gone…  Mele asks us to look harder at what we will lose.  “We can’t fetishize technology and say ‘to hell with our institutions’ without suffering terrible consequences.”  Continue reading


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The Smithsonian goes open-source

Another good example of traditional academia embracing the open-source ethos. Scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History needed to identify 5,000 species of fish – and fast – and they did – by crowdsourcing.

I found this via @openculture and @kirstinbutler on Twitter – thank you.


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Academics “embrace” Wikipedia – shock!

Interesting piece on the BBC website today about students at Imperial College London trying to “bridge” the worlds of academia and Wikipedia. They seem very sensibly to be saying – Wikipedia isn’t going away – Wikipedia is just about the world’s most used research resource – why not bring academic brains to the task of improving rather than scorning the open source encyclopaedia? Continue reading


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“The Wikipedia Revolution”. Will it survive?

THE WIKIPEDIA REVOLUTION: a book review
Andrew Lih’s take on “How a bunch of nobodies created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia”.

To those who ask whether a grassroots open source online community can deliver a significant and sophisticated product,  Wikipedia delivers a resounding “Yes!” But then comes the caveat, “to an extent”. And then the question, “can it last?”
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Is this the end of the world as we know it?

My take on “GOOGLED: the end of the world as we know it” (2009) by Ken Auletta.

Media analyst Ken Auletta (http://www.kenauletta.com/) talks about the way Google has “swept swiftly across the media horizon”. And where Google has gone,  Auletta has followed, telling the story of the shaping of Google and how it has fundamentally reshaped our world. Newspapers and advertising, radio and television,  magazines and books: each of these industries have been hit – and been hurt – by the Google “search” revolution.

So what is that revolution?  One of the best quotes in the book comes from Google co-founder Larry Page. In 2002, he told a class in Stanford, “if we solve search, that means you can answer any question. Which means you can basically do anything.”

Auletta gives us a breathless biography of the rise and rise of Google.
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Here Comes Everybody

Yes, I totally agree with the thrust of Clay Shirky’s argument in “Here Comes Everybody: the power of organising without organizations”. Here it is (my caps) : “WHEN WE CHANGE THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE, WE CHANGE SOCIETY“.

Perhaps it doesn’t need a book this length to communicate that message but it’s a powerful read.  The flow of advantages from today’s social media tools is tremendous: as Shirky puts it, “ridiculously easy group forming”, the creation of new groups whose members never had the means to coalesce before, the freeing of political expression from Belarus to Egypt (and Iran.. and Thailand…the list is growing fast). I like this quote too, that “social tools create what economists call a positive supply side shock to the amount of freedom in the world.”  Not to be too starry eyed, that can of course mean freedom to do the wrong thing too (cf John Robb reference to “open source guerillas” putting social tools to terrorist ends.)

Shirky’s book is also provocative, an implicit jab at those of us who haven’t been paying enough attention. He illustrates the new power of the people to co-ordinate their actions, by reminding us what happened in Spain, after the horrific Al Qaeda inspired bomb attacks on Madrid’s transit system. The conservative PP, with just three days to go to the election, wrongly blamed the attacks on the Basque separatist group ETA.  Thousands and thousands of Madrid voters took to the streets to mourn nearly two hundred dead, and to voice their anger that the increasingly obvious Al Qaeda connection was being officially denied. I was there in the main square that night, broadcasting live on BBC World TV. I assumed the word was being spread, as I was hearing it, on TV, on radio, and simply in the streets. Shirky points to the mass forwarding of cellphone text messages simply reading “Who did it?”  I’d have liked to ask the right questions, to get that strand of the story, and realise the power of social media under my nose back then in 2004.

Which brings me to the alarm bells.  Rung loudly, throughout the book, for those of us who work in conventional hierarchical organisations – ESPECIALLY in the traditional media. Sure,  we’ve been aware for some years of that sound in our ears.  As Shirky puts it, “the mass amateurization” of news is a given. Power to Everybody. So, we’ve got competition. Which means as folks seek to filter – to work out what’s new, what’s credible, what quality means today – journalists in companies like the BBC just can’t rest on a sense of historic reputation.

Adapt or die? Chilling? Or Challenging? Lots more on that theme to come.