A world where that is the kind of thing that just happens from time to time is a world where complexity is neither an absolute requirement nor an automatic advantage. But Charlie didnt just happen because Charlie is not the only story here. As became a phenomenon, those 174 million-and-counting views could only be delivered by acres of these: Complexity is not going away. Its just moving to a different spot in the production chain, and as it moves so does the balance of power. Years ago companies like p g, coca cola and the other manufacturers would dictate to the stores that sold their goods how to do so, mandating marketing campaigns and product positioning. But now the balance of power has now shifted closer to the customer - to wal-Mart and the retailers, who send Coca cola back to change the taste of their drink and who tell p g to pay for the privilege of managing Wal-Marts shampoo. Amazon and google are trying to become the wal-Mart of the cultural world, increasingly dictating terms to their suppliers.
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And there are many complex business models in the digital world that Clay chooses to ignore: googles partnerships with major media companies, the licensing complexities of Facebooks ever-changing privacy rules and third party apis, Amazons outsourcing of warehousing through its complex partner programs - these. They just dont appear in the stories he tells. * * Useful though they are, the rules of telling stories, keeping the core idea ambiguous, and following the simplify and exaggerate maxim can only go so far in bringing your wild audience on to your side. The fourth and Final Rule of Big Ideas is to play on our natural identification with the underdog by casting the anecdotes and your overarching theme in a book rebellious and revolutionary light. The stories Clay tells may be diverse in terms of their origin, but they share a common tone, which is that of the creative individual (hooray!) against the stuffy institution (boo! the plucky and resourceful underdog (go Charlie!) versus the monolithic, massive but ultimately stupid corporation (down with abc!). Back to his Charlie story again: Expensive bits of video made in complex ways now compete with cheap bits made in simple ways. Charlie bit my finger was made by amateurs, in one take, with a lousy camera. No professionals were involved in selecting or editing or distributing. Not one dime changed hands anywhere between creator, host, and viewers.
At no point did the negotiation about audience involvement hinge on the question would this be an interesting thing to try? The message is clear: unions and media corporations are inflexible dinosaurs, unable to deal with the chaotic creativity of the digital 21st century. He could have chosen other stories with other messages. Media corporations are not list as inflexible as Shirky would have us believe. Rupert Murdoch, one of the media barons Clay"s as a dinosaur, is an expert at reducing production costs and limiting union rights (Wapping, anyone?). And has Clay not noticed reality television? The networks have been hugely successful at cutting the cost of Writers guild members from their balance sheets over the last ten years. On the other side, the brave new world is not so different. For a small startup to be bought by a large company and ground down by the bureaucratic pressures of its new environment is not unique to the media business: its commonplace in the software industry too.
The language is colourful, and paper it carries the reader along. It speaks to his natural audience of geeks and techno-enthusiasts, but the lack of precision keeps the audience on its toes while hinting, again, at deeper truths behind the anecdotes. But there appear to be no business such truths; we are left with theoretical language without the theory. * the five stories in Clays essay follow a practice attributed to The Economist, which is the Third Rule of Big Ideas: simplify and exaggerate. Take the one about network televisions failure to translate web tv program In The motherhood to the mainstream. Clay writes this: Once the show moved to television, the Writers guild of America got involved. They were ok with For and About Moms, but by moms violated guild rules. The producers tried to negotiate, to no avail, so the idea of audience engagement was canned (as was In the motherhood itself some months later, after failing to engage viewers as the web version had). The critical fact was that the negotiation took place in the grid of the television industry, between entities incorporated around a 20th century business logic, and entirely within invented constraints.
Why then not call it The collapse of Complex Production Methods? My guess is that, consciously or not, Clay chose business model because it is a bigger, more abstract, and less concrete concept than production costs and using business models keeps the point of the essay ambitious, ambiguous and open to interpretation. The rule extends beyond the title into the text itself. Clay has a reputation for being plain-spoken and jargon-free, but thats not really accurate. He doesnt load up his talks and essays with the jargon of the field he is talking about (culture but he does sprinkle them with jargon from many places, leaning most heavily to economics and engineering. He borrows liberally from economics with his talk of the marginal value of complexity, coasian transaction costs, and also the supply-and-demand curve (really?). He switches to engineering when he refers to societal collapse as sudden decoherence and discussed negotiations that took place in the grid of the television industry, and to business lingo with his talk of ecosystems and supply curves going parabolic.
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Charlie bit my finger Again (user generated) - 288,666,331. Michael Jackson: beat It (music video: Records) - 286,279,009. It seems that complexity has its place after all. A natural response to this complaint would be that this one particular video is not the point; that I dont get it, that it is not what the essay is really about. After all, Clay also writes this sentence: In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those.
And here is one benefit of building an essay on anecdata: you can always argue that a particular story is not the point. To take it one step further, here is the second Rule roles of Big Ideas: make the point catchy, but make it ambiguous. As Thomas Friedman has said, he who names an issue, owns it, so a memorable name (The golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention) counts far more than an accurate one, and an oracular title is the best of all. The title of Shirkys essay is not up there with that of his next book cognitive surplus, which is an obvious attempt to coin a new phrase, but it does use the rule. The collapse of Complex Business Models has a ring of down-to-earth pragmatism about it: if you are slave to an obsolete business model, then you get what you deserve. But a business model is a strategy for matching costs to revenues in such a way that you end up with a profit, and all he really writes about is one part of a business model: production costs.
Soulja boy: Crank dat (music video: Universal) - 722,438,268. Twilight Saga: New moon (film: Summit Entertainment) - 639,966,996. Beyonce: Single ladies (music video: Sony) - 522,039,429. Michael Jackson: Thriller (music video: Epic Records) - 443,535,722. The gummy bear Song (music video: Gummibear International) - 394,327,606.
Lady gaga: poker Face (music video: Universal) - 374,606,128. Lady gaga: Bad Romance (music video: Universal) - 360,020,327. TImbaland: Apologize (music video: Mosley music Group) - 355,404,824. Susan boyle: Britains Got Talent (TV: Freemantle/ITV) - 347,670,927. Twilight (film: Summit Entertainment) - 343,969,063. Modern Warfare 2 (video game: Activision) - 339,913,412. Jeff Dunham: Achmed the dead Terrorist (TV) - 328,891,308. Mariah Carey: touch my body (music video: Universal) - 324,057,568.
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Charming, each and every one, but what you might not notice on a first casual reading is database that there is little to hold them together or back them. Switching from story to story keeps the reader off-balance and makes it seem plausible that there is, in fact, a coherent mechanism behind the anecdata if only we were quick enough to catch it as the stories fly. The resolution never appears. There is nothing behind the curtain. * aside: here is Clay shirky writing about: The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brothers finger. (Twice!) which is, as of this date, no longer true. The most watched video made in the last five years shows Lady gaga and a group of hired models dancing on an elaborate set in a video that embodies complex production methods, that is part of the vevo channel (a joint venture literature between google and. Now there is a complex business model. As a further aside, analysts Visible measures add in all copies of a video together with spoofs and pastiches, and their list of the top fifteen videos is as follows.
Well, it does suggest that successful engineering solutions for the developing world are evidence in favour of the thesis of the essay, although they are not, and it brings mit on side with the argument, which cant be bad. This is how stories and analogies work - they suggest connections between different fields, connect solutions to different problems. But stories and analogies should be a starting point for thought, and not essay its terminus. They should be the spark that prompts more analytical, more rigorous investigation and introspection, testing out your idea to see where it fits reality and where it fails. In this essay, and in some of his others (see below) anecdotes are all there is, and thats just not good enough. Clay shirky tells no fewer than five separate stories in his short essay. He explains how his title is taken from a book called The collapse of Complex Societies; he tells a story about a consulting engagement he had at at t; he spins his short mit story; he talks about a web video comedy called In the.
is the shortest of the stories in Clay shirkys essay:. Amy Smith is a professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering at mit, where she runs the development Lab, or d-lab, a lab organized around simple and cheap engineering solutions for the developing world. Among the rules of thumb she offers for building in that environment is this: If you want something to be 10 times cheaper, take out 90 of the materials. Making media is like that now except, for materials, substitute labor. The loose analogy with cheap engineering solutions tells us nothing new about the media and its problems. Why invoke it then?
Their role is to contribute to the impression of a widely-read, eclectically educated piece the of writing and to keep your audience off balance, not sure where you are going next. In 1983 Nobel Prize winner roald Hoffmann visited the chemistry department at McMaster University. As the audienced assembled, Professor Ed Hileman leaned over a chair and said to me and other graduate students: you watch - hell give an interesting talk but there will be no questions. And he was right. Hoffmanns talk was an extension of his. Nobel lecture, a fascinating exposition of how the orbital symmetry rules he had developed could be extended to explain the structure of hundreds of organometallic complexes and clusters. But his talk answered all the questions it raised, and by answering them, sealed off avenues where questions could have been asked. If you want to provoke discussion, logic and detail are not your friends. Instead, dont worry about loose ends and half-expressed ideas - just keep the audiences interest and provide colour, and let them fill in the gaps later.
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That evening I reread the essay more closely, and the closer I read it, the less I liked. At sunrise the essay had been an entertaining set of anecdotes built around an intriguing core idea; by sunset it had wilted, revealed as an entertaining set of anecdotes pulled from all over the map in the vain hope that there might, somewhere,. Its not the first time i have had this reaction to a clay shirky essay, and as each essay he writes gets a lot of attention (published earlier this month, googling Shirky collapse of Complex Business Models already returns over 150,000 hits) it might. So here are the four Rules of Big Ideas: techniques the masters use to make that keynote more stimulating, that essay more likely to catch fire, all without doing too much thinking. The thesis of Shirkys essay, in case you havent read it, is that the nature of bureaucracy is such that traditional media companies, faced with declining revenues, are unable to cut production expenses, and so are headed towards collapse. Despite his title, the stories he tells are not a problem of complex business models but of expensive production, and even though it is uncredited, many readers will recognize the core of the essay from that other Clay, christensens The Innovators Dilemma. * everybody likes a story, and Clay shirky tells a good one. Collecting stories is not difficult: if you think the about a subject long enough, all kinds of tangential happenings remind you of it, so youll get a good selection to draw from before long. Sometimes these stories are only peripherally connected to the theme you are developing, but that doesnt matter because their role is not to advance your argument in any material way.