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Category Archives: Clay Shirky



Cooperation vs. Competion or Regulation

Scott Heiferman’s tweet led me to take a closer look at the work of recent Nobel Laureate (economics) Elinor Ostrom.  She studies how cooperation works best in some cases… better than competition or regulation… our two dominant forms of organizing markets.  From a Forbes article

Garrett Hardin called his famous 1968 essay on shared resources “The Tragedy of the Commons.” He argued that a shared village grazing pasture would tend to get overused and eventually destroyed. But even Hardin later acknowledged that shared common resources did not inevitably have to end in destruction, saying that he should have called his essay “The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.”

And from Fran Korton’s interview at Shareable

Fran: It’s interesting that your research is about people learning to cooperate…

Elinor: I have a new book coming out in May entitled Working Together, written with Amy Poteete and Marco Janssen. It is on collective actions in the commons. What we’re talking about is how people work together. We’ve used an immense array of different methods to look at this question “case studies, including my own dissertation and Amy’s work, modeling, experiments, large-scale statistical work. We show how people use multiple methods to work together.

Fran: Many people associate “the commons” with Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons.”… What’s the difference between your perspective and Hardin’s?

Elinor: Well, I don’t see the human as hopeless. There’s a general tendency to presume people just act for short-term profit. But anyone who knows about small-town businesses and how people in a community relate to one another realizes that many of those decisions are not just for profit and that humans do try to organize and solve problems.

If you are in a fishery or have a pasture and you know your family’s long-term benefit is that you don’t destroy it, and if you can talk with the other people who use that resource, then you may well figure out rules that fit that local setting and organize to enforce them. But if the community doesn’t have a good way of communicating with each other or the costs of self-organization are too high, then they won’t organize, and there will be failures.

Fran: So, are you saying that Hardin is sometimes right?

Elinor: Yes. People say I disproved him, and I come back and say “No, that’s not right. I’ve not disproved him. I’ve shown that his assertion that common property will always be degraded is wrong.” But he was addressing a problem of considerable significance that we need to take seriously. It’s just that he went too far. He said people could never manage the commons well.

At the Workshop we’ve done experiments where we create an artificial form of common property such as an imaginary fishery or pasture, and we bring people into a lab and have them make decisions about that property. When we don’t allow any communication among the players, then they overharvest [the commons]. But when people can communicate, particularly on a face-to-face basis, and say, “Well, gee, how about if we do this? How about we do that?” Then they can come to an agreement.

That last bit there about communication leading to better community decisions… love it.  It’s so obvious. I guess that’s why it takes a non-economist Nobel Laureate in Economics to explain it to the economists of the world.  And, for what it’s worth, her observation jibes with what we see at Front Porch Forum too.  FPF leads to better communication among neighbors, more face-to-face conversation, and, in many cases, better community decisions.

Congratulations Dr. Ostrom!




Media Crap Index… How do you score your media?

How about this?  Go ahead and score each form of media on your very own Media Crap Index… MCI.

For example, email channels are flooded with spam, some reports put it at 95% of all messages sent.  So, email gets an awful 95% MCI… that is, 95% of email is crap.

But how about other media?  TV… considering all channels, 24/7, including ads… my TV MCI = 95% too.

Radio… well, I’m a picky listener… I find myself drawn to a 95% score again.

Daily local newspaper?  What I actually read (without regret)… better than above… maybe MCI = 80%.

Facebook… oy… sorry “friends”… my MCI = 95% too.

Twitter… I guess I’ve got to get into some better hashtags or something… MCI = 85%

A question… how easy is it to glean out the non-crap portion from these various streams and let the unwelcomed bulk float away from you ASAP?  Spam filtering, when it works, makes email a good fit for me… cutting my email MCI down to about 10%.

But TV and radio?  The best filter for me is abandonment… so I instead stream shows/music online that I want to see/hear… but they still come with ads that don’t appeal… so my streaming MCI might be around 25%… much better.

Print daily newspaper… hard to filter… but I’ve been doing it since my first paper route in second grade… so my custom-built neural filter is well-honed, slicing thru the crap ably.

Facebook… well, to confess my Web 2.0 sins, I haven’t managed well, and now I just don’t have the wherewithal to wade in and pluck the lovely items from frothing stream of… what… I guess my Facebook flow calls to mind a tittering group of junior high girls around someone’s locker before 4th period.  So I don’t know how — and I’m just not motivated to try — to cut my FB MCI below its painful 95% crap level.

Twitter… I know there are ways to filter… to get the noise down… but I just haven’t seen enough value to convince me to build myself a better experience with a tolerable MCI.

Well, now I’ve likely offended several friends and colleagues, and for that I apologize.  I don’t begrudge people their media choices, and I understand that the more popular a media option becomes, the higher its MCI climbs (gotta pay the bills with ads, and you gotta attract the teeming masses).  But the hype around today’s darlings can get overwhelming.  At what point can we start talking about Facebook like reasonable people did about TV in the 1970s and 80s… they watched a few hours of it every night, but drove to work the next morning with a “Kill your TV” bumper sticker proudly displayed.

So, I look forward to better filtering across the board… drive down those MCIs on the super popular choices.  And I’ll keep looking for niches with lower MCI ratings… oh… here’s one… a hand-written letter from a loved one?  MCI = 0%!

P.S.  I reserve the right to change my mind on this.  Educate me, please!





Long, cold winter coming to Vermont

How do you tell what kind of winter is coming to Vermont?  Check your cat’s coat?  Read the pattern of fall foliage?  Me?  I read Front Porch Forum.  Postings like this one in Huntington today tell me we’re headed for a long, cold one…

A friend of mine, on Texas Hill Road, had his tank of home heating fuel siphoned and stolen. This happened sometime last Thursday night. The state police were notified of the robbery… The tank was recently filled so there was about 275 gals of fuel, therefore a large truck would have been needed to transport the fuel.  The owner heard a sound and the automatic flood lights went on but was unable to see anyone.  If anyone has any information about this please contact the Williston State Police.  It’s a shame that someone would steal fuel from a long-time neighbor of ours. Especially when the fuel was to keep him warm this winter!!

I hope they find the bums!  Bundle up.