argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the fourth part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, a look at the beginning of day two of the event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Kicking off the second day of the conference was a hugely interesting keynote address by Clay Shirky, famed author of Here Comes Everybody, a highly recommended read documenting the way society is rapidly being changed by emerging social tools.

The theme of Here Comes Everybody is “Group Action Just Became Easier” and Shirky gives 4½ examples of this:

1. The social dynamics behind Flickr

Not too long ago, a Flickr pool on high-dynamic range photography (HDR) was created. What followed was a conversation in the photos’ comments about who uses what software to create HDR material. People found out that it was possible to insert pictures into the comments and kept exchanging ideas on how to improve techniques. The stream of comments slowly turned into a “lecture” on HDR photography, making it a “social object” that attracted a community. It is the process of a social gathering in reverse: instead of starting by getting people with the same interests together into a large group, the social object acts as a catalyst which slowly gathers interested people around itself.

In the past, this would have taken years: a photo shows up, people document it in magazines, it gets picked up by amateurs, people get together in meetings discussing the topic, etc. The HDR on Flickr phenomenon happened within three months and became a vital part of the rapid progression of HDR photography techniques — much faster than would have ever been possible in the past.

There’s was another example illustrated which shows the downside of the same mechanic and it’s also Flickr-based. A separate photo pool exists called the Black & White Maniacs. The name is pretty self-explanatory, and the pool has rules on posting and commenting on black and white photos. The most important rule is that in order to post a picture, you had to comment on the previous two pictures in the pool. It turned out that people either ignored the rule, or found ways around it by just leaving a simple, non-descriptive comment like “nice.” This lead to an expansion of the rule set that was meant to be really simple, which prompted some big fights between moderators and users who just wanted to show the world their pictures.

The bottomline: Flickr has introduced a service of sharing photos, but creates a whole new dilemma on the social dynamics behind the actual sharing. Shirky’s firm statement was that you cannot solve such a dilemma, you can only optimize it. The new design challenge seems to be in how the social organization takes place.

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