Tapping into the cognitive surplus

Last week I began a 4-week internship at Social Square, one of the leading Danish developers of social software. “Leading” can be somewhat misleading since there’s almost no dedicated developers of social software in Denmark. Actually, the founders have spent the last two years giving talks and writing a book about social software, making the pedagogical effort to show potential clients how they might use social software to their advantage both internally in their organisation and externally in communicating and relating to their users, customers, and clients.

So what is social software really about? Well, as the very clever Internet theorist Clay Shirky argues, it’s about tapping into the massive cognitive surplus that has been created with all the free time, which people have nowadays in the industrial world. He argues that traditionally, this surplus has been soaked up by gin and television. Now, it’s possible to use that surplus in more creative and constructive ways (think Wikipedia, free software etc.). Shirky is a very entertaining speaker, and I recommend hearing the word from the horse’s mouth:

UPDATE: Oh, just to counterpoint Shirky’s rather exuberant optimism, I just saw this video with Jonathan Zittrain, another extremely clever internet theorist who has spent a bit more time worrýing about how the internet might be corrupted. As a Ubuntu veteran, I love his analogy between the development of the US constitution and the development of operating systems:

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