The Value of Our Online Participation

Question: How do we measure the value of cognitive surplus?
 \r\n
Clay Shirky:  The most immediate value from the \r\ncognitive surplus comes from satisfying the intrinsic desires.  Right?  \r\nThe kind of things that we’re motivated to do that are different from, \r\n“My boss told me so,” or “This is what I’m paid to do.”  And they’re \r\nboth personal and social motivations.  Intrinsic motivations have both \r\npersonal and social components.  Personal motivations tend to be \r\nautonomy and competence.  Right?   The idea that I am the author of my \r\nown actions, or that I’m good at something.  Social motivations tend to \r\nbe membership and generosity.  I am part of a like-minded group that \r\nrecognizes me and accepts me as a member, or my activities are creating \r\nbenefits for other people who are grateful for the work that I’ve done. \r\n
 
So, the primary value driving all of this stuff is really \r\nsome positive sense of self that comes from participation and public \r\naction, whether it’s personal or social. As long as enough people want \r\nto get some of that value out of uploading photos to Flicker, you know, \r\nuploading videos to YouTube, uploading pictures of cats to \r\nICanHasCheezburger, those aggregations... those aggregations will do \r\nwell.  Downstream from that, there’s a whole range of questions about \r\nvalue.  Right? 
 
So, the value of ICanHasCheezburger.com was \r\nthe purveyor of LOLCats, of the pictures of cute cats with cute \r\ncaptions, completely slight, right?  Not world-changing, not really \r\ndoing much other than giving people something to laugh at a coffee \r\nbreak. 
 
The value of Wikipedia?  You know, in less than 10 \r\nyears has become the most important reference work in the English \r\nlanguage.  So, on that range—the range of kind of socio-utility \r\ndownstream of the participants—you’ve got everything from really nothing\r\n more than a bit of fun on a work day to reshaped people’s sense of \r\nwhat’s possible.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

The primary value of participation is the positive sense of self that comes from personal and public action.

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