Review: Clay Shirky’s New Book, Cognitive Surplus

Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you already know who Clay Shirky is. If not, it’s probably a good idea that you do because Shirky is one of the leading voices in the digital space writing, consulting and teaching about the social and economic effects of internet technologies. In addition to being an esteemed professor teaching at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, he’s also the author of the renowned book, Here Comes Everyone, among others.

Two years after publishing Here Comes Everyone, Shirky builds on his groundbreaking thesis in a new book aptly titled Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. While the focus of his last book was the role that online tools played in the explosion of social media adoption (Facebook just announced that it hit 500 million members), Cognitive Surplus spends a majority of its focus the role that culture and psychology play in driving this new phenomena.

The book starts off with a provocative opening chapter titled, Gin, Television and Cognitive Surplus — inspired by a similarly named speech and Shirky blogpost back in 2008.* In this initial chapter, we rewind back to London’s Gin Craze of 1720 where Shirky describes a city in the grips of a massive spike in gin consumption. Essentially, gin was cheap, easy to drink and most importanly, helped country folk who were working hard to assimilate into city living, “take the edge off.” What I like about Shirky’s gin example (along with many others in the book) is that he not only explains why the government’s proposed solution (making gin illegal) had little impact on the level of gin consumption but rather that it was the assimilation of rural folks into the urban population over time that ultimately reduced the reliance on gin.

Throughout the book, Shirky uses other fascinating examples of “social” at work pointing cases like Howard Stern fans helping elect Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf as’s 1998 Most Beautiful Person and Georgia Merton and Penny Cross’s “couchsurfing” experience across Europe. What’s unique about Shirky’s style is that he gets at impetus of why people are doing these things, in many cases providing well-documented research by folks like research psychologist Edward Deci’s “Soma” experiment or professors, Güth, Schmittberger and Schwarze’s Ultimatum Game to explain what motivates people.

At the end of the day, the reason I agreed to read and review this book is because I am an avid believer in the fact that while social media is not about tools or technologies. Instead it’s roots are grounded in a fundamental set of human behaviors that have existed for centuries… if not millennia, and these behaviors are now being shaped and changed by the availability of extra time — a cognitive surplus have you — and powered by new social technologies like blogs, wikis, Twitter and Facebook. Shirky drives hard on this concept in Cognitive Surplus and spends his time explaining the psychological and cultural drivers behind the phenomena. To me, it’s this approach that has a much better chance of resonating with senior management and thus might help them better understand why they should be embracing rather than eschewing social media.

In summary, if I were to rate this book I would give it a solid A. It’s a quick read (just over 200 pages) and it’s chock full of new and exciting examples that help provide a better understanding of the “why” behind social media. It’s also a book that should appeal to both social media veterans along with marketing folks that are new to the space. If you want to buy the book (I don’t get anything if you do), it’s readily available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

While this review barely scratches the surface what you’ll learn in the book, this 13 minute TED video from earlier this summer should help whet your appetite.

What I neglected to mention up front is that thanks to the efforts and coordination by the fine folks at TLC Book Tours, this post is one in a series of reviews by a dozen prominent marketing bloggers. To read some of the other takes on Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus, take your pick from the list of smarties below…

*I learned about the origins of the name of the first chapter from my friend, Jake McKee,

What Do Facebook, The Social Network, Guy Fieri and Scott Monty Have in Common?

The title of this post is hands down the longest title in the history of this blog (I think). But I couldn’t think of a better way to respond to my friend over at Ford Motor Company, Scott Monty’s, blog post today. If you haven’t seen it, he riffs off the new movie, The Social Network which parodies Facebook and their march toward 500 million members.

As part of the fun, Scott decided that he would pick a few of us out of the social media marketing crowd (some more prominent than others, ahem, Seth Godin) that could possibly appear in the movie. And if we did, who would play us in the movie? I got a kick out of my dopplerganger and Food Network star, Guy Fieri, who ironically, I met last summer in New York City. Some folks including my darling wife thought better comparisons for me might be Ben Affleck, Billy Ray Cyrus or even Bruce Springsteen (Stephanie Agresta insists I am his long lost brother).

But that’s why I’m writing this post… instead, my goal is to continue with the meme that Scott started. In his post, he asks…

If they were holding open casting calls for extras and you were going to be featured, what famous person, dead or alive, would play you in the movie? Leave a comment below or reply with a post on your own blog with a link back to this post.

So I’m adding a few stars of my own. What do you think?

David Armano, sr. vice president, Edelman Digital / John Leguizamo [updated 7/20]

Maria Ogneva, social media director, Attensity360 / Scarlett Johansen

Brett Petersel, business development and events lead, Mashable / Christian Bale

Shannon DiGregorio, social media marketing, The CR / Angelina Jolie

Adam Cohen, partner at digital agency, Rosetta / Rob Thomas

And last but not least…

Kyle Flaherty, director of marketing, BreakingPoint Systems / Jack Black

[updated 7/20] And apparently, I look much more like Josh Beckett in this pic than any of my other dopplergangers above… (thank you Kyle)

Quick’n’Dirty Episode 52: We Love Your Tweets

It’s hard to know where to begin on the recap of this episode of the Quick’n’Dirty podcast. While the end result ended up being pretty good, the getting there part was a little nerve-wracking…

Having spent a day and a half out in Napa at the Wine Industry Technology Syposium, I knew that wedging in the Quick’n’Dirty with co-host, Jennifer Leggio, was going to be a little tricky. But with a 2:05 PM flight and a start time for the show of 12:00 PT, I figured that I would have enough time to get from Napa to Sacramento (about an hours drive) in time to get settled at a local Starbucks before doing the show. That was right up until the point where my iPhone decided to crash on me (apparently the outcome of updating all of my apps without having upgrade to the new 4.0 operating system).

Well with this post as my witness you can probably deduce that I did make it to Sacramento in time to co-host the show. The only hitch being that I had to do so from a rest area about 4 miles away from the Sacramento airport… in my rental car. For any of you wondering where I was in the chat room or on Twitter, that’s where I was. So now that you know the back story, on to the recap!

Jennifer and I kicked today’s show off with our social app of the week. Our choice was none other than Taxi Magic, a service that allows one to order and pay for a cab, all from the comfort of your iPhone, Droid, Blackberry or Palm app. The coolest part is that it uses your GPS to track you down so you never actually have to call the cab. Self-admittedly, this app isn’t that social but it’s very useful and I think may adopt more social features like integration with location-based services, etc. in the future. As I mentioned on air, a big old hat tip goes out to my friend, Chris Heuer for pointing this service out to me.

Next up was our guest of the week, the lovely and talented, Adele McAlear. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because she was our featured Twitterer back on episode 28. This go around, Adele was kind enough to share some information on her latest project called Death and Digital Legacy. While that may sound a little morbid, it’s actually a growing issue and addresses some of the messiness involved with a person’s digital assets (e-mail accounts, social networks, blogs, etc.) in the event that they die. According to Adele, some of the e-mail providers like Google have created a process to obtain the “contents” of a loved one’s e-mail account but there are a number of validations and documents that must be produced first making the process a difficult one. One the other hand, most of the social networks really have done very little to allow for the transfer of ownership of onc’s digital assets post mortem.

Our featured Twitterer of the week (and the reason for the title of this week’s post) was AJ in Nashville. Jennifer discovered AJ through his regular commenting on her ZDNet Blog and liked that AJ started calling her “Scrapster” (a nod to her feistiness). Regular listeners will then a know that Jennifer has a phrase that she likes to use as we wrap up the Twitterer of the Week segment ie “we love your tweets.” This week, Jennifer was a little “we love your tweet happy” and started saying it after our social app of the week. Bot being one to let an opportunity to poke a little fun slip by, I insisted on using the phrase a dozen more times during the show including in the title of the wrap up.

Last up was our point counterpoint. And for once, it was a topic that Jennifer and I did disagree on. Inspired by a recent article on Yahoo that talked about 10 brands that would likely disappear in 2011, I teed up the question of, “will brands that don’t embrace social go away?” My answer was yes based on my own observations and validation from authorities like Charlene Li and Professor Jerry Wind. Jennifer disagreed and pointed to a number of B2B examples (her company included) that should do fine as long as they made good products.

Want to listen to past episodes of the Quick’n’Dirty podcast? You can find them all here on BlogTalkRadio or on iTunes by searching for Quick’n’Dirty. You can also read recaps of past shows on Jennifer’s, my and now Rich Harris’ blogs. So until next week, remember, “we love your tweets!”

Hotel Nikko Asks: What Could We Do to Get You to Stay?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing 2010 Conference in San Francisco which happened to be held at the Hotel Nikko. If you haven’t visited/stayed at the Nikko before, it’s a nice hotel. Centrally located (just a few blocks off of Market), bright and clean with all the charm of a boutique hotel. The rooms are well-laid out with large flat panel televisions, wet bars and bathrooms that offer separate bathtubs and showers.

Of course I enjoyed my experience at the Hotel Nikko (in fact, this was my second time staying there) but my main criteria for choosing it had more to do with location (it’s where the conference was being held) and price (about $200/night all in) than anything else. While I was there, however, an interesting thing happened that led to the eventual writing of this blog post…

I was riding up in the elevator when a young woman who was interning at the hotel asked me if I was attending the conference. I said that I was which prompted her to ask me why I thought more of the attendees weren’t staying at the hotel. This was a fairly easy question to answer given the fact that I knew a lot of the speakers/attendees lived locally and thus didn’t need a hotel that night. It was her next question, though, that really piqued my interest. The intern asked, “what could we do to get you to stay here next time?”

At this point in the conversation, I started thinking to myself, either this is a very clever young lady who will go far some day OR Hotel Nikko may be taking an innovative approach to their customer research. Either way, I told her I had exactly the answer she was looking for… but she would need to do a little homework. I gave her three names that I told her to write down: The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC,  Brian Simpson aka @bsimi (their director of social hospitality) and Brian’s sidekick, Adam Wallace aka @adwal (new media director at the Roger Smith).

[NOTE: if you don’t know the story of the Roger Smith and how unbelievably successful they’ve been through their customer-centric AND social media efforts, be sure to listen to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe’s interview or read Chris Brogan’s glowing post about their efforts]

Being as diligent as she was curious, the intern took out her notepad and wrote all this information down, obviously intrigued by what a hotel in NYC and two guys with hip hop sounding Twitter handles could have to do with getting me to stay at her hotel. At this point, she thanked me for the information and we parted ways. Upon our separating, I got thinking more about the question she had asked me and decided to write a prescriptive post about five things I liked about my experience at the Nikko along with five ways they could improve.

The good:

  1. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM and asked if I could check in. While many hotels are strict about their early checkin policy, the woman behind the desk was very polite and let me check in early without even batting an eyelash.
  2. This may not be a big deal for most people but as someone that travels a fair amount AND is married to his laptop, the fact that the electrical outlets were easily accessible and that they had reliable wifi was much appreciated.
  3. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will understand how happy I was that there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
  4. There was a bottle of water on my bedside stand.
  5. I’d like to think that the Nikko was the impetus behind their inquisitive interns line of questioning, even if they didn’t explicitly tell her to chat up guests in the elevator. If that wasn’t the case, they were still smart enough to hire a smart and motivated intern.
The “could use improvement”:
  1. When I arrived to checkin, I was as little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had stayed there before (level of difficulty from a CRM perspective is about a 2 on a scale of 1-10). This also required NO knowledge of social media whatsoever.
  2. The “reliable” in-room wifi was $15/night. And while it was provided by AT&T; (a network that usually allows roaming via my Boingo account), I wasn’t provided with a “roaming” option in spite of the fact that the FAQs on the site said that I could.
  3. Corollary to number four in the “good” column above… while there was in fact A bottle of water on my bedside table, the aforementioned bottle was not a FREE bottle of water. I am of the strong belief that every hotel should offer at least A free bottle of water, even if it’s the cheap, no name kind.
  4. While I don’t expect that many businesses will make an attempt to use or even experiment with location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, restaurants and hotels are foolish for not tapping into this capability now. To that end, I was disappointed that the Nikko did not acknowledge of my FourSquare checkin given the fact that I cross-posted it on Twitter for all to see.
  5. They weren’t the Roger Smith
All in all, you’ll notice that my “could use improvement” column isn’t too scathing. While I travel a lot, I have simple needs. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by my stays at the Roger Smith but I am really surprised that more hotels — boutiques AND chains — haven’t done a better job at embracing social media.
How about you? Have you had a good or bad experience at a hotel that you’d like to mention? Please include it in the comments below.