Complexity Is Alive and Well

Clay Shirky’s essay, The Collapse of Complex Business Models, has been making the rounds. I was turned off early by a breezy comparison of large companies to sclerotic ancient civilizations, but he really lost me at

The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)

But that’s not true, as a 30-second Google search reveals. At the most charitable estimate, it’s neck and neck with a Lady Gaga video. Since Lady Gaga came to prominence about 8 minutes ago, and the Charlie video has been online for 3 years, I don’t find this claim compelling. (Yes, I get the Web-vs-TV point—I’m not even bothering to look up those numbers—but the argument is also about simplicity vs high production values.)

But whatever. Shirky gets lots of attention and consulting gigs and book deals and so on, so obviously he’s reaching audiences very effectively. I have a full-time day job, and I’m trying to stay faithful to my goal of taking at least one good picture of an animal every day this month (doing well!), so I left it at that.

And then a friend shared a link to Wikibollocks: The Shirky Rules, by Tom Slee. It goes into some detail about this recent essay, adds considerable depth to my main loss of connection with it, and compares it to other work by Shirky.

Then again, that Shirky article was posted on April 1. Should I be embarrassed right now?

Update June 2010: Another article critical of Shirky’s methodology

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