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Idealog—in the ideas business

Books in brief

Despite its bold title, this book is neither new in its thinking nor correct in its prediction. But it’s still a damn fine read.

Why it’s not new: the idea that not-for-profit charity ought to be replaced by for-profit enterprise has already been much more persuasively argued by CK Prahalad in the genuinely groundbreaking book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. And the idea that for-profit enterprise ought to be more social in its aims was first argued by management guru Peter Drucker in the 1970s—and now is enshrined in such mundane movements as triple bottom line accounting.

Why it’s wrong: the idea that charity is dead denies the history and power of altruism. ‘It’s better to give than receive’ is a fundamental law that has motivated people for centuries and forms the basis of whole religions. As an Anglican priest, Nic Frances ought to know that better than most.

Why you should still buy this book: Frances’ pontificating and posturing aside, his story is compelling. A charity worker frustrated by the limitations of funding and amateurism inherent in charitable organisations, he has created some of the most interesting social enterprises in the UK and in Australia. For example, he founded the UK Furniture Resource Centre, which started out recycling old stuff for the poor. It turns out there were a lot of them and by ordering 5,000 beds at once, Frances drove down costs and ensured his clients got brand new items for second-hand prices.

Actions speak louder than words and Nic Frances’ work makes for inspirational reading.

 

If you’ve read about Generation C in Idealog or crowdsourcing in Wired or user-generated content, well, everywhere, then you’ll probably find Here Comes Everybody unoriginal and repetitive.

If all the above are new to you then maybe this could make a good introduction to the time when everyone is a publisher, musician, software developer, filmmaker, academic and porn star (well, maybe not you).

Clay Shirky is a professor at New York University and has carved an enviable reputation as a tech consultant and conference speaker. He’s certainly able to draw favourable references from famous mates such as Chris Anderson (Wired editor and author of The Long Tail) and Cory Doctorow (co-founder of the Boing Boing fanzine and website).

It must be for his other work, because Here Comes Everybody is drawn-out, full of familiar stories, and comes to no startling conclusions. Save your money and read the free entries about Gen C or crowdsourcing on Wikipedia—the encyclopaedia run by everybody.

Originally published in Idealog #16, page 82

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