[Originally posted on Savage Minds.]

I was actually thinking along very similar lines to CKelty [PDF] when I began looking at the literature on scale-making this week. In the world of the internet scale-making is all about scalability, about the ability to go from a website which can handle a few hundred users to one which can handle millions. Google recently launched a new service, App Engine, based around the promise that you’ll have Google behind you if your application takes off and needs to scale.

The reason I was thinking along these lines is that I recently finished Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody. Shirky argues that one of the defining features of the internet (once it has become a ubiquitous and prosaic part of our lives) is that it reduces the barriers to collaboration and collective action. But while the ridiculously easy group formation fostered by the internet makes it easy to form a group, the very fact of scale no longer serves as an index of group-strength. He gives this example from Howard Dean’s presidential campaign:

because Meetup makes it easier to gather the faithful, it confused people into thinking that they were seeing an increase in Dean support, rather than a decrease in the hassle of of organizing groups — the 2003 Dean Meetup simply brought out a much larger percentage of Dean supporters than would have shown up previously. We’ve seen this sort of effect before, as when written correspondence on letterhead stopped being a sign of a solvent company, thanks to the desktop-publishing revolution.

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