Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Million Giraffes (and one Clay Shirky)

There are a lot of things that the internet does really well. It does meaningless well. And crowdsourcing. It does magnificent towering monuments to imaginative folly, and creativity, and creating a community out of every single person online.

At the moment, my imagination has been captured by a web project that encapsulates all of these things and is beautiful in its simplicity. In Stavanger, Norway, there’s a man called Ola Helland. He made a bet that he could collect 1 million giraffes by the end of 2011, by leveraging the power and goodwill of the People of Planet Internet. And from that bet was born One Million Giraffes.

The only rule
is (in Ola’s words): “Your giraffe(s) can be created in any way and form, but not on a computer”. The barrier to entry is negligible. You don’t have to create a masterpiece. You can dash off a crappy giraffe in mere minutes if you wish. After all, a crappy giraffe is still a giraffe.

But I’ve been endlessly delighted by the breadth of inventiveness on display from the thousands submitting their giraffes. People could do it the easy way (and some, of course, do), but where’s the fun in that? If you’re going to do something for no reason whatsoever, do it with gusto!

Clay Shirky explains all this stuff much better than me in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising Without Organisations. (I’m sure Shirky would prefer it if I spelt that title with some “z”’s where I’ve placed “s”’s, but I write the Queen’s English on this side of the Atlantic. The internet also does “divisive” and "nit-picking" very well, too…)

As Shirky states in the book: “You can think of group undertaking as a kind of ladder of activities, activities that are enabled or improved by social tools. The rungs on the ladder, in order of difficulty, are sharing, cooperation, and collective action.”

I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about giraffes when he wrote that sentence.

At the time of writing, Ola has 22,121 giraffes, so he needs 977,879 more. Go and make a giraffe and send it to him. It’ll make him happy.

And if you’re wondering, here’s a picture of my contribution. It's one in a million: