Tech4Africa

Organisations must 'adapt or die'

2010-08-13 12:18
The internet has changed the way organisations operate, Clay Shirky has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The internet has changed the way organisations operate, Clay Shirky has said. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Information wars begin - expert
Information wars begin - expert

The expansion of the internet in developing countries and the resistance by governments signals the start of the information wars, an expert says.

Johannesburg – The internet has changed the way organisations respond to issues, and if organisations do not adapt to the reality of the web, they may cease to exist, says Clay Shirky, keynote speaker for the Tech4Africa conference.

“What the internet has done is cause organisations to lose their monopoly – in essence organisations are in competition with non-organisations,” Shirky told News24.

Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody, argued that the expansion of the internet could be the end of the line for “classic” non-governmental organisations.

“The classic NGO works like this, right: ‘You give us money and we’ll call you a member.’ Now what we’re seeing is that groups are springing up around civic issues and there’s no top-down kind-of formal structure. A larger number of organisations have to hybridise in order to survive and the control of communication is in the hands of those with the best PR (public relations) skills. Some adapt, some don’t,” Shirky said.

He added that the Tea Party movement in the US was a particularly good example of this new wave of organisation. The conservative group has used new media to stage successful protests against the US government policies.

Sad truth

“The Tea Party movement is incredibly savvy at using new tools and even the Republican Party was like ‘Whoa! What’s going on here?’ These guys are able to organise better than (US President Barack) Obama’s election campaign,” Shirky said.

He said that the power of the internet to allow people to organise could translate into government, but it was highly unlikely that it make government smaller.

“Look, government always tends to grow, in fact all governments tend to grow. Tools don’t cause shrinking government, even if it takes way some functions of that government.

“It allows people to participate in interesting ways: For example people know where potholes in the road are, government doesn’t. They can take a picture, upload it and that saves the government the hassle of having to send people to find out where the pothole are, before they can fix it, but the sad truth is that increased efficiency rarely reduces headcount,” Shirky lamented.

He said that the wired internet would continue to grow.

“It will be a very long time before mobile replaces fibre, but the ‘unyolking’ of devices is already underway. Sometime in the future a kid will get his first PC, and won’t even think about the wires,” Shirky said.

While he endorsed “cloud” computing, he cautioned that the cost of moving the data was critical to the success of the concept.

“Cloud computing requires that the end-points have inexpensive bandwidth. People can set the machine to upload Gigs of data and go to sleep, but if it’s going to cost a fortune, they won’t use it. It’s not so much how big the pipe is, but it’s how much it costs,” said Shirky.

The Tech4Africa conference ends on Friday, and you can follow the News24 Tech4Africa blog here.

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