Clay Shirky’s Article on Lazywebs

- - posted in Ancient Archives

In LazyWeb and RSS: Given Enough Eyeballs, Are Features Shallow Too? , Clay Shirky writes about how developers could take advantage of the lazyweb by using sites like to learn what people want.

Early in the article he writes: “The original formulation was “If you wait long enough, someone will write/build/design what you were thinking about.” But it is coming to mean “I describe a feature I think should exist in hopes that someone else will code it.””

I have to admit I’m more interested in the original lazyweb idea, but both perspectives are perfectly valid. Clay Shirky’s article has focused on the second formulation, on deliberately using what I refer to as “public invocation” in my personal take on the lazyweb idea.

In my post ‘Defining The Lazyweb’ I theorised that there are many separate lazywebs, each one forming around a particular subculture of Internet users. Normally the only people likely to notice a public invocation are those inside the same lazyweb as the invoker. This narrows the focus of the lazyweb, and it will produce products that closely match it’s member’s interests.

This is good for the lazyweb’s members, but it can often lead to products that may not meet the needs of the general public very well. The open source community is the obvious example, I suppose.

Clay Shirky believes that a system like has the potential to bridge the gaps between different lazywebs by sharing information between communities, and more importantly, sharing information between the productive lazyweb and the general public. It would act as a source of both inspiration and feedback. The main point of Clay Shirky’s article is that this could bring the same benifits to open development as the “many eyes make bugs shallow” mass debugging principle.

Well worth a read, and there’s a Slashdot discussion too.

Updated: I managed to chop out the middle of this post while trying to get it finished during my lunch break, so if you read the earlier version of this and it made no sense, well, it didn’t. I’ve now just cut out the really wibbly bit.