Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

If you're at all interested in how social networking via the web is changing the way society operates, here's a book for you!

Clay Shirky studies the effects of the internet on society and is a well known (in the web world at least) thinker and speaker. In this book he takes a look at how the increasingly social nature of the web, think Facebook, Foursquare, etc., is changing the very nature of our society.

One of the main themes of the book is that technological change can only really change a society once the technology has become ubiquitous. Call it a paradigm shift if you like but Shirky argues that we are only just heading into the territory where the Web 2.0 tools are 'not new' and that we are only beginning to see the ways that these tools will change the way society works. He poses a lovely tech history question to illustrate his point:
Which went mainstream first, the fax or the Web?
People over 35 have a hard time understanding why you'd even ask - the fax machine obviously predates the Web for general adoption. Here's another: which went mainstream first, the radio or the telephone? The same people often have to think about this question, even though the practical demonstration of radio came almost two decades after that of the telephone, a larger gap than separated the fax and the Web. We have to think about radio and television because for everyone alive today, those two technologies have always existed. And for college students today, that is true of the fax and the Web. Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody. p105.

When Web 2.0 tools become ubiquitous everyone becomes a content creator. This is what Chris Anderson calls the democratisation of production in his book, The Long Tail. Shirky argues that once the lines blur between producers or publishers and consumers there is a fundamental change in the way our society operates, that "the category of 'consumer' is now a temporary behavior rather than a permanent identity." (Here Comes Everybody, p. 108). The result is that previously impossible things start occuring.
The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolution cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are altered, replaced, or destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the media businesses, but their suffering isn't unique, it's prophetic. All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing of information for two audiences - employees and the world. The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. (my emphasis)
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 107.
The book is full of fascinating, real life examples and situations that the Internet enables, which would have been completely impossible pre-web. It's a few years old now but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think it's just as relevant as ever.