Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

The Inevitable Demise of Bureaucratic Content Enterprises

Clay Shirky’s recent post, The Collapse of Complex Business Models, is typically astute and an interesting perspective on complexity and its limits. Building off the 1988 book by Joseph Tainter called The Collapse of Complex Societies, Shirky describes the inevitable demise of Internet business models that involve complex content production.

The issue pivots on bureaucracy. While democracy and a free-market economy have intrinsic self-corrective processes, bureaucracies seem to defy the second law of thermodynamics (in which entropy increases over time until equilibrium):

In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

His final paragraph is an admonition to remain flexible in the face of the inevitable demise of complex businesses:

When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.


Written by tstaley

April 6, 2010 at 9:25 am

Posted in Content Publishing

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