Super Mobs?

by Kevin Bedell

I believe the organizing power of the Internet is really just dawning. One great example is the 'Flash Mob' phenomenon where people organize over the Internet and appear at some location at a predetermined time to do -- as a group -- something pointless and unusual.

I believe that this phenomena will grow into a 'social movement' similar, but much larger, than the open source software movement. I believe that 'Super Mobs' will self-organize around large social issues. I believe will be looked back on as the first 'Super Mob'.

The Howard Dean campaign is much more highly developed than the current Flash Mob movement and is approaching the organizational maturity of The Dean campaign is using the Internet as an organizing tool and have over 70,000 people meeting monthly around the country at 'meetups' organized by

I visited the Dean campaign's New Hampshire state headquarters and met with his 'e-communications director' (who was actually swamped doing database work at the time -- they need volunteers!). After he realized I knew a bit about the open source community he immediately asked me if I'd read The Cathedral and the Bazaar (Eric Raymond's book on the open source community -- a required read for anyone interested in open source). He said he thought Dean's campaign was like the Bazaar while the other dems campaigns were run like Cathedrals.

A similar and more mature model is the open source software community (that develops, for example, the Linux OS). In that model, a 'meritocracy' develops in which the people who contribute the most value to the community through the work they do become the leaders of the community. Yet they are open to anyone's involvement, pay and employ noone, and are completely self organzizing.

(Given that model, I believe a great role model for leadership and organizational development of Super Mobs would be Linus Torvolds - the creator of the Linux OS. He's developed a world-wide team of volunteers that contribute hundreds of thousands of hours a year to help build Linux; yet he is tightly in control of the end product.)

I believe in time that very large groups of millions of people will develop. Eventually, ways of orgnizing these groups will be found using free software and the Internet. Leaders will likely appear in a similar 'meritocracy' method. Individuals will initiate their own projects and efforts using tools provided by the community and based on the 'values' of the community.

But I believe there will also be very large efforts as well coordinated by these 'super mobs'. I believe they will be larger than any demonstrations in history.

So what can we learn from this:

  • Provide tools to organize. Allow the community to develop and contribute tools as well

  • Define (and live up to) 'values' for the community. These should also include what *not* to do.

  • Allow the development of a 'meritocracy'. That is, allow those who work hard and demonstrate the values of the community to gain visibility and help plan and guide the community. These people will be your greatest asset and they will work for free.

  • Think big. Facilitate local community projects, but have a few really big tricks to pull out your hat that could have a million or more participants.

There is a fundamental difference in the economic interests of people and corporations. Corporations need to maximize economic benefits for their owners and those who control them. The People, for example, may prefer pristine wilderness over land developed for energy interests.

Super Mobs of millions of people may provide the best opportunity for the people to counterbalance the power of these corporations.

Am I crazy or what?


2003-08-11 06:24:42
Your right I hope and I hope not
I agree that the internet will fuel mobs through efficient communication means. And because the communication is virtually free money will not be the factor that drives the meritocracy. Just as we see with the open source movement, it's not money but respect and fame that fuels the desire to participate. Finally, since everything is out in the open and participants rarely look eachother in the face, butt kissing politics will not get you very far.

However, what is to prevent bad people from using these techniques as well. Although the protests may be larger than we have imagined perhaps the acts of violence will as well. I'm talking about terrorist organizations as well as diconnected gangs of violent people. The same small groups of people who usually cause problems at peacefull protests could grow to large numbers of people just as easily.

I hope this doesn't come across as paranoid but it is something to be concerned about. And although I have the concern, by no means should stop or hinder the development of these mobs or as one author coined the phrase, "Smart Mobs."