Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Smart Mobs in Austin and Frost Park

In 2002 Howard Rheingold, the author of The Virtual Community, published Smart Mobs – The Next Social Revolution, a book about how instant access to information would have a transformational effect on communities. In particular he focused on how diverse groups of people would meet up in particular locations and communicate as a group based on a call to order through technology. He spoke at the South Sound Technology Conference that year and I have my signed copy next to the first book he released.

He is a showman and a character, and his early work influenced my ideas of where the Internet and the Web would take us as a society.

When I read Smart Mobs I was struck by two things. The examples he gave were predominantly from outside the United States. The author pointed this out and even went so far as to say it was it was unique to see an emerging social phenomenon driven by technology to occur first in other parts of the world. Japan and Finland were at the heart of relationships and groups organizing and conversing through text messages and cell phone social circles.

I also felt as though maybe he was stretching a bit in this book, as I was not seeing much activity he attributed to emerging technology first hand. There also didn’t seem to be many examples of what he was describing coming across the usual publications or other technology outlets at that time. So he was pointing out something and as I peered out to see it, it just wasn't taking shape for me.

Here it is six years later and this week there have been plenty of examples to support his contentions. Enough so, that it made me reflect back on the book and decide to reread it.

Here are two, with one being local to Tacoma.

At the 2008 South by Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSWi) the audience launched a revolt during a keynote interview with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook by journalist Sara Lacy of Business Week. Not liking her relaxed conversational style, the crowd mounted a blistering attack on the substance of the interview and selection of questions via microblogging tool Twitter.

Instead of the story being about Facebook, it became about the journalist and the mob that went after her in their own fashion. (There were some traditional hecklers as well).

Rohit Bhargava of WebProNews describes Twitter as follows:

It is a tool that allows you to broadcast your answer to the simple question, "what are you doing?," through writing a short 140 character text message. That message is posted online where a group of individuals that are "following" you can see it. Following someone is the equivalent in Twitter language of becoming their friend of Facebook. Popular Twitterers have several thousand followers. Through this steady stream of updates, at an event like SXSW, you can watch the live pulse of the event and what people think about it real time.


Since then there has been endless analysis of the activity during the interview and not the content of the interview, with backlash toward the intellectually angry mob as well.

Locally, though not on the instant messaging side, but certainly driven in great part by online technology, the blogging community (and other community minded folks) started up on a “Take Back The ….” mission, with Frost Park at 9th and Commerce being the first location targeted for being taken back. Armed with pink cookies, kindred spirits and well oiled calendar planning through their comments section, approximately 30 or so folks claimed the concrete wall bordered park, at least during the lunch hour. They even planted a flag.

Given it is just getting to Spring, I hope the “Take Back The…” mission spreads and grows until everything has in fact been taken back.

Not necessarily a Flash Mob, but an excellent example of social organization through like minded individuals through blogs. Was anyone texting during that meet up?

Erik B of the Tacoma Urbanist has a recap with pictures and commentary from those in attendance.

3 comments:

izenmania said...

This is, generally, my favorite thing about feed>>tacoma. Yeah, it's fun to read things written by people I know (even if I wouldn't have known them pre-feed). But it's much more impressive to see the flow of information and the ability to organize with no real clear leader... most any feed-inspired event just takes one person to start the conversation and then happens with or without their further direction.

I could have made my first post about the Frost Park thing, then decided it was dumb and walked away and it still would have happened, because within that first day it had become a collaborative idea between half a dozen people, and just kept growing from there.

Andrew Fry said...

It was interesting to see it progress as a conversation between folks online. In particular, when the first meet up fizzled a bit, it was like a group of friends talking about the plans they made as a group.

"Hey, I was there, where was everybody else?" sort of thing.

Then it gave it more substance as it was like leaving a friend hanging.

"Sorry about that, how about next week?"

At that point people made an effort to get out to the location. It really looked like a fun little gathering.

I think the
post on your site
reflects well on the intent of that gathering in a more realistic sense as well. It was more than a "call to action", the call to action was a bit over hyped, but alongside it was a semi-serious means to offer up a real world social opportunity for folks to meet each other.

I hope there are more and that I can make a few of them.

Erik said...

Thanks for the post.

The Frost Park event is held every Friday at noon in downtown Tacoma at the corner of Pacific Avenue and 9th Street.

Lately, there has been a chalk art contest every week.