By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Were there certain ideas about flash mobs that you felt particularly drawn to? It’s kind of Friendster writ large.
Yes, but while a Web page can give you some notion of being part of a group, it’s very different to then find yourself in a physical space with all those people. It’s a virtual community made literal. Again, these weren’t people who knew each other. It wasn’t an established group who decided to put on an action. Whoever got the e-mail would attend, and they represented the interconnectedness of people in a city. A crowd gathers over the Internet, but suddenly they’re able to meet each other face-to-face . . .
Did the media attention start immediately?
Yes, we started to get TV crews. The media decided it was going to be their fad of the week. The New York Times did a big piece in the Week in Review section. The hilarious thing about The Times was that their first story on flash mobs — which was started in New York — was about how they were really big in Germany. The writer tried very hard to portray the backlash against the phenomenon, which was kind of laughable because the backlash consisted of four disconnected Web sites that had half-jokingly come up with plans to disrupt future events.
Just as the media created a fad that wasn’t really there and thus spread the fad, The Times created a backlash that wasn’t really there.
I found it humorous because I knew this would happen from the beginning. It’s a natural part of the media cycle. It’s great to be the first media outlet to break a story about a fad, but the second best thing is to break a story about the end of a fad.
How did things develop? How did you solve the problem of the police shutting you down?
I picked bars near the final mob sites, and told people to congregate at those particular bars. We didn’t approach the final site until the last minute. You didn’t encounter the streams of people until the very last minute. By the end I had quite a big e-mail list because whenever someone would e-mail me, I would put them on the list. It was a little bit of a cheat, because the idea was that it would spread through person-to-person contact. But I never set up a Web page, precisely because I didn’t want people to just bookmark a site and get instruction in a passive way. You had to make an effort to get in touch with the person organizing these things and say, “Hey can you make me part of this?” To me, that action was very meaningful. People had to find a blog that had the original e-mail address on it. They had to search.
And what was M.O.B. #2 like?
It went beautifully. There were no problems. The staff at Macy’s was sort of amused by the whole thing. And when we swarmed around this one rug, we carried on this improvised deliberation on whether we were going to buy it or not among these people who had never met each other. The thing that I immediately saw was that I personally knew maybe five or 10 of the 150. So even though I was still pretty much just forwarding the invitation to friends, it had spread far beyond that.
You were seeding it, but it wasn’t necessarily your seeds that were causing all the sprouts.
That was great because I was trying to stay in the background. To me what makes the project exciting are the connections, so if it was Bill’s mob as opposed to just this leaderless Internet mob, then people would be less inclined to take on the project as their own. And that’s what happened. People in other cities began to ask if they could start their own mobs. I said go for it.
Did you give any more guidance?
I would tell them how we were doing it, but after a while they just took the idea and ran with it. That happened almost immediately after that second mob. Wired News did a piece, the bloggers picked up the story and e-mails started to come a few days after that. Within a week there were chapters in at least four or five different cities. A few weeks after that, it started to happen in other countries. So, the whole thing just blew up in this ridiculous way.
Now you mention Wired and bloggers. I remember the stories describing this as a San Francisco thing. Very Silicon Valley, very technological.
Actually, it was very un-technological. It was done through e-mail, and then when we’d get to the bars, we’d hand out slips of paper. We never even used cell phones. If people text-messaged more in this country, the whole thing may have run over some sort of SMS messaging thing, but heck, this could have been accomplished with fliers and word of mouth.
Did you just say heck?