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Flash Mobs and Smart Mobs

Rod Munday | Tuesday May 05, 2009

Categories: Other Topics, Social Networking, Mobile Phones

A flash mob is different from a smart mob; a flash mob is a spontaneous gathering of strangers who use media like social network sites and mobile phone in order to meet and perform a short task that is often absurd in nature and usually contrived to make an artistic or political statement. Flash mobs are organized secretively by e-mail or text message and subject to meticulous timing (Adams & McCridle 2008, 568). The phenomenon is intended to be short-lived, and also baffling to other members of the public who act as the mob’s an unwitting audience (Taylor 2003)

A smart mob on the other hand is a colloquialism for a mobile ad hoc social network, which includes flash mobbing activity, but also covers the collective action that takes place on sites like eBay, Wikipedia, Slashdot and Digg. Harold Rheingold who coined the term smart mob observes that ‘with blogging and moblogging, we’re seeing a kind of journalism emerge that is very much a form of collective action.’ (Rheingold 2002)

The first flash mobbing event was created in May 2003 by Bill Wasik, a senior editor of Harper’s Magazine in the US. Through emails, text messages and blog posts Wasik organised a crowd of some 100 people to gather in the home furnishing section of the famous Macy’s department store in New York. They were instructed to tell the bemused sales staff that they were all part of a commune and that they wanted to purchase one of the store’s $10,000 carpets as a ‘love rug.’ The first recorded use of the term flash mob was in a blog entry posted in the aftermath of Wasik’s event. The term was reputedly inspired by the title of Harold Rheingold’s book Smart Mobs, which was published year before (Nicholson 2005).

Another example of a well-known flash mob was created in January 2008 by the New York-based group ‘Improv Everywhere.’ They organised a group of 200 people to suddenly freezing for five minutes in a variety of poses in New York’s...

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