Biology:Smart mob

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A smart mob is a group whose coordination and communication abilities have been empowered by digital communication technologies.[1] Smart mobs are particularly known for their ability to mobilize quickly.[1]

The concept was introduced by Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.[2] Rheingold defined the smart mob as follows: "Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other... because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities".[3] In December of that year, the "smart mob" concept was highlighted in the New York Times "Year in Ideas".[4]


Flash mobs are a specific form of smart mob, originally describing a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual and pointless for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse. The difference between flash and smart mobs is primarily with regards to their duration: flash mobs disappear quickly, but smart mobs can have a more enduring presence.[2] The term flash mob is claimed to have been inspired by "smart mob".[5]

A 2009 entry in the Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology noted that the term may be "fading from public use".[2]

Early instances[edit]

A forerunner to the idea can be found in the work of anarchist thinker Kropotkin, "fishermen, hunters, travelling merchants, builders, or settled craftsmen came together for a common pursuit."[6]

According to CNN, the first smart mobs were teenage "thumb tribes" in Tokyo and Helsinki who used text messaging on cell phones to organize impromptu raves or to stalk celebrities. For instance, in Tokyo, crowds of teenage fans would assemble seemingly spontaneously at subway stops where a rock musician was rumored to be headed.[7]

The Professional Contractors Group organised the first smart mob in the UK in 2000 when 700 contractors turned up at The House of Commons to lobby their MP following an email sent out a few days before.[8]

In the days after the U.S. presidential election of 2000, online activist Zack Exley anonymously created a website that allowed people to suggest locations for gatherings to protest for a full recount of the votes in Florida. On the first Saturday after the election, more than 100 significant protests took place—many with thousands of participants—without any traditional organizing effort. Exley wrote in December 2000 that the self-organized protests "demonstrated that a fundamental change is taking place in our national political life. It's not the Internet per se, but the emerging potential for any individual to communicate—for free and anonymously if necessary—with any other individual."[9]

In the Philippines in 2001, a group of protesters organized via text messaging gathered at the EDSA Shrine, the site of the 1986 revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos, to protest the corruption of President Joseph Estrada. The protest grew quickly, and Estrada was soon removed from office.[10]

The Critical Mass bicycling events, dating back to 1992, are also sometimes compared to smart mobs, due to their self-organizing manner of assembly.[11][12]


Essentially, the smart mob is a practical implementation of collective intelligence. According to Rheingold, examples of smart mobs are the street protests organized by the anti-globalization movement. The Free State Project has been described in 'Foreign Policy' as an example of potential "smart mob rule".[13] Other examples of smart mobs include:

  • Smart mobs who arrange the meet up over the internet and show up at a retailer at a specific time and use their number to negotiate a discount with the retailer.[14]
  • On July 5, 2005, during U2's performance of the song New Year's Day at a stadium in Chorzów, Poland, the audience of 70,000 waved colored articles of clothing to form a giant Polish flag of white and red: fans on the pitch waved red, those in the bleachers waved white. This behavior was coordinated by fans communicating on the internet.[15]
  • The release of the Baauer song, Harlem Shake is one of 2013's most recent smart mob phenomena. The song reached 700 million views in the month of February on YouTube. The song and dance has influences from a dance originally released in the 1980s.[16] The phenomenon involves large groups of people banding together, utilizing their weak ties, and all filming a video dancing to the Harlem Shake. On February 10, 2013, the upload rate of the "Harlem Shake" videos was 4,000 per day onto YouTube. The increasing popularity has enabled the video to become used as a political statement, such as in Egypt, where a smart mob formed to perform the dance outside the Egyptian Islamic president's headquarters.[17] According to Rhinegold's characteristics of what makes a smart mob, such as a lack of centralized control and peer to peer influence, the "Harlem Shake" is the epitome of a smart mob.[18]

In popular culture[edit]

The comic book Global Frequency, written by Warren Ellis, describes a covert, non-governmental intelligence organization built around a smart mob of people that are called on to provide individual expertise in solving extraordinary crises.

David Brin's speculative science fiction novel, Existence (ISBN:978-0-765-30361-5), similarly posits the use of on-the-fly smart mobs by credible journalists as sources of information and expertise.

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 R. Harper; L. Palen; A. Taylor (30 March 2006). The Inside Text: Social, Cultural and Design Perspectives on SMS. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 290. ISBN 978-1-4020-3060-4. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Harry Henderson (2009). Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Technology. Infobase Publishing. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-4381-1003-5. 
  3. Howard Rheingold (1 March 2007). Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Basic Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-465-00439-3. 
  4. Thompson, Clive (2002-12-15). "The Year in Ideas: Smart Mobs". New York Times. 
  5., flash mob
  6. Kropotkin, Peter. Mutual Aid. Montreal: Black Rose Books. ISBN 978-0-921689-26-3. 
  7. Taylor, Chris. " - Day of the smart mobs - Mar. 3, 2003". 
  8. "PCG 2: Fighting IR35 in Parliament" (in en). IPSE. 
  9. "Organizing Online" Mother Jones, December 2000
  10. "Day of the smart mobs", CNN
  11. "Dadaist lunacy or the future of protest?", Social Issues Research Center
  12. "Flash! Mobs in the Age of Mobile Connectivity" Fibreculture Journal, issue 6
  13. McGirk, James (May–June 2003). "Smart Mob Rule". Foreign Policy: p. 92. 
  14. "Shop affronts". The Economist. 
  15. "Archived copy". 
  16. Emily Dugan, Louise Fitzgerald (3 March 2013). "A brief history of the Harlem Shake". The Independent. 
  17. World News (12 May 2016). "How the Harlem Shake is being used to push for change in Egypt". NBC News. 

External links[edit] mob was the original source. Read more.