Smart mobs: Howard Rheingold issues

Smart mobs
: Howard Rheingold issues smart albeit paranoid speculation about the revolution that will come with anywhere/anytime connectivity that comes from the Internet, wireless networks, Internet-enabled mobile devices, and more. Says the summary of his article at Edge:

In 1999 and 2000, Howard Rheingold started noticing people using mobile media in novel ways. In Tokyo, he accompanied flocks of teenagers as they converged on public places, coordinated by text messages. In Helsinki, he joined like-minded Finns who share the same downtown physical clubhouse, virtual community, and mobile-messaging media. He learned that the demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell-phones, and “swarming” tactics in the “battle of Seattle,” and that a million Filipino citizens toppled President Estrada in 2000 through public demonstrations organized by salvos of text messages. Drivers in the UK used mobile communications to spontaneously self organize demonstrations against rising petrol prices. He began to see how these events were connected. He calls these new uses of mobile media “smart mobs.”

For nearly two years, Rheingold visited hotspots around the world where smart mob technologies and societies were erupting. He had some idea of how to look for early signs of momentous changes, having chronicled and forecast the PC revolution in 1985 and the Internet explosion in 1993. He is now sees a third wave of change underway in the first decade of the 21st century, as the combination of mobile communication and the Internet makes it possible for people to cooperate in ways never before possible.

As he puts it with some practical application:

Some mobile telephones are already equipped with location-detection devices and digital cameras. Some inexpensive mobile devices already read barcodes and send and receive messages to radio-frequency identity tags. Some furnish wireless, always-on Internet connections. Large numbers of people in industrial nations will soon have a device with them most of the time that will enable them to link objects, places and people to online content and processes. Point your device at a street sign, announce where you want to go, and follow the animated map beamed to the box in your palm; or point at a book in a store and see what the Times and your neighborhood reading group have to say about it. Click on a restaurant and warn your friends that the service has deteriorated.

He’s right. I’ve long been a big fan of the power of mobile connectivity — not just powerful cell phones but the idea that you can be connected to information and people — and relate that to your current location, circumstances, and needs — anywhere and anytime. That is powerful. That will change the way we communicate, navigate, transact, market, socialize, inform. I hesitate to sound so damned future-shockish after we all got future-shocked out of trillions of dollars of value in our economy. This future may now be delayed thanks to Silicon Valley greed and hubris. But it will come because it’s just so damned convenient.

Rheinhold goes on to find boogeymen aplenty trying to steal this power from us the people:

…media cartels and government agencies are seeking to reimpose the regime of the broadcast era in which the customers of technology will be deprived of the power to create and left only with the power to consume. That power struggle is what the battles over file-sharing, copy protection, regulation of the radio spectrum are about.

That, I don’t buy. Big companies and governments may mess up their opportunities — witness the way the music industry is muffing its opportunities online now — but we the market will win in the end; that is the real power of the smart mob.

Photo mobs
: Much is being made of cameras you can take anywhere, transmitting photos anytime.

There are new cell phones from Sony Ericsson with cameras built in.

There are incredibly thin, credit-card-sized cameras from Casio.

There’s an almost-as-small camera from Sipix that’s incredibly cheap (I read somewhere it’s as low as $40).

So are we all going to start snapping pictures like crazed Japanese?

At first, I doubted it. I don’t like hauling a camera around and putting a camera in front of my eye separates me from the action and the conversation.

But I’m rethinking this now the cameras become tiny or become part of an appliance I carry and use all the time.

What these cameras do is give visuals to the soundtrack of my conversation: “Hey, honey, take a look at this dress; should I buy it?”

They add visuals to my words: Imagine some photos peppered in on this page; that would make it more readable and compelling, just as photos and graphics do that for magazines and newspapers.

Photos become another layer of communication.

I’m not 100 percent sold yet but I’m curious enough to buy one of these tiny cameras (the cheap one to start).

: More uses of photos anytime/anywhere:

– Photos from blogfests and just any party: Here’s the fun now.

– Photos of cops (usually California) beating up people.

– News, news, news.

– Porn, porn, porn.

– Consumer information: Show me the hotel room now; show me the couch before shipping it to me.

– Instructions: Push this button.

– And it’s not just about sending photos; it’s about seeing them, too: See a picture of your kid at nursery school, see a picture of your house, not burning down.

– A sales person seeing a picture of the client so he can say, “Nice to see you again, Joe.”

– A picture of an accident for insurance adjusters and cops so these people can just get their cars out of the road and stop blocking traffic.

– Traffic photos sent to online traffic networks (a real killer application of the connected world).

– What else?

Can Afghan blogs be far behind?
: Wired reports the opening of Kabul’s first Internet cafe.

Weblogs rule
: Note that MSNBC is going to can its forums in favor of weblogs:, consistently ranked among the top news destinations on the Web, is about to invest a chunk of important virtual real estate into the blog concept. has killed its discussion boards, with their 18 million posts per month, and instead plans to establish by the end of August what it will call “Weblog Central,” a portal of regularly updated lists of blogs from throughout the Web, arranged by subject. It will include links to’s own blogs as well.

“The boards were often chaotic, off-topic and not conducive to the kind of civil and coherent communities we want to develop on this news site,” said Joan Connell, an executive producer. “We hope that weblogs will provide that coherence and bring like-minded people together to consider topics of mutual interest.” Connell added that in the event of another news story of the magnitude of September 11, blogs will be a major part of the site’s coverage. In other words, a mighty media organization has realized that this new form on the fringes of the Web may be about to cross over a threshold, beyond quirky trend to establishment acceptance. Eyeballs and ad dollars may follow.

Forums’ loss is weblogs’ gain.

Forums are wonderful. You’ve heard (or rather read) me brag about them on my company’s sites here before; we can get a couple of hundred thousand page views for just one forum in just one market in just one day. But they do require care and feeding; we have people whose sole job is to answer alerts we receive about bad posts. We love the forums because they are content from the audience in this, the medium the audience owns.

Still, I understand MSNBC’s switch to edited, selected weblogs. For a national site such as that, they will find plenty of good and relevant weblogs to point to.

I can nominate a few… starting with me, of course….

Perp strut
: I look at the pictures of the shmucks from Worldcom being led on their perp walks and I can’t help envisioning them standing before their closets in the morning wondering what they should wear as they are paraded before world media on their march of shame and as they pose for their mug shots. They both clearly decided not to wear their good Armanis. They both decided to wear dark suits but of the casual summer variety. Good choice.