Smart Mob = Lazy Web

Sometimes, the zeitgeist seems to cause an idea to crystallize in multiple places simultaneously. Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner both diagnosed autism (and named it the same thing) at the same time. Leibnitz and Newton both came up with calculus at about the same time. Likewise Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin with the theory of evolution. Elisha Gray invented the telephone at about the same time as Bell. And so on.

Two ideas that have been getting a lot of play in the blogosphere of late are “smart mobs” and “the lazy web.” These are both manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon: groups that are non-hierarchical and self-organizing.

With the Lazy Web, as illustrated by the case of the LibraryLookup, one guy comes up with a bright idea. He does some preliminary work, publishes that on his blog, and other people spontaneously decide to chip in and polish it up. The results can be interesting. There are obvious similarities to the open-source movement.

Smart Mobs have been defined mostly in the context of meatspace, that is, people in the street sending text messages on their cellphones to physically organize mobs. Smart mobs have been observed in the gaggles of girls that coalesce around Prince William, the protests in the Philippines against President Estrada, etc.

The main difference here is the venue — cyberspace vs meatspace. Also the results: the Lazy Web seems to be productive. Smart Mobs may fulfill useful purposes, but I don’t think we’ve seen a smart-mob barn raising. Not yet, anyhow.