The Reverse Flash Mob. Or: Pradipta’s Rolodex

July 18th, 2008


“It’s like a flash mob, except the surprise is on us, the mob participants. It’s like we were all beamed into the same virtual room by one single person who chose the group of us, and left us to figure out what to make of the situation.”

This situation is especially funny because the guy who “chose” the group was not some cunning mastermind. It was a foolish accident. (Wasn’t it?)

The story.

The Google group.

Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake but a clever publicity gambit. It would have been so easy for him to have staged this. And the bottom line is: If you had asked me yesterday to name a recruiter of Rails programmers, I couldn’t have done it. But from now on I’ll remember Pradipta’s name.

(Thanks to Dav Yaginuma for the tip.)

“Flash Mob” in 1800s Australia?

July 10th, 2006

Just when I thought I could stop writing about flash mobs, more strange news emerges.

For the record: it seems I wasn’t the first person to use the words “flash” and “mob” together. Apparently “flash mob” was a name used in the 1800s to describe an Australian subculture of female prisoners, based on the term “flash language” for the jargon these women used. For whatever it’s worth, the 1800s Australian term “flash mob” referred to a segment of society, not an event, and had no other similarities to the modern “flash mob” term.

Details at Boing Boing and at Derek Lackaff’s weblog. (Note that the postcard image at the top of these entries was created in 2004, not in the 1800s.) More about the 1800s “flash mob” subculture in Tasmania here.

Flash Mob Flashback

March 29th, 2006
flash mob retrospective

Nobody asks anymore, but now I can finally tell people who invented flash mobs.

He’s Harper’s magazine editor Bill Wasik, and he revealed his identity to the public in this month’s issue.

In the article Bill credited me with naming flash mobs flash mobs.

Bill, thanks for kicking off the fun. I don’t share all your interpretations of what flash mobs were. I certainly don’t view Stanley Milgram through your eyes. And I think flash mobs turned out less hipster-centric than you expected, at least beyond Manhattan. (How many hipsters can you count in these photos?)

But bravo; this was one the funniest spectacles I’ve taken part in. Core to the fun for me were all the wild interpretations people put forth, how earnest and sure of themselves most commentators seemed, and the vast differences between interpretations. Now the guy who started it all finally chimed in with the most surreal interpretation yet, closing the circle.

Thanks Bill and the rest of the flash mobbers. If nothing else, we slipped a bit of prankster graffiti into the Oxford English Dictionary.

(A minor correction: the article claimed that I named the phenomenon after “Flash Crowd,” a 1973 short story that I’d never heard of until the flash mob fad was in full swing. For the record: Howard Rheingold’s book “Smart Mobs” probably influenced the name, but “Flash Crowd” didn’t.)

[tags]flash mobs, flash mob, memewrangling, culture hacking, situationism, flash crowd[/tags]

“Brand New Flashmob Opera”

June 8th, 2005

There’s a new opera about flash mobs on the BBC. Please someone, send me a rip of this.

“Flash Mob” in the Oxford English Dictionary

July 9th, 2004

This just in:

Date: Fri, 9 Jul 2004 12:42:13 -0400
From: Bill [censored]
To: sean[at], mike[at], [censored]@[censored]
Subject: ha!

“Flash mob” made the OED:

Together, we have permanently altered the English language. Will
future humans forgive us?

(Future humans? We’re still working on today’s humans!)

[I pasted the text of the article below, because the Yahoo link will expire soon.]
Read the rest of this entry »

The “Last” Flash Mob

September 10th, 2003
Photos from the 'last' Manhattan flash mob, courtesy of

Tonight another Manhattan flash mob went down, and they say it was the last.

But what was it the last of? Supposedly it was the last flash mob in New York to be organized by “Bill,” the mysterious inventor of flash mobs.

“Bill” might be one of the men photographed above. Of course Bill might be neither of these men. And of course, more New York flash mobs might take place tomorrow. Life offers no guarantees.

Thanks to Fred’s Journal for the photos. You can see more coverage of the “Last Flash Mob” there, as well as at Satan’s Laundromat. These are both intriguing accounts; check them out. (But what are they accounts of?)

Thanks, Bill, for flash mobs. Thanks for the mystery.

And thanks for not selling out.

Flash Mobs, Doonesbury Style

September 8th, 2003

Flash Mob organized via comics! Click to see the full comic.Today a flash mob invitation appeared in the classic comic strip Doonesbury.

Via this comic, artist Gary Trudeau is organizing a flash mob to take place in Seattle this Saturday, in support of U.S. presidential candidate Howard Dean.

This will be the first flash mob to be organized via comics. It should be a big one too, because no other flash mob invitation has appeared in so many mainstream newspapers.

Here’s a link to the comic/invitation. Thanks to “Michael D.” for the tip.

UPDATE: Doonesbury has addressed flash mobs daily for several days now; check out the latest strip here.

Yahoo! Silences Boston Flash Mob?

August 18th, 2003

A group of flash mob organizers in Boston reports that Yahoo! Groups suddenly and unexpectedly removed the Bostoncitymob Web site, where Boston flash mobbers were organizing. Along with the site, the organizers lost a list of more than 1,000 people who signed up to receive announcements about the next Boston flash mob. They lost their Yahoo! e-mail account as well.

The group posted a new Yahoo! Group here, but perhaps flash mob organizers should consider using services other than Yahoo! to host their Web sites from now on. At the least, keep a backup copy of any Yahoo-hosted mailing lists that you own, in case they disappear.

Slash Mobbing, Flesh Mobbing, Flash Mugging

August 15th, 2003

Rich at reports on the biggest flash mob yet. And you wondered what caused those blackouts.

Meanwhile, anonymous organizers in Austin, Texas are preparing for the world’s first Slash Mob:

The Slash Mob Project is an interesting phenomenon where people gather at a determined point, kill all surrounding onlookers, and then disperse as fast as arriving, thus leaving the onlookers dazed, bewildered, and hopefully dead by what they just experienced…

Join the group to find out what great ideas pop up around Austin, to show off your new fannypack, and to kill people.

Dark flash mob humor isn’t limited to Texas; someone in the U.K. coined the term Flash Mugging.

In Montreal, “AndrÈ” is trying to create a FLESH Mob:

All must bring a back pack to recognize themselves and gather so as to become a small compact crowd…

At a specific hour, all the participants will strip and collect their clothing in their back pack. Some can only wear a g-string…

All the participants will have to dress and disperse before that becomes an illegal demonstration.

(I’m sure Spencer Tunick would appreciate that.)

This week, flash mobs took place in Brazil and in South Africa. If a flash mob goes down in Melbourne, Australia next week as planned, Antarctica will be the only continent yet to be flash mobbed.

Antimobs, Mob Hacking, and More Evolution

August 8th, 2003
London flash mob photo - courtesy of

Last night a flash mob finally went down in London. It almost was a disaster because the owner of the targeted sofa store closed up early to hit the pub, but he headed back and opened up the doors to let the flash mob in. Thanks to for the photo above; here are more photos.

Photos and accounts of last night’s New York flash mob have been posted at the usual places:, and Apparently the flash mob scheduled for last night in Toronto was cancelled due to “overwhelming media coverage and police presence.”

Last night’s New York and Toronto flash mobs both targeted outlets of the same giant multinational toy store chain. That’s an ugly coincidence.

New York flash mob #6 photo - courtesy of moistandtasty.comOrganizers: consider steering clear of the large corporate retail stores; these places get enough business as it is. Participants: remember that a corporation could easily create fake flash mobs designed to spur more business to its retail outlets. Don’t be a sheep! Consider the consequences before following any flash mob instructions. Avoid purchases during, after, or on the way to a flash mob.

Meanwhile in Germany, folks are still going absolutely nuts over flash mobs. Over at there are flash mob groups assigned to dozens and dozens of German cities and towns, and people are joking about a fictional flash mob in Iraq.

Still, no mob organizers have taken this to the next level. The sarcastic creativity behind the Antimob Project might spark some ideas:

While the Mob Project seeks to materialize a mob of people at a place for a brief period of time, the Antimob Project seeks to create the opposite effect. In a given 10 minute period with the participation of everyone in the world, we will create a ghost town atmosphere in a famous public space… If we can get everyone in the world to participate in our non events, we can produce some dramatic results.

“Tom” seems more organized in his flash mob backlash; he wants to hack the events. Who knows what he’s cooking up at, but it smells good from here.

The folks at are working to build what sounds like a group of open-source community-based Web tools designed to power evolving flash mobs. They’ve opened the flashmob-dev mailing list to serve as a discussion forum for people developing flash mob related applications.

Micah at looks forward to using flash mobs for political purposes, and she has written up some thoughtful strategies for doing so.

San Franciscans: remember the next local flash mob is scheduled to take place tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon. Details here. Let’s hope the organizers have put together something new.

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