Mark Pesce on how the mob beats business

In a speech, Mark Pesce outlined five rules that show how self-organized mobs beat the efficiency of business in creating infrastructures.

The Five Rules of Mobs:

ONE: The mob is everywhere.

There are very few places left on Earth where you can’t receive a text. Ulaanbataar to Timbuktu, Tierra del Fuego to Vladivostok, the network is truly global, and now encompasses the majority of humanity. It’s interesting to note that within the same year that half of humanity is urbanized, half of humanity will have a mobile handset. That’s not coincidental; they’re two sides of the same process. Just as we’ve been lured out from our villages into the vitality and opportunity of the city, we’re being drawn into the unexpected and unpredictable global mob.

TWO: The mob is faster, smarter and stronger than you are.

William Gibson put this much more elegantly when he wrote, “The street finds its own use for things, uses its manufacturers never intended.” No one set out to create arbitrage markets for the fishermen of Kerala; that’s something that emerged from the mob. SMS was meant to be used for emergency messaging; now the world sends several billion texts a day. Just add mobiles, and you get a mob.

You can’t push a mob any more than you can push a rope; you can pull them, lure them, and, if you’re very lucky, dazzle them for a moment or two, but then, inevitably, they’ll move along. That’s bad news for anyone building web sites. The world of mob rules isn’t about sites; it’s about services, things that the street uses and permutes indefinitely. The idea of web sites dates from a time before the network ate hierarchy; sites are places where you go and follow the rules laid down by some information architect. Well, there’s no way to enforce those rules. The first Google Maps mashup didn’t come from Google. Or the second. Or the third. Or the hundredth. Google resisted the mashup. Claimed mashups violated their terms of use. Mashups come from the mob, the street finding its own use for things. The mob pushed on through; Google bowed down and obeyed. The most powerful institution of the Internet era, pushed around like a child’s toy. Ponder that.

THREE: Advertising is a form of censorship.

The Web of 2007 is a house built upon sand. Nearly everything online hopes to fund itself through some sort of advertising and sponsorship. Advertising is a demand that you pay attention – a demand which can no longer be enforced. But the mob doesn’t like advertisements; it either ignores them or actively filters them away. In just the last few weeks, certain sites have been blocked to Firefox because it frequently incorporates the AdBlock extension. That’s upset some institutions which built their business model on the delivery of ads – demanding the attention of the mob. But the mob doesn’t like that. Even worse, for those who are raising a hew and cry about the “theft” of their precious content, the more they scream, the more they thrash about, the stronger the mob becomes. Consider: filesharing has only grown more pervasive despite every attempt of every copyright holder to bring it to heel. Each move has been met with a counter-move. There is no safety in copyright, nor any arguing with the mob. Music and movies are freely and broadly available, and will remain so into the indefinite future. Sadly, we’re now seeing that same, sorry battle repeated in double-time as advertisers – and those dependent upon them – assert an authority they no longer possess.

FOUR: The mob does not need a business model.

But what about your precious business models? How do you get paid for all this work you’re pouring into your projects? I have to be honest with you: the mob simply doesn’t care. The mob doesn’t need a business model. Heck, the mob doesn’t even need all this lovely wireless technology. If we took the mobiles away from the Kerala fishermen, they’d develop something – semaphores, mirrors, smoke signals – to maintain the integrity of the network. Once networks are created, they can not be destroyed. Networks are intrinsically resilient against all sorts of failures, and they’ll simply find a way to route around them. So if your business goes tits up because you built it around an economic model that is not viable in the era of mob rules, it will make no difference – the mob will simply route around you and find another way to do it.

So forget your business models, and remember the golden rule, as expressed by Talking Heads, in the song “Found a Job”:

“If your work isn’t what you love, then something isn’t right.”

If you – you folks in this room, who have the mob in your hands, who play with it as if it were a toy – if you don’t wake up in the morning completely possessed by the knowledge that what you’re doing is simply the coolest thing ever, you need to quit that job and find another. You need to reach into that bucket of dreams and ambitions and pull something out to share with us mob, something that will dazzle and excite us. It might only do so for a moment, but, in that moment, your social stock will rise so high that you’ll never have to worry about putting food on the table or paying the mortgage. You may not retire a millionaire, but you’ll certainly never go hungry. The mob is a meritocracy – admittedly a very perverse and bizarre meritocracy – but it is the one place where “quality will out”. Quality only comes from the marriage of craft and obsession. You have the craft. Embrace your obsessions. You will be rewarded.

FIVE: Make networks happen.

I need to leave you with one concrete example of how this is all going to work, and for this example I’ve selected the last bastion of authority and hierarchy – after everything else has dissolved into the gray goo of the network, one thing will remain. It won’t be government – that’s half gone already. It’s medicine. Medicine is very nearly the oldest of the professions, and has been a closely held monopoly for half a thousand years – closer to a guild than anything resembling a modern profession. Why? Medicine is guarded by the twin bulwarks of complexity and mortality: medicine is rich and deep body of knowledge, and, if you screw it up, you’ll kill yourself or somebody else. While the pursuit of medical knowledge is conducted within the peer-review frameworks of science, that knowledge is closely held. That leaves all of us – as patients – in a distinctly disempowered position when it comes to medicine. But that is all going to change.

In twenty years’ time, one in four Australians will be 65 or older – and I’ll be one of them. There is no medical authority big enough to deal with such a mass of gerontology; the system will be overloaded, and it will begin to collapse. Out of that collapse, we will see those of us who grew up within the Network Era – and I’m among the oldest of that generation – begin to work the network to our own ends. We will not be alone. There will be tens of millions of us – first in the West, then throughout the world – who will be facing the same problems, and searching for the same answers. We might not get to live forever, but we’ll want to die trying. So we’ll set to work, creating a common base of collective intelligence – think Wikipedia, but with a depth of medical knowledge that it doesn’t even begin to explore – together with strong social networking tools that embeds us deep within a network of experts – who may or may not be “board qualified”. I’ll probably come to expect that my GP and other specialists are members of this network – peers who share their expertise, not experts pronouncing solutions. And this network will never leave me; in fact, it will probably watch every move I make, every breath I take, every calorie I eat, and every heartbeat. It sounds Orwellian, but I will want this – because I will see it as a profoundly empowering form of surveillance. In other words, my wellness becomes a quality of my network.

This is not a website. This is not WebMD or Healtheon or a cancer support group, or anything that looks like anything we’ve seen yet. This is a self-organizing quality of the mob, painfully aware of their own accelerating senescence, and fully empowered to do something about it. And it represents an enormous opportunity for you. In just the last paragraph I’ve dropped a half a dozen strong business ideas onto you; but they’re so different from how we’re thinking about the network today that it will probably take some time to work it all out. But the mob won’t wait forever. Remember: it is smarter and faster and stronger than you. You can try to get in front of it, and get picked up by it – I’ve given you more than enough clues to do that – or you can get run down. That choice is yours. But if I’ve learned anything from my study of mob rules, it’s that the future lies in making networks happen. If you do that, there’s a place for you with us mob.”

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