Why didn’t I think of this?

19 03 2008

The theme of this month’s NYTech Meetup was “Power to the People: The Future of Organizing.” I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about one remarkable idea and one remarkable presentation. The remarkable idea was presented by Andrew Mason, founder of a new site called ThePoint.

ThePoint is a web site for organizing group actions. Here’s how it’s different – Campaigns (group actions) on ThePoint are all based on the “tipping point” model – participants take action to solve their problem, but only once a critical mass of people have committed such that the combined force will “tip” the issue. Once the campaign reaches its tipping point, everyone is expected to do that thing, whether it’s showing up somewhere, donating money, or changing your behavior somehow. Clay Shirky sums up the effectiveness of this type of group coordination in his new book, Here Comes Everybody. “Users who are highly motivated can create a context more easily in which the barely motivated people can be effective without having to become activists themselves.”

During his presentation, Andrew made an analogy about going door-to-door to raise funds for a neighborhood park. Say the park would cost $10,000. If you went to each house and asked for $20, it is unlikely that people would offer the money – for a number of reasons, but one of them being that their effort may not guarantee an outcome. On the other hand, what if you went to each house asking them only to pledge to pay the $20 only when 500 of your neighbors agreed to pay the same amount. There is little commitment up-front, you have the comfort of knowing that other people care about this issue and are willing to take action, and your action is definitely contributes to the solution. The whole idea of ThePoint is to reduce the time required to care about something by only asking people to act once the conditions exist for action to matter.

This model is applicable to many other businesses which require critical mass to succeed. ThePoint also has a widget which you can embed on your website. Imagine all the sites that are trying to campaign for a specific cause. This widget can consolidate similar efforts to one grand F-you to the problem at hand. This is by far the best idea I have seen in a long time and with the best to Andrew Mason. My hat’s off to you.

This has got me thinking about my current business plan. What if I simply built a prototype of the application, presented it to a community of users (for instance, a Facebook Group), and asked people to become fans if they wanted to use the service. I would not launch the full service until the Group reached critical mass in any given city.

It’s probably apparent that I’m a fan of ThePoint; however, I also need to discuss remarkable presentation #2, Clay Shirky’s talk on The Power of Organizing without Organizations. Clay provided a few anecdotes from his new book, Here Comes Everybody – an explanation of what happens when people are given tools to organize without the need of traditional organizational structures. I am recommending this book to all my friends who don’t understand why I’m so gay for this stuff. Clay successfully manages to keep the attention of techie, the sociologist, and general passer-by trying to understand why all this is so important. Buy it, read it, love it.

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