Saturday, January 16, 2016

On the responsibility of "flash mobs"

Hmm ... where did I put that big honking I AM NOT A LAWYER disclaimer?  Ah ... here it is.

OK ... where was I?

In an old post about a pillow fight that got out of hand, I speculated about the responsibilities of flash mobs.  One point that the original post only mentions in passing is that the pillow fight was only a flash mob activity by the loosest of interpretations.  It was, after all, already an annual event, pretty much the opposite of a spontaneous occurrence.

So why call it a "flash mob"?  While the event was scheduled for a definite place and time (Valentine's Day in Justin Herman Plaza) and now even has a Facebook page, the event itself is open to anyone who happens to show up.  There are no tickets and there is no official organizer or organizing body.  If you show up with a pillow on Valentine's day and start swinging, you're in.  Otherwise you're not.

Leaving aside some interesting questions of identity and language usage for the other blog, it seems that the key point here is that people sometimes gather unofficially to do things, they've been doing that forever, and, most important, being unofficial does not absolve anyone of responsibility.  If I get together with ten close friends and twenty people they invited and 35 people those people invited, it doesn't matter whether we did this over the web, or whether I know everyone there.  It matters what we do.

If we decide to go clean up a city park, good for us.  If we decide to trash the same park, we're responsible for that instead.  Which is why the original headline, "S.F. may crack down on 'flash mob' antics" misses the point.  As the article itself made clear, the city had a particular case of how to deal with a not-officially-sanctioned group of people making a mess.  Nothing particularly flash-mobby or webby about it.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Print ... yet again still not dead

A few years ago I speculated on what it might mean that was getting a good share of its revenue from its local print edition in DC -- evidently it was the print revenue that was keeping the magazine afloat.  Politico is still around, including the print edition.  I don't know whether the print edition is still critical to the operation, but it says something that it's still around years later.

There's an even more blatant example, though, one that I don't recall noticing earlier even though it's been around since 2005: WebMD has a print edition.  I've seen it in a couple of doctor's offices in the past few months.  I'm sure I've seen it many times before and just not registered it.

It makes perfect sense, of course.  Patients waiting in doctor's offices are the classic captive audience.  Even today, when people are likely to have smartphones and/or tablets to read from -- or could just bring a book like in the olden days -- it's clearly still worth it to have a pile of paper around to browse through.  A medical magazine aimed at the general reader makes perfect sense.  If you're into sports or celebrity gossip you've probably already read the stories in those months-old magazines, but chances are you haven't browsed through WebMD, no matter how old it is.  Being in a doctor's office, you might well be in the mood to.

As with Politico, it's particularly interesting that a primarily web-based outlet -- you can't get much webbier than WebMD -- is choosing to publish a print edition, and sticking with that decision for years at a time.