Collective Power

News came out last week that social ecommerce site Groupon has received $1.35 million in funding from venture capitalist firm D.S.T, and has also received an evaluation of over $1 billion. Considering Twitter received its $1 billion valuation 3 years after it was founded, and Facebook received such a valuation after 2 years, Groupon’s $1 billion valuation after only one and a half a year after its creation may mark the coming of a collective-buying age. On Groupon, users can receive daily discounts of deals from many local services and retail stores if a certain number of people all sign up for the deal. Groupon epitomizes collective behavior as a way to scale, and thus reducing economic costs, so it can strike a win/win situation for both consumers and retailers.

Besides this economically-driven collective behavior on social commerce sites like Groupon, flash mobs are another kind of collective behavior that also demonstrate how collective power can be facilitated and even amplified by social technologies. A week before last Thursday’s Earth Day, I received an Facebook message from a USC student group summoning its members to dress in blue and green to resemble the earth and “flash” for 10 seconds in front of Tommy Trojan at a certain time during Earth Day to show our pride and make a public statement. Interested members could sign up on Facebook and coordinate what color they had decided to wear. I did not join the flash mob, but I heard from several friends who participated that it was a very successful event.

Clay Shirky in his book, Here Comes Everybody, states that today’s adoption of social media can help people self-organize, and therefore reduce the economic costs of organization, and reduce the threshold cost of collective behavior to make it more likely to happen. Flash mobs and collective buying on Groupon are both self-organized collective behaviors that are the beneficiaries of social media technologies; while it is known that the sum of collective individual actions is greater than individual actions taken on their own , modern social media technologies have removed the economic barriers and encouraged more collective voices to bring more power to our society.

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