JCL Blog

Physics, Nature, and the Rule of the Mob

Life is governed by the laws of physics, the laws of nature, and the rule of the mob.  Physics is "what goes up must come down". I don't know what the laws of nature are, but we say they have been violated when we see something really disturbing, so I am sure they are useful. And the rule of the mob is about to take down two companies we thought were invincible just a few months ago:  Goldman Sachs and Facebook.

There are undoubtedly books on the rule of the mob and I have not read any of them.  My description goes like this:  when a person or an organization gets to the top of the heap, it has to spend so much energy just staying at the top of the heap, that it cannot stay on the top of the heap any longer.  The timing of the process is highly variable, but the faster one gets to the top of the heap the more likely the mob will vigorously pursue a change in the hierarchy.  

Goldman Sachs got there slowly and stayed at the top for a very long time.  Most of us cannot even remember a time that Goldman was not at the top.  SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday saying "If we don't get serious about this process, we may cease to exist." Goldman may own parts of the government, but this kind of resolve will be hard to overcome.  Who would you pick for longevity, the SEC or Goldman Sachs.  I go with the SEC.

Facebook blew past 300 million users to its current 500 million or so and its founder has turned down hundreds of millions of dollars to keep running it.  The tide is turning however and it is now cooler to quit Facebook than to use it.  The tech community turned against Facebook several weeks ago, and the rest of the mob will likely defect in the weeks ahead.  In fact there is a web site dedicated to this movement called Quit Facebook Day.

One interesting element to these actions by the mob is the lack of viable alternatives.  Goldman Sachs is probably not any more evil than any of the other firms on Wall Street.  Their unique crime is that they are just so good at taking their client's money.  Clearly market demand for a system we can use to organize our relationships on the web has driven Facebook to its current heights.  No clear successor has presented itself, although the mob is putting some weight behind the Diaspora Project, but four kids with an idea does not a viable alternative make.

If you are Mark Zuckerberg, or Lloyd Blankfein, you can be comforted to know that the crowd will only take you down a few notches and probably not out of the picture all together.  After all, your predecessors put you in good company.  Firms like Standard Oil, IBM, and Microsoft all fell victim to the mob.

Funny, my spell checker wants to replace "Zuckerberg" with "Boodsucker" -- even spellcheck has turned against him!

-image courtesy of www.thefirstreporter.com

 LATER:  NYT post from Friday about how the Web itself is a social network.