Forget about the wisdom of crowds. For Andrew Mason, creator of The Point, it’s more about tapping into their clout.

Want to stage a quick boycott against, say, Pepsi? Or gather enough people online to buy chickens for poor women in Nicaragua? Or wait. Maybe you just want to crowdsource an audience for your favorite indie rock band—to convince it that showing up in your town would be worth the trip?

The point of The Point? To reduce the risks of collective action—like the angry backlash of an employer or an embarrassingly sparse turnout at a well-publicized rally. Mason tries to commit people before they actually have to engage. It works like a tipping point in that way: the site attempts to guarantee critical mass. “By delaying action until you know that you have all the pieces in place for the action to be successful and get the outcome you desire,” Mason told public radio earlier this year, “you’re reducing the risk of acting as a group.”

Click here for further explanation.

Mason’s site, which garnered some interest last week at the Convergence conference at the Desmond Tutu Center in Manhattan, is one of the early examples of how social media is helping people to self-assemble for social action.

So far, there have been a few dozen demonstrations, more than 50 charity fundraisers, and dozens of petition drives launched from the site. Posted today, for example, are efforts to crowdsource funding for a documentary on youth poetry in Chicago; the construction of a new animal adoption center and rescue kennel; and the rental of billboards around Lansing to support Barack Obama’s presidential bid.

Not all campaigns seek money. One calls for collective action to force Exxon to lower gas prices. (Good luck!)

Does it work? Not very often—but that’s the point, Mason says. Only those campaigns able to gather a serious, committed crowd—before they get down to work—end up progressing offline.

Click here to watch a video on Vimeo about how one woman crowdsourced action on The Point to beautify her neighborhood. Or watch this video, about one woman’s effort to organize change in her workplace.


imageMarcia Stepanek is Founding Editor-in-Chief and President, News and Information, for Contribute Media, a New York-based magazine, Web site, and conference series about the new people and ideas of giving. She is the publisher of Cause Global, an acclaimed new blog about the use of digital media for social change. She also serves as moderator and producer of New Conversations for Change, Contribute’s forum series highlighting social entrepreneurs and new trends in philanthropy.

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