Almost three years later, "Bill", the semi-anonymous inventor of flash mobs, has revealed his identity as Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper's Magazine. In the March 2006 issue of Harper's, Bill tells the story behind the Mob Project. (The full article is in the print edition, and it is being serialized on the web.) Turns out we were all subjects in an experiment.
The basic hypothesis behind the Mob Project was as follows: seeing how all culture in New York was demonstrably commingled with scenesterism, the appeal of concerts and plays and readings and gallery shows deriving less from the work itself than from the social opportunities the work might engender, it should theoretically be possible to create an art project consisting of pure scene—meaning the scene would be the entire point of the work, and indeed would itself constitute the work.
UPDATE: Where can I get a print copy of Harper's around here? The regular newsstands don't carry it (regardless of what they claim), and we don't have uber-newsstands.
UPDATE 2: I found one at Grand Central, and I recommend reading the full article. In addition to a schema of hipster celebrities and a discussion of Stanley Milgram as a performance artist, there is explicit mention of the Dean comparison (yes, I knew I was neither the first nor the last). But I think Wasik goes too far with the analogy. The Dean campaign was conducted with methods similar to flash mobs, and was short-lived like flashmobs, but the analogy should end there. To attribute the Dean campaign's rise and fall purely to internal factors, without reference to the broader political context, is to ignore key parts of the tragic story.