Are these Internet trends driving tipping points?

Have tipping points reached their own tipping point?

Are we at a tipping point for tipping points? TEDxOrangeCoast friend, economist and author David Friedman thinks that just might be the case. David writes…

In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point. At that time, many of us thought it referred to diffusion and acceptance of new products or a random Gone Viralidea that turned into something viral and/or global. Over the past 13 years, much has changed and the concept of a tipping point has come to mean more than in the past. In fact, if we look around, I believe we are seeing more tipping points for causes and ideas. Why is that?

Let’s start by defining a tipping point. A tipping point is that moment when an idea, concept, product or cause spreads like wildfire. Today a tipping point is easier to attain because of several trends, mostly spawned by the Internet. I like to use the acronym IOPEN to capture the essence of the underpinnings to a tipping point – Information (I), Opportunity (O), Publication (P) and Engagement (EN). To better understand the activity leading up to a tipping point, let’s explore each of these drivers.


Information is everywhere. It sounds trite but think about the combination of the Internet coupled with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets making that information available to the masses.   When Gladwell’s book was first published there were only 360 million Internet users, representing less than 6% of the world population. Today, there are more than 2.9 billion Internet users in the world, a little more than 40% of the entire population.

In 2000, there were basically no social sharing websites. Certainly there were some community sites and the computer literate were sharing information. There were no smartphones or tablets and laptops were clunky. Even in 2005, less than 5% of Internet users were using social networking sites. Just for perspective, the number of smartphone users today is approximately 1.75 billion and number of tablets sold just last year was over 200 million with many people having multiple devices at their beck and call. Today information abounds, ready to be shared as more than 74% of all adults that are online use a networking site. Just look around and see how many people carry a laptop, smartphone and tablet at the same time. (FYI, I am one of them and if I don’t have all three devices with me, I always seem to have two at the ready.) Information access and sharability play a key role in the growing momentum of a tipping point.

sharing Opportunity

A corollary to information is opportunity. With the amount of information available via the Internet and the growth in the number of social sites, it is clear that there is an opportunity to read, listen, watch and share ideas and information. Many of you might recall that connectivity to the Internet in 2000 was basically by DIAL ACCESS (very slow) using something called a PCMCIA card. Today anyone can be connected at high speed through the cellular network or through nearly 5 million public hotspots.   Opportunity is therefore a function of the number of social sites, access via devices (mobile, smartphones, laptops) and speed of communication.

When news breaks you are there and in fact many people have become journalists of sorts. This leads to the next tipping point driver, publication.


Publication is closely tied to opportunity, as it seems like everyone has a camera in their hand and everyone is a photojournalist. Think about your daily activities and how many pictures you take and send to friends or post to your social site. Think of the number of people that take pictures of events and publish them via YouTube or Instagram. YouTube, the granddaddy of video sharing, did not come into being until February of 2005. Today there are more than 1 billion unique users and more than 100 hours of vide are uploaded every minute. And who doesn’t use Instagram. Started less than 4 years ago, Instagram has more than 200 million active users.

How many of you have ever re-tweeted a post? How many of you follow an author and have the ability to engage with that person. Even sports teams have gotten into the act in a big way, using Facebook tools or social software. For example, I am an avid football (American) fan and follow the NY Giants and am a regular contributor on their message boards as well as on the ESPN sites. I also follow CNN and am prone to tweet and comment on stories that I either like or don’t like. More important, how many of you have the opportunity to create information at the instant it occurs and share it via your smartphone or tablet? And now the GoPro craze can store up to 8 hours of HD video for your private or public use.

The latest cause to catch hold is the ICE Bucket Challenge, a noble cause to raise funds for ALS research.   The challenge first received increased media attention in the United States on June 30, 2014. A group of personalities from the program Morning Drive, which airs weekdays on Golf Channel, televised the social-media phenomenon and performed a live, on-air Ice Bucket Challenge..Soon after the challenge was brought to mainstream audiences when television anchor Matt Lauer did the Ice Bucket Challenge on July 15, 2014 on NBC’s The Today Show. So far, only two months after the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral, more than $100 million has been raised for ALS research. Countless articles and video have been posted on social sites, uploaded to YouTube or shared via Instagram – all on mobile devices.


Engagement is the key catalyst to a tipping point. As Gladwell says in his book, “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practices, and expressed and nurtured.” This is the domain of the social networks.

Think back to the year 2000. There were some community sites and the rudiments of blogs, which started in earnest in the late 90s. But blogs did not come into play until the latter part of 2001 with the introduction of some political blogs. One thing about politics that was as true back then as it is today; people talk about their political views and share them openly and freely.

There was no Facebook, which itself went through the tipping point. Today Facebook is the granddaddy of all social sites and claims more than 1.3 billion users. Facebook encourages interaction, making it easy to post on your own and your friend’s timelines. It’s even easier today since Facebook bought Instagram, making online publishing part of the engagement process. Let’s not forget Google who owns YouTube and started its own Google + engagement site. The point is that today it is very easy to engage and talk about topics of interest and share your thoughts and ideas with thousands of people with a click of the mouse or a tap on the screen. The ease and reach of engagement makes it a critical component in achieving a tipping point.

Have these 5 trends brought tipping points to their own tipping point? On September 19th and 20th at Soka University of America, the 4th annual TEDxOrangeCoast conference will explore tipping points. During the two-day event you will hear about innovation, transparency v. privacy (and online personas), inequality, the wisdom of crowds, the Internet of things and a rebirth of education. The legendary 18-minute TED Talks will stimulate your thinking and provide an interesting forum for sharing ideas. Who knows, perhaps an idea at TEDxOrangeCoast will be the next one that hits the tipping point and maybe you will be at the center of the latest rage.

Tipping Point ConceptRegardless, of what you do, I believe that the opportunity to listen, share and engage with others at this superb two-day event will be worthwhile and exciting. And for many it will be life changing. See you there.

David Friedman

Posted on: September 12th, 2014 | Posted in: TED News