Complaining about an injustice is rarely enough to effect change. But when dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people kvetch in an organized and forceful manner, things can happen. Boycotts change companies. Unions end up controlling the direction of industries. Protests overthrow governments.
The Point is a new site to help instigators collect the wishes of the masses and to get participants to pledge to take action when a "tipping point" of participation is reached.
For example, if you are upset that Southwest Airlines no longer lets families with small children board first, you can join the pledge to boycott Southwest once 2,000 other people also sign up. As soon as the desired number of people sign on to the campaign, the pledge is activated. But if they don't, you're not left twisting in the wind executing a meaningless protest.
The Point can also work with financial action: You can join a pledge to participate in an event if enough other people sign on, as well. If the pledge goals are met, your credit card (that you're previously submitted) is debited. If not, you're not charged.
CEO Andrew Mason's pitch to me was laced with modern political rhetoric. He says The Point "enables participatory democracy," and that "every shared problem has a tipping point."
What I like about it is that it can make users into small-scale union organizers (or, for that matter, strike busters): There's nothing to say that the service couldn't be used to organize a work stoppage or similar activity. But if you're afraid of participating, The Point campaigns can be set up with conditional anonymity. In other words, people can pledge their support of a campaign and remain anonymous up until the point that the campaign reaches it pledge goals. The means you don't have to stick your neck out alone, but when you know your movement has a head of steam, you can be sure your name will be part of it.
The challenge, for The Point or any other consensus-building service, is getting users onboard. You may be able to scare up a dozen people who don't like the color of the Cheerios box, but to take on a corporation or a government you're going to need to reach beyond your friends and family. So Mason sees The Point not so much as a destination, but rather a service that other activist sites can use as a back-end for campaign management. Complaints.com, for example, could aggregate customer dissatisfaction using The Point. Likewise any political site.
Integration into social networks is also coming, and is greatly needed.
The site officially launches next week but is in open alpha right now. It's a little buggy at this point but well worth checking out.