Joho the Blog » Web fame – notes on my talk-to-be at ROFLcon

Web fame – notes on my talk-to-be at ROFLcon

I’m talking tomorrow at ROFLcon, a conference about Web fame, celebrity and culture. I’m supposed to be talking in a general way about Web fame. Then I’m leading a panel composed of men (yup) who are Web famous: Kyle Macdonald (One Red Paperclip), Joe Mathelete (Joe Mathelete Explains Marmaduke), Ian Spector (Chuck Norris Facts), Andy Ochiltree (, Andrew Baron (Rocketboom), Alex Tew (The Million Dollar Homepage)

Here’s a sketch of what I’m thinking of saying:

Fame has been a property of the broadcast (= one-to-many) system. Fame is based on the math of many people knowing you, so many that you can’t know them. But it’s not just math, of course. It’s also economics. The broadcast economy has a fiduciary interest in building and maintaining the famous. They’re “bankable.”

Because of this scarcity and the fact that the one-to-manyness of the relationship means the knowing is one-way, the famous become a special class of person: mythic and not fully real. They are not like us, even ontologically. Fame is a type of alienation.

Outside of the broadcast system, fame looks different. This is a type of do-it-yourself fame, not only in that we often want human fingerprints on the shiny surfaces we’re watching, but also because we create fame through passing around links … occasionally for mean and nasty reasons. Kids sitting around watching YouTubes with one another are like kids telling jokes: That reminds me of this one; if you liked that one, you’ll love this one. And the content itself fuels public conversations in multiple media. This is P2P fame.

There’s a long tail of fame, although I suspect the elbow isn’t quite as sharp as in the classic Shirky power law curve for links to blogs. At the top of the head of the curve, fame operates much as it does in the broadcast media, although frequently there’s some postmodern irony involved. In the long tail, though, you can be famous to a few people. Sure, much of it’s crap, but the point about an age of abundance is that we get an abundance of crap and of goodness. We get fame in every variety, including anonymous fame, fame that mimics broadcast fame, fame that mocks, fame that does both, fame for what is stupid, brilliant, nonce, eternal, clever, ignorant, blunt, nuanced, amateur, professional, mean, noble … just like us. It’s more of everything.

But most of all, it’s ours.

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[ROFLcon will be live-streamed here. [Tags: ]

21 Responses to “Web fame – notes on my talk-to-be at ROFLcon”

  1. This is good stuff — I love the phrase “we get an abundance of crap and of goodness.”

    I can’t help thinking that broadcast-style fame is the fame of scarcity: only so many people can be broadcast as famous at any one time, and there were (are) a limited set of gatekeepers for that fame. Yet on the internet, someone is still about to discover Lego Star Wars.

    Still, internet fame can fade into internet history. How many past memes & personalities can now only be found on In the MySpace era, does anyone remember Robert McElwaine? Will a meme spread today via Twitter be archived anywhere at all?

  2. Why do I get this image of you as Ron Popeil for this gig? Something about the panel composition, I think… :)

  3. JD, yes to all. I in fact hope to make the scarcity point early on.

    Mark, not at all. Ron Popeil was far more tan than I am.

  4. “Fame has been a property of the broadcast (= one-to-many) system.”

    I don’t know if it’s relevant to note that fame has been co-opted by broadcast culture, but it’s not really a property of it, at all.

    I wonder if this is accurate:

    Broadcast culture has defined itself through it’s ability to exploit the quantity-dimension of fame: to the degree that anyone’s fame is related to the number of people who recognize them as famous, broadcast media has capitalized on it’s ability to appear as “bankers of fame.”

  5. David, is the fact that there are no women on the panel a function of there not having been any women identified who were “internet famous” in this way, or a function of women having declined the invitation?

  6. Liz, I have zero insight into how the panel was put together.

    BTW, the panel includes people who are not famous on the Web but who have created popular sites.

  7. […] Joho the Blog » Web fame – notes on my talk-to-be at ROFLcon – David Weinberger on Internet fame: Sure, much of it?s crap, but the point about an age of abundance is that we get an abundance of crap and of goodness. […]

  8. Man, every week it seems like there is at least one tech conference going on somewhere in the U.S.. Who sponsors these things? Some conference planning company must be getting rich. Everyone is hungry for new information, new trends, new ways to make money.

  9. David, I have become tired of listening to male-only panels. It sounds as if you might be there, as well. How do you think we can change this? What can you especially do to make a difference?

  10. bloggers are like bums in the bleachers at a football game
    they will say anything for a free bag of peanuts

  11. kgw, I am indeed tired to listening to the be-dicked. It’s hard to know what to do, though, since the analyses of the causes are in conflict, and they all (just about) seem to have an element of truth.

    BTW, kgs, we talked bout this issue for about ten minutes during the panel itself. And I was happy to hear it raised throughout the conf.

  12. […] see much more of in the future. And who better to describe it than the keynote speaker at ROFLCon, David Weinberger of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society: There’s a long tail of fame, although […]

  13. […] few years ago internet researcher David Weinberger attempted to explain the differences between broadcast fame and internet fame. Fame, he says, is a product of the broadcast era. Fame is built on the assumption of one to many […]

  14. […] few years ago internet researcher David Weinberger attempted to explain the differences between broadcast fame and internet fame. Fame, he says, is a product of the broadcast era. Fame is built on the assumption of one to many […]

  15. […] y a quelques années, David Weinberg, chercheur spécialisé sur Internet, a tenté d’expliquer les différences entre la célébrité en télé et radio et la célébrité sur Internet. La gloire dit-il est un produit de “l’ère de la diffusion”. La gloire se base sur une […]

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  20. […] written about Web fame (in Small Pieces Loosely Joined, in 2002) and talked about it (at the keynote of the first ROFLcon conference in 2008), he gave me a talk and we had a fun […]

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