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April 24, 2008

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: ]