Joho the Blog » fame

December 24, 2014

Fame. Web Fame. Mass Web Fame.

A weird thing happened yesterday. First I got a call from a Swedish journalist writing about a Danish kid who has become famous on the Net for nothing in particular and is now weighing his options as a possible recording star. Since I’ve 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 conversation.

That conversation prompted me to write a post about how Web fame has changed over the past few years. I was mostly through a first draft when I got a call from a journalist at a well-known US newspaper who is doing a story about Web fame, and wanted to talk with me about it. Huh?

Keep in mind that I hadn’t yet posted about the topic. He got to me totally independently of the Swedish journalist. And it’s not like I spend my mornings talking to the press. It’s just a completely weird coincidence.

Anyway, afterwards I posted what I had written. It’s at Medium. Here’s the beginning:

It’s a great time to be famous, at least if you’re interested in innovating new types of fame. If you’re instead looking for old-fashioned fame, you’re out of luck. We’re in a third epoch of fame, and this one is messier than any of the others. (Sure, that’s an oversimplification, but what isn’t?)

Before the Web there was Mass Fame, the fame bestowed upon lucky (?) individuals by the mass media. The famous were not like you and me. They were glamorous, had an aura, were smiled upon by the gods.

Fame back then was something that was done to the audience. We could accept or reject those thrust upon us by the the mass media, but since fame was defined as mass awareness of someone, the mass media were ultimately in control.

With the dawn of the Web there was Internet Fame. We made people famous…[more]

(Amanda Palmer, whom I use as a positive example of the new possibilities, facebooked the post, which makes me one degree from famous!)

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August 16, 2012

Authors don’t scale. Topics do.

I suspect there’s a lot of truth in Richard MacManus’ post at ReadWriteWeb about where Web publishing is going. In particular, I think the growth of topic streams is pretty much close to inevitable, whether this occurs via Branch + Medium (and coming from Ev Williams, I suspect that at the very least they’ll give Web culture a very heavy nudge) and/or through other implementations.

Richard cites two sites for this insight: Anil Dash and Joshua Benton at the Nieman Journalism Lab. Excellent posts. But I want to throw in a structural reason why topics are on the rise rise: authors don’t scale.

It is certainly the case that the Web has removed the hold the old regime had over who got to publish. To a lesser but still hugely significant extent, the Web has loosened the hold the old regime had on who among the published gets attention; traditional publishers can still drive views via traditional marketing channels, but tons more authors/creators are coming to light outside of those channels. Further, the busting up of mass culture into self-forming networks of interest means that a far wider range of authors can be known to groups that care about them and their topics. Nevertheless, there is a limit within any one social network — and within any one human brain — to how many authors can be emotionally committed to.

There will always be authors who are read because readers have bonded with them through the authors’ work. And the Web has enlarged that pool of authors by enabling social groups to find their own set, even if many authors’ fame is localized within particular groups. But there are only so many authors you can love, and only so many blogs you can visit in a day.

Topics, on the other hand, are a natural way to handle the newly scaled web of creators. Topics are defined as the ideas we’re interested in, so, yes, we’re interested in them! They also provide a very useful way of faceting through the aggregated web of creators — slicing through the universe of authors to pull in what’s interesting and relevant to the topic. There may be only so many topics you can be interested in (at least when topics get formalized, because there’s no limit to the things our curiosity pulls us toward), but within a topic, you can pull in many more authors, many of whom will be previously unknown and most of whom’s names will go by unnoticed.

I would guess that we will forever see a, dialectic between topics and authors in which a topic brings an author to our attention to whom we then commit, and an author introduces a topic to which we then subscribe. But we’ve spent the past 15 years scaling authorship. We’re not done yet, but it’s certainly past time for progress in scaling topics.


May 4, 2012

[roflcon] Microfame

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Matt Oswald drew Me Gusta. He’s now an illustrator because of the drawing that made him famous.

Nate Stern is Huh Guy. He was in an AT&T commercial in which he said “Huh.” He submitted it to Reddit. The line in the script was “Say what now?” but they asked him to improvise. Nate says that he went up to Jonathan Zittrain who had put up a picture of the Huh guy during his excellent keynote, and said, “You’re much better looking than the Huh Guy.” JZ said thank you. “And that’s how micro famous I am. I wasn’t recognized by a guy who referenced me in his talk.”

Chris Torres is the Nyan Cat guy.

Paul Vasquez made the Double Rainbow video. “It was a spiritual experience. I need to bring spirituality to humanity.” He wants to “bring people together under the colors of the rainbow.”

Nate says that now you’re famous on the Internet for 1.5 seconds. Chris says that he is never recognized. No one ever knows the people behind the drawings. “Is that frustrating?” asks our host, Mike Rugnetta. “I love it,” Chris replies. He loves seeing the drawing reproduced. “It’s an amazing thing knowing that people love your work.”

Paul says that when Jimmy Kimmel played his video, it exploded. Microsoft wanted to do a video with him. “I’d been a hermit for a long time, and all of a sudden humanity was paying attention to me because I saw this rainbow. You’re not seeing me in it. You see it through my third eye, which is also my camera.” He says the camera didn’t capture the fact that the rainbow was a complete disk, a giant eye. What could have an eye that big? “God could.” A high school flew him out there, performed a play while he sat on a throne. They took him to a lake and he was wondering if he’s supposed to go swimming with high schoolers…and there was the rainbow again. “That’s why I video everything. Otherwise no one would believe it.”

Mike asks about the intersection of Net memes and mainstream media. Paul points to how much mainstream media coverage he’s gotten. “They’ve been kind to me, probably because I’m not in it.”

Chris says that Conan did a parody of it. Time featured it. “It’s mind blowing that mainstream media cover it.” He thinks the mainstrea generally does “get” it, although they’re wrong about other Net phenomena, such as Anonymous.

Nate says that people were suspicious that AT&T was orchestrating the meme. The Reddit upvotes barely beat out the downvotes. But he says that AT&T thinks that it’s popular because people like the commercial.

Matt: “My experience with Me Gusta and the media is zero.” It started on 4chan and became more popular on Reddit. He says he thinks of it as the Internet’s property now.

Nate: We try to figure out why some memes go viral, but there are always another 100 things that had the same factor. It’s more that the Net chooses what to get behind.

Matt says that we should feel a duty to link to stuff that’s cool and that may have taken a lot of work.

Chris: Keep doing what you love.

Paul: That’s why I make videos.

Mike: Is this leading to fewer big projects being created?

Paul: It’s up to us now to produce our art.

Paul: YouTube is people’s memory and Facebook is their consciousness.

Now questions from the audience.

Q: Chris, was there a Pop Tarts lawsuite?
A: No. I’d love to work with them. Nyan flavored Pop Tarts with rainbow-colored filling.

Q: [Scumbag Steve!] Could you spare $20?

Q: What was it like to negotiate with Microsoft, Double RainbowGuy?
A: I never put ads on the Rainbow video. YouTube asked me to, and I said no, it’s a sacred video. I got an agent who negotiated the contract. The offer came from an intern. It was not big money like you think. I could have bought a used car.

Q: Is there something else you’ve created that you think is more worthy than what went viral?
A: Paul: I made a rainbow video — Giant Intense Video — a year earlier and thought it’d go viral. On that one, I am high. I wasn’t on double Rainbow.
Matt: I was working on a comic. I worked really hard on it. It had a narrative. And then a 12-min drawing goes viral.

[ I’m leaving 5 mins early. Posting without re-reading.]


February 17, 2012

Web fame is running a post of mine on fame on the Web.

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March 5, 2010

[ahole] me on fame

Here’s a podcast interview with me about Internet fame. It’s part of Open Thread Radio. Also on the episode: Thomas De Zengotita from Harper’s Magazine.


May 1, 2008

I’ve been rocketboomed…

Rocketboom is running a synopsis of my talk on fame at ROFLcon. (Does that make me meta-famous?)

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April 26, 2008

And another thing about fame…

I was talking with Kate Raynes-Goldie of the CBC at the end of the first day of ROFLcon yesterday [live-streamed here] and had a small realization about another difference between broadcast fame and Web fame. A little connection that immediately seemed too obvious to blog about. Nevertheless, here goes….

I said in my talk at the conference yesterday that we are making fame our own, rather than an alienating effect of the broadcast regime, because we make people famous on the Web by passing around links, and that — especially when you watch people watching YouTubes together — it’s a lot like how people tell jokes together: one video reminds someone of another, and there can be a type of pleasant one-upmanship as people try to top the current video with one that’s even better.

Not until I was talking with Kate did the further obviousness occur to me: One of the differences between broadcast and Web fame is that in making someone famous on the Web, we are putting a little bit of our social standing at risk. We’ve got a stake in it.

For example, during the wonderful, impromptu videofest blogged by (and, to a large degree, led by) the wonderful and impromptu Ethan Zuckerman, during Fellows Hour at the Berkman Center last week, everyone was pointing to the next great video to play. In the midst of this, I lost the thread and pointed to a video that, when projected to the group, was out of place and not even very interesting. People shuffled uncomfortably, trying to figure out why I would suggest such a clunker. I was embarrassed. (At least the video was short.)

That we have something at stake in what we recommend is, of course, well understood and completely obvious. But for me, only last night did I recognize that that’s one of the reasons the Web famous feel more like ours than the broadcast famous usually do. Not only do we make them famous, but we do so at some risk to ourselves.

It’s a type of sweat equity, or, in my case during video night at the Berkman, it was more like a type of flop sweat equity. [Tags: ]

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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: ]