Future fame (and why it’s important)

Like a lot of folks, I have a Google search RSS feed based on my name. Call it vanity or call it “reputation management,” but today’s world allows a degree of feedback never known before.

Kari's Facebook pageLast week, I ran into (and subsequently made friends with) a Finnish sports photographer named Kari Kuukka (also here and here). He’d just returned from the Vancouver Olympics and wrote a blog entry referencing a quote of mine that he uses on his Facebook page (see image). My Google search picked it up. I went to take a look. And now we’re Facebook friends.

This kind of thing happens more often than you might think, and it kind of freaks me out. Kari is a reader of this blog and also of my essays, which are published by The Digital Journalist.

A few days later, my friend (and genius) David Weinberger posted a blog entry referring to a podcast he’d done on the subject of fame. In it, David speaks of a new form of fame that is here, thanks to the World Wide Web. In days past, “the media” determined who rose to the ranks of the famous. There was a neat, orderly process that one had to go through in order to “become” famous, but even if one followed all the right steps, the decision wasn’t based on anything other than the grace of media. He’s including Hollywood, the music industry, etc.

Today, it’s very different. The mainstream media still plays a role, but fame today is generally within smaller groups, peer groups or whatever. I think this is going to take awhile for people to accept that “fame” within smaller circles is actually fame, but I think David’s right. And not only is it more like “big fish/small pond,” the method of determining fame is very different, for the mechanisms of the Web allow for the audience — everyday people — to make the decisions on who gets to bask in the light of fame.

In Lexington this week, WLEX-TV General Manager Pat Dalbey took me to the Monday night taping of Woodsongs, a popular old-time music show that’s recorded in an old theater in downtown Lexington. One of the performers was Andy McKee, a remarkable guitar player that, well, you have to see to believe. Under the old world system, it’s unlikely Andy would be touring the country and selling CDs of his original compositions. His claim to fame? The guitar channel of YouTube, where Andy McKee’s music has been heard and seen over 72 million times. The members of YouTube vaulted McKee to fame, although it’s very unlikely his name will ever be a household word (neither will mine).

There are other stories popping up all the time. Colbie Caillat presented at the Grammies this year. Nobody ever heard of her before she put her music on MySpace. David Lehre’s work on YouTube got him a spot with MTVU, and he’s now a film producer.

So fame works in different ways today.

Colbie Caillat, David Lehre and Andy McKee

I first wrote about this in September of 2007 in our AR&D Media 2.0 Intel newsletter:

This is a generation unbound by the roadblocks used by the status quo to maintain their status, and I’m especially taken by the astute views of Ms. Caillat.

In an age when marketing has been elevated above content and so many songs are written and produced to a pre-ordained formula…Records these days…tend to contain one or two good tracks which you download to your computer so that you never have to listen to the rest of the album again.

The clue to the real power of J.D. Lasica’s “personal media revolution” is found in this statement, and it assigns blame for current media chaos where it belongs — with the people who used to control everything. It’s not about technology or copyright or distribution or any of the other things you read and hear about these days that are cutting into music sales; it’s about the institution producing crap.

(Ask your employees how many watch your news, and then ask them why they don’t. Be prepared for the next response.)

So what do people do when confronted with crap? They usually find another path, and that’s at the core of what’s happening around us. This is why I so strongly recommend that local media companies search their own neighborhoods for tomorrow’s employees in addition to following the more traditional paths.

We’re being disrupted by the prosumer movement, and so far, we’ve taken the wrong path in trying to defend ourselves. Steve Jobs was asked last week why Apple came out with what could be considered an iPhone killer, an iPod with everything the iPhone has except the phone. His response is telling: “If anybody is going to cannibalize us, I want it to be us. I don’t want it to be a competitor.”

So rather than wait for somebody else to embrace the prosumer movement, we need to be doing this ourselves. This is essential Media 2.0.

So, I may be “famous” up to a point, but my tribe is a far cry from that which produces old world “fame,” and I’m very happy for it to be that way. You see, I write to challenge my own assumptions, not necessarily to be read, so anything that comes of that is really just an ancillary benefit. Oh it makes me “feel” good to know that people notice, but that’s not my goal.

And maybe that’s what real fame is all about anyway.

(You might be interested in a Google search on “1,000 true fans” and what that means for media professionals today as they work to grow their personal brands.)

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