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.)

“Pants on the ground”

In case you live in a cave, the first cultural “15 minutes” of 2010 occurred during Tuesday night’s American Idol broadcast in the form of Larry Platt’s “Pants on the ground” audition. Platt, a veteran, is a 62-year old African-American who calls himself “general.”

There are over 2,000 entries on YouTube when searching “pants on the ground,” and many of them are tributes. Searching “pants on the ground” (in quotes) on Google produces over 18 million results, the first 582 (I stopped after that) relating to Larry Platt. As of today, “Pants” is number three on the list of top searches on Google.

The producers of American Idol knew what they were doing when they let this guy on the show (he didn’t qualify as a contestant), and I think the message of the song will carry on long after General Platt’s fame. It is considered politically incorrect for a white guy to comment about the dress of “urban” youth, but it’s perfectly appropriate for a 62-year old African-American.

Does wearing your pants below your butt make you look like a “foo?” Well, yes, and I’d add: obviously so. Let’s hope Larry’s message gets through and is talked about in the right circles.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: I tried to embed the official Fox version, but the code doesn’t work)

Here’s Jimmy Fallon last night as Neil Young doing “Pants.”

Captioning YouTube videos — a big YES!

Google announced this week that it is adding capitoning to YouTube videos, and this is a very big deal for everybody. Using its own technology, YouTube will create an English script from the audio of videos and make that available for the hearing impaired. In addition, those who have the text of the audio available can upload it in a separate file, and YouTube will add it to the video.

The play is being positioned as a way to help the hearing impaired enjoy YouTube, but there’s another huge upside to this: it will dramatically enhance search capabilities on the video giant. Already the world’s second-largest search engine, this move will only strengthen that position for YouTube. Text associated with videos on YouTube will also have the secondary benefit of boosting search engine optimization with Google (or Bing, or whatever), so it’s incumbent on those who are smart enough to already be using YouTube to start uploading text files as well.

YouTube to content partners: Advertise away

TechCrunch is reporting that YouTube is beginning to allow content partners to serve their own ads along with videos they make available via the service. This is, of course, pretty huge. It’s one of the key principles of monetizing unbundled media and one that mass media types will immediately welcome. After all, who has a bigger mass that YouTube, right?

Erick Schonfeld, who wrote the TechCrunch piece, rightly notes that Google wants to monetize YouTube any way it can.

The ability to sell their own ads on YouTube is a big deal for larger media companies, especially those which are already selling Web video ads across their own sites. Media companies with lots of video tend to have large advertising sales teams that are typically able to command better ad rates than what YouTube can get. The prospect of selling ads against all of their videos on YouTube at those higher ad rates has them salivating, even if they have to share the spoils with YouTube.

As for YouTube, content from media partners represents maybe only 4 percent of all videos on the site, but it is where nearly all of its advertising dollars are coming from. Anything to make that part of the pie bigger would have an outsized impact on YouTube’s revenues.

There will no doubt be a scramble by TV stations (and newspapers) now to create the YouTube channels that they should have been running all along, and that will be a good thing. When that happens, media companies will have to ask themselves if it makes business sense to run videos any other way. After all, it doesn’t cost anything to embed videos from YouTube, and if you can attach your ads, why spend the money on your own storage and streaming? Most likely, we’ll begin to see some sorts of combinations of YouTube and proprietary Flash players, but even that would alter the dynamics and increase the quantity of professional video available via YouTube.

One other thing to note about this: it’s very Google. Google’s core product, search, is free. The company makes its money by putting ads all over the Web — on the very sites to which its search engine leads. YouTube will follow the same model, it appears.

As I say so often: stay tuned.

Why I love the Internet (again)

I first heard this kind of music when Allie and I attended Nickel Creek’s performance at the Ryman in Nashville on October 30th, 2004. Opening for NC was a guy named Howie Day, and he absolutely dazzled the crowd with intricate looped music that he created with an acoustic guitar and his voice. I was stunned that one guy with a guitar and computers could create such a rich a full sound.

Today, I was introduced to Imogen Heap, via The Inquisitr, via YouTube. Sit back and be amazed.

And once again, I salute the Web and the wonderful way good things get moved around and discovered.

McCain loses argument with YouTube

This was hardly unexpected, but lawyers for YouTube have told John McCain’s lawyers that, while they respect his position, they cannot justify an exemption from their policy regarding take down notices for copyright violations. In complying with such notices, YouTube follows the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — which McCain voted for — that sets forth guidelines on how companies that host “potential” copyright violations should respond when the owners of those copyrights ask them to remove “potentially” offending clips. McCain’s lawyers had argued that their use of copyrighted materials in campaign ads posted to the site were “fair use” and therefore YouTube shouldn’t automatically remove them.

But YouTube’s lawyers rightly responded that fair use is rarely easy to define. Online Media Daily obtained a copy of the letter YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine wrote to the McCain camp.

“Lawyers and judges constantly disagree about what does and does not constitute fair use,” Levine wrote. “YouTube does not possess the requisite information about the content in user-uploaded videos to make a determination as to whether a particular takedown notice includes a valid claim of infringement. The claimant and the uploader hold all the information in this regard, including the actual source of any content used.”

So John McCain is screwed by a law he helped pass, and, as I wrote yesterday, I sure hope this becomes a cause for revisiting all of copyright law, for it surely needs rewriting for today’s networked culture.