This clip is edited together from the podcast Diggnation, hosted by Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht.DiggNation appears to be two computer geeks, sitting on a couch, drinking beer and reviewing the “hottest user submitted stories on the social news website digg.com” with an aesthetic sensibility reminiscent of Beavis & Butthead. However, its hosts have become what The Guardian in the UK, The LA Times and other mainstream US media have termed the web’s first “native” celebrities. Up until August 2008 Kevin Rose had the largest number of followers on Twitter – edging out Obama until the very climax of his much heralded digital media savvy campaign. As the owner of digg.com, Rose is also a successful internet entrepreneur but one who has emerged from the “ordinary” user communities his sites/applications now appeal to and aggregate.
Rose’s fame thus comes not simply from hosting a successful podcast – with Diggnation having reached nearly 200episodes, each downloaded or viewed over a ¼ million times – but from managing an “authentic” and open personality, particularly in sharing ideas/expertise on web2.0 ventures, across multiple digital media platforms. Whilst the intertextual nature of fame is not new – with film stars or television personalities having their fame confirmed and circulated by various subsidiary media, or perhaps crossing over between media (e.g. Lucille Ball) – Rose’s fame differs because it is a brand to be managed across multiple platforms simultaneously; and, unlike mainstream media stars, his fame is the product of self-promotion and self-surveillance particularly through web2.0 technologies and applications. Surveillance takes the form of exposure to, and control of, web 2.0 platforms that track his every move: from Twittering his current activities—“having a glass of wine with @kurtsmom”—to blog entries, updating his MySpace profile, documenting his life on Flickr to sharing his bookmarking, music and news interests via LastFM, del.ic.ious and, of course, digg.com.
Wired magazine recently proclaimed anyone can “get internet famous: even if you’re nobody” – but, in an era where millions of ordinary people might have blogs or twitter feeds, standing out from the crowd requires a degree of “vernacular skill” in marshalling technologies to garner attention. Whilst some scholars have worried that the economics of surveillance in an online digital culture erodes our privacy and produces only targeted marketing, this ignores the question of control and skill evident in the way Rose has created a mediated persona that is perceived to be constantly open and interacting with fans.
In the final part of the clip, the pair Google themselves – measuring their fame against one another by seeing how high their name appears in “Google suggests” in a way that confirms the success of Rose’s self-surveillance: much to Albrecht’s disappointment as he moves the show swiftly on once he discovers he’s “pretty far down there” compared to Rose’s multiplatform fame. The self-surveillance nature of multiplatform and online fame is worth remembering next time you go to Google yourself!
transparency and cultural intermediaries
Fascinating post James. I think you are spot on in your assessment that the utopian rhetoric that DIY technologies provide everyone with opportunities to participate in celebrity culture misses out on the sophisticated degree of competency and managerial labor involved in maintaining a sustained multiplatform presence. I'm not certain this is a new phenomenon. Licensors and intellectual property owners have managed the inter-textual coherence and cross-promotional potential of trademarked characters such as Superman or the Lone Ranger across multiple media and merchandising spaces since at least the late 1930s. What seems different here though is the construction of "authenticity" thru immediacy and accessibility that digital tools facilitate. While far more bitter scholars than myself might point to Rose and Alexander's celebrity status as further evidence that in a consumer society one doesn't have to really accomplish much to be famous, I agree with you, James, that this misunderstands that incredible amount of labor that goes in to brand (self)management. What is so interesting about Rose's labor though is its transparency. Googling himself on his podcast not only confirms his fame, but it models the labor of constant self-surveillance that partly sustains it.
The Internet will Eat Itself
This is a really interesting example James, and I think indicative of much broader issues concerning the nature of online communication and the kinds of literacies that are becoming increasingly important. I wonder about the motivation of Rose and Albrecht (and anyone who posts a blog or creates a YouTube channel). Was their aim to provide friends with a commentary on their life or to find some kind of ‘fame,’ however large or small that ended up being? Equally how do they promote themselves? Is their audience directed from other sites via conscious and deliberate marketing, do they follow word of mouth or are they discovered like some hidden gem? There must surely, from an audience point of view, be some pleasure in being there before they were famous, of being one of the ones to ‘discover’ them first.
There’s also the almost overwhelming level of self-reflexivity going on here. Someone’s virtual identity becomes the thing they use to create their virtual identity! Perhaps it's merely the pre-existence of other forms of media communcation and fame, but it seems that the internet has been a very 'self-aware' medium from its very early days in a way other media haven't. I haven’t quite managed to wrap my head around what that means or the consequences of it but it’s very intriguing.
Digg, Web2.0, and Conspicuous (Information) Consumption
I’m really intrigued by this notion that achieving Internet fame is form of technological labor. I’d be interested to hear your take on how this labor is or is not like the forms of labor Mark Andrejevic describes as the “work of being watched”: i.e., the labor consumers perform to produce and publicize data about their own consumption patterns and habits. In Andrejevic’s modeling of the relationship between media, surveillance, and self-disclosure, the consumer who works at being watched is not necessarily seeking fame, but rather exchanges her labor for access to convenience technologies and services that promise to make her consumption more efficient and, by extension, more pleasurable. Your piece suggests to me a different conjunction of consumption and self-disclosure, one that is exceptionally pertinent to “web2.0.” So many of the sites and applications branded with the “web2.0” tag appear to exist primarily to offer consumers the means of recording and broadcasting their consumption of information (look at my bookmarks at deli.ici.ous!), culture (look at the playlists on my mp3 blog), services (look at the RSS feeds I subscribe to via Google reader!), experiences (look at my vacation pictures on Flickr!), and even food (follow my gastro-blog!) to intimate and/or anonymous others. (Side rant: perhaps instead of talking about social networking, it would be appropriate to consider how”web2.0” translates practices of conspicuous consumption into digital environments…?) Even more so than the Paris Hiltons and Octomom's of the world (i.e., those who are "famous for being [in]famous"), I’d argue that Kevin Rose exemplifies the present moment's representative form of celebrity: a celebrity whose fame rests on his adroitness at using networked technologies to publicize that which he consumes.
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