Are Internet celebrities the next big thing April 24, 2002 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Matt & MeFi (via's list) named in SacBee article Are Internet celebrities the next big thing or simply one-hit wonders?
posted by gen to MetaFilter-Related at 4:12 PM (41 comments total)

This depends on a few factors...

1. Are they attractive?
2. Are they keeping themselves fresh?
3. As Kottke says in the article, are they making

Hell, Hollywood celebrities MUST fulfill at least 2 of 3 of these requirements to continue their celebrity status. I think the same can be applied to any celebrity, no matter what the field.
posted by BlueTrain at 4:20 PM on April 24, 2002

I hate article titles like that. I know they're purposefully exaggerated to draw attention, but they set the reader up to draw a hasty conclusion.

Your girlfriend: supermodel gorgeous or dog ugly?

The weather: scorching hot or icy cold?

Green: too close to blue or not close enough?

4: too high or too low?
posted by lbergstr at 4:28 PM on April 24, 2002

On my return from SXSW last month, I tried to tell my friends and family about the people I'd met. Not only had they never heard of any of them, they were even unaware of who Bruce Sterling was, let alone how unique it felt to be partying in his house on the last night.

My mother-in-law has never heard of Cory Doctorow, Heather Champ, Jason Kottke or Matt Haughey. Nor have my sisters, nor any of my brothers, nor the majority of my friends.

And with no disrespect to any of those fine and swell people nor to imply that any of them think of themselves as legendary, I'd say that until that happens, we're all just wallowing in a very small mud puddle together, and we're all just very minor legends in our own minds. Despite the limited attention of newspapers and mass media, the world of blogging is not as present in the mass-mind as those of us covered in the mud like to think.

Had the dotcom bubble not burst, but grew larger and larger, in the magical way that Hollywood did in the 20's and 30's, and managed to achieve deep penetration into the core consciousness of the population, things might have been different.
posted by crunchland at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2002

this made me a box at home i have the guest list for SF Fray Day 4. That thing is going to be worth money on ebay someday, you just wait.
posted by th3ph17 at 4:51 PM on April 24, 2002

Derek posted a good article about this last month, and it sparked various discussions of why the web hasn't really produced "celebrities" in the "mainstream america has heard of you" sense beyond maybe Matt Drudge and Mahir (I would say calling Mahir a celeb is pushing it, and even Matt Drudge isn't much of a household name to non-web people).

I think everyone that is deem "celebrity" in any sort of web context finds it amusing that anyone on earth knows their name, and is surprised when people are impressed. I don't know a single person that takes their online fame seriously, everyone seems pretty well aware we're all just a bunch of nobodies.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2002

crunchland, I have to disagree, man. I agree that blogging and the like hasn't permeated the mass-conciousness yet. But , I believe it was the fact that the dot-com bubble did burst that's allowing for the burst of online creativity over the past year or so. Without the promise(and the pressure) of trying to make a gazillion dollars with your IPO, the 'net has been handed back to the geeks who use it for what they dig:
Self-Expression(blogging,, community building(the Filter,Kuro5hin), fun & games(Everquest), sharing information(Epinions) and team programming(source forge).
To tell the truth, without the money guys, this is where it truly gets good.
posted by jonmc at 5:51 PM on April 24, 2002

But even us webheads count for something, which is one of the reasons why events such as SXSW are so popular. One or two nobodies is an unnoticeable amount, but when you have tens or hundreds of thousands of nobodies, that makes for a sustantial amount of people who are on an inside track to what the population at large will someday experience.

Another example would be the Webbies. Today, the Webbies aren't much of a big deal, and perhaps next year they won't be much of big deal, but one day very soon those awards will be important to many people, just as the Oscars, the Emmy's, the MTV awards and so on. Human beings just love adoring their idols, and therefor web idols will be created. Matt, you think you're not that famous? Perhaps your not, in comparison to Hollywood standards, but in web standards, you are HOT. Kottke is HOT. Meg is HOT. Evan is HOT. In a few years you may look back at this relatively peaceful time in your life with nostalgia, between doing this show and that show, these awards and those awards.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't underestimate the human desire to adore/envy others. You shouldn't underestimate the power that adulation has.
posted by ashbury at 6:11 PM on April 24, 2002

You mean I can write web articles about web articles about websites and get paid for it without initiating any creative thought processes? Not to diminish Matt's 15 minutes, but where do I sign up for that gig?

Crunchland has the right barometer. If the average Mom hasn't heard of an internet "rockstar", then the medium may not be capable of capturing the type of attention that people inherently crave. My mom just learned how to use the BCC field in email, and I don't think she's ready for HOT KOTTKE ACTION!
posted by machaus at 6:52 PM on April 24, 2002

BCC? your mom is on the advanced course! :)
posted by rhyax at 7:09 PM on April 24, 2002

Kottke is HOT. Meg is HOT. Evan is HOT.

Thank you, ashbury! I always knew I'd be up there with the stars.

Alas, I know who you really meant. I suppose I'll have to be the web's other Evan. *sigh*
posted by evanizer at 7:13 PM on April 24, 2002

I'm still gonna prance around like I'm an Internet God. Because I am.
posted by owillis at 7:38 PM on April 24, 2002

I asked everyone I know if they'd ever heard of me, and they all said yes!
posted by mattpfeff at 8:03 PM on April 24, 2002

Here's the Shift list.
posted by jaden at 8:15 PM on April 24, 2002

crap! why can't *i* be a one hit wonder?
posted by jcterminal at 8:16 PM on April 24, 2002

2. Are they keeping themselves fresh?

As much as I admire Matt, I am not going to volunteer to be the one to sniff him.

posted by ebarker at 8:28 PM on April 24, 2002

mathowie: Derek posted a good article about this last month...

What's really bizarre is that I went to high school with Andy Denhart, the author of the article you linked, and had an e-mail conversation with him not long ago. Whether we're all overnight celebrities or not, the Internet certainly offers bizarre ways to find people.
posted by Danelope at 8:40 PM on April 24, 2002

I think the feel of the web medium itself really precludes any kind of mega-stardom.
There's a manufactured distance with being a television or rock star that a is result of those mediums output style. The web is much more give and take.

Put me in a room with Iggy Pop and I'm probably make an obsequious ass of myself. Put me in a room with Mathowie, Kottke or even the more well known Drudge, and I'd probably just make fun of their shoes or something, despite having similar respect for Mathowie's work as I do for Iggy's, and perhaps much more respect for Mathowie's creative intentions, which are far more generous than some self-serving rock star's.

Basically, the web is too familiar to inspire icons in the Hollywood sense.
posted by dong_resin at 8:54 PM on April 24, 2002

I'd like to be proven wrong, by the way. I think creating something interesting on the web is a far more worthy way to generate media icons than merely being pretty, or whatever.
posted by dong_resin at 8:57 PM on April 24, 2002

Matt--how often are you recognized in public? Sorry if this has been asked before.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 9:14 PM on April 24, 2002

It's always good for a chuckle or two when the latest print journalist exposes his or her sudden interest in weblogs (discovered during a desperate online search for new material, no doubt) and blathers about it in - yes, the print medium, which is then posted online. The circuity of it amazes one. And then, said journalist seeks to sway the unenlightened with his/her list of recommended blogs. I mean, doodie for christ's sake? The disingeniousness of it all is starting to pall.
posted by Lynsey at 9:15 PM on April 24, 2002

There are always subsets of fame - it's not just a question of the internet. To some people, John S Hall is a star; to others, he's no one. yeah, sometimes local fame becomes mainstream fame but a lot of the time, people are just "famous" within their circles.

Serious mega-stardom is usually reserved for performers backed by agents / studios who heavily promote - an interactive medium based on writing is unlikely to produce that level of fame. Self-publishing is also unlikely to result in that kind of fame since it would require so much self-promotion that it would turn people off.

posted by mdn at 9:34 PM on April 24, 2002

Matt--how often are you recognized in public? Sorry if this has been asked before

Ha! It hasn't happened ever, that's how pathetic these "web celeb" articles are. Not once, not ever. A year ago or so, I wore a blogger shirt to a big concert and thought for sure at least someone would also use blogger, recognize the logo and ask me about it, but nary a soul ever noticed. I had thought blogger was getting mainstream but I was way off. Like I said, everyone on the web is a nobody.

Dong - that was Derek's argument too, that people on the web put it all out there in the open, you know everything about them, you can email them and they'll email you back, and that experience is completely different than the unattainable celebrities in film, music, and tv. You'll never talk to George Clooney over email, or read about Aerosmith's daily travels. Sitting in your living room watching The Osbornes is about as close as you'll ever get to hanging out with a real rock star. This lack of distance with anyone on the web means they can never ascend into some sort of idol status, everyone online is too human and far too accessible.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:41 PM on April 24, 2002

I had thought blogger was getting mainstream - matthowie

The blogging thing is a grassroots event. Like all grassroots events, not everyone is interested. Not everyone is going to take a notice and say something about it. All you have to do is to take a look at the numbers: 14k members here, blogger has 500k, grey matter has whatever amount, movable type has X amount and so on. These numbers aren't insignificant. At some point there must be a saturation point when the world at large sits up and says "Hey, what's going on over here?"

An example could be the Summer of Love which was a grassroots event that got as big as it did thru word of mouth, helped along by the media from time to time. Some very average people became very well-known out of that one.

owillis, you are HOT when you prance around that way.
posted by ashbury at 10:03 PM on April 24, 2002

I think it all has to do with the scale of a community. 'Blogging society' isn't nearly as most MeFites would hope it is. Though hundreds of thousands may blog, or know people who blog, only a small fraction of these are tuned into the MeFi/Daypop/Kottke/rebeccablood brand of blogging. The vast, vast majority are content to update their livejournal/diaryland/blogspot website, reading the gossip on their friends' pages, giving nary a thought to the A-List, B-List or Marquis-List.

You can see a parallel in MUD or MMOG worlds. In Ultima Online, everyone may be familiar with Lord British and his actions. Similarly, many involved in MUDs will know of Thoric (Derek Snider). Celebrities rise to prominence within smaller communities, but it takes a huge paradigm shift for these mini celebrity-systems to become status quo.

Hmm. On preview, all of the above seems obvious to the point of irrelevancy, but I'll post anyway cause I wanna see if I'm the only one here who had his soul sucked by SMAUG.
posted by Marquis at 10:08 PM on April 24, 2002

The web will evolve to a platform that's able to create real Rock Stars, partially because someone will be compelling enough on their own that a rock star infrastructure will evolve on the web to support their stardom.

In fact, that process is a necessity for the web to evolve to its next form, when it becomes what our kids will know as the web, not this larval stage it's in now.
posted by anildash at 10:22 PM on April 24, 2002

“Nearly two-thirds of 800 Americans polled could not name a single member of the current [Supreme Court] and just 32 percent knew that there are nine justices. Only five persons in the entire survey could name all nine.

“In contrast, a whopping majority - 75 percent - knew there are three Rice Krispies characters and 66 percent proudly cited their names...” Ethel
posted by raaka at 10:25 PM on April 24, 2002

mathowie: You'll never talk to George Clooney over email...

Actually, e-mail was directly responsible for my meeting Robin Williams last weekend. The owner of the local game store (my friend Tibbs) contacted him via e-mail, and invited him to visit. He did just that several months later.

The biggest problem is, of course, finding that point of contact first. As you've said, Web celebrities put it all out there for the world to see, whereas Hollywood types generally do not.

The first time I ever saw (home of Lance Arthur, MetaFilter's beloved honkzilla) was on MSNBC's "The Site", hosted by news hottie Soledad O'Brien. That initial impression, coupled with the fact that his personal Web site was on TV, established him as a sort of celebrity in my mind. To many people, the Internet is just not important enough to warrant that sort of attention, and only we people who care about things like Web design, blogs, etc. will exalt our heroes.

raaka: Nearly two-thirds of 800 Americans polled could not name a single member of the current [Supreme Court] and just 32 percent knew that there are nine justices. Only five persons in the entire survey could name all nine. In contrast, a whopping majority - 75 percent - knew there are three Rice Krispies characters and 66 percent proudly cited their names...

Yes, and when Supreme Court Justices are displayed prominently in television advertisements, radio, and print ads multiple times per day, and are seen on cereal boxes for decades upon decades and throughout our childhood, ask this question again. Until then, they'll likely be absent from the public consciousness due to lack of incessant (and paid) repetition.
posted by Danelope at 10:55 PM on April 24, 2002

*picturing Sandra Day O Connor prancing around in a chef outfit.

posted by Ufez Jones at 11:02 PM on April 24, 2002

Only five persons in the entire survey could name all nine

William Rehnquist, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, Anthony Breyer and ... arggh, dammit ... Wil Wheaton? No, I've got it, it's Anthony Kennedy.

Also: Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, Sneezy, Grumpy, Happy, Doc.
posted by diddlegnome at 11:15 PM on April 24, 2002

Gawdammit. I diddled this little comment while working on other stuff, came back here to drop it off, only to discover it is a paraphrase of Matt's paraphrase of Derek's shit. I am beginning to think the only truly original thing one can contribute to the web is a scan of one's own bloody thumbprint.

The web is agressively anti-celebrity.

Traditional celebrity is, in part, defined by inaccessibility. The stars of today's web are stars partly because they are approachable, accessible, and generally unpretentious - and by so being, they guarantee their continued relative obscurity. The sense of mystical preeminence so important to establishing and maintaining celebrity is impossible to nourish when your whole fat, greasy, honest, face is just hanging out there every day. Yet, were any of our current mini-stars to begin puffing up and crowing and amplifying and botoxing, they would find themselves instantly banished and boycotted. Catch 22-404.

I am off now to butcher my pet chicken, to gather blood for the thumbprint ceremony...
posted by Opus Dark at 11:16 PM on April 24, 2002 is available, opus.
posted by diddlegnome at 11:23 PM on April 24, 2002

Danelope: “[advertising]”

I totally agree, but I had a bit of a different reading: Fame, a fickle whore.

bloodythumbprint is a lot to type. I’d rather watch
posted by raaka at 12:31 AM on April 25, 2002

Oneliner snippy response

I don't understand the success of Tom Winkler's Doodie. I've been slinging shit online for years and I'm never mentioned in newspapers.

Short Attention Span Version

Your favorite "A-Listers" will never be randomly discovered. Unless you all actually make it happen, it never will. Why? Because they don't want them to be discovered. Conspiracy? No. Agenda? Yes!

Long ramble that few will read and less will take seriously
partly cuz even I don't take it seriously.

I blame mass media's agenda on why 'online celebrities' are still not offline celebrities. I used to carry this banner. I don't anymore. When I saw Harry Knowles bomb as Roger Ebert's sidekick, a part of me just curled up and died. Mass media's selfishly defending its own interests, and has proven to sporadically exploit and combat what's on the 'Net.

For years the Internet has been a massive experiment on the Human Condition. There's been a lot of crap. And I mean A LOT OF crap. It's also done some amazing things. The efforts of those who are cited on the "A-List" are included in that list of anti-crap.

What does the mass media do in response? Three minute pieces about "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" and periodic incessant reminders everywhere from your own city's local tv affilates to Oprah shouting that The 'Net is a den of child pornography, corporate hacking, copyright theft and whatever other debauchery they can dig up. They take the worst of the 'Net and exploit it, ignoring the glowing gems right under their noses. It lauds the crap while ignoring the beauty, the community, the wisdom and the other enriching qualities of the Web.

It is not in the best interests of pre1990 based mass media to flaunt the best of the 'Net. Can a movie actually show the Internet realistically? Not if it's unhelpful to the trite plot devices they already have installed in the script. Can an official website for a movie, tv show, or other non-Net project give their audience everything they want? No. Many factors including legalities and concerns about "ruining the show" slow them down. There have been few exceptions.

Who wants to watch reruns of sitcoms when they can go to AtomFilms (as just one of many examples)? Online you can find stuff that while not as slickly produced, is certainly funnier. Stuff that's not got its hands tied behind its back by censorship and political correctness.

Mass media is combatting the Net. Just a week ago I came across a website that had published online a copy of the Spider-Man movie script. Columbia sent them a cease & desist order. Instead of supporting the fans that support their work, Hollywood's reacting as if they've been cornered by attack dogs, and are lashing out without logic or provocation.

At the height of X-Files' popularity, Fox unleashed their lawyers on countless fan supported sites as if they were actually harming the show. I strongly believe that's part of what led to the movie's fickle success, and the subsequent downturn in the ratings. Why devote time and energy to something when it's not apprreciated in any way by the people you're praising?

Matt's right in saying that because "online celebrities" are more accessible and responsive they'll never truly be offline celebrities. However, it's also that precise thing that gives online celebrity the edge.

When you go up to a conventional celebrity and ask for that person's autograph, how that person reacts to your acknowledgement of their success will affect how you perceive that individual in the future. If she smiles warmly and complies, perhaps even convincingly feigning interest in your well-being and thanking you for watching her show, you'll probably continue to watch. Then you'll tell all your friends about the day you met her. If she squoonches up her face and tells you to talk to the hand as her bodyguards escort her as far away from you as possible, you'll probably be disappointed, frustrated, or downright angry at being dissed. And chances are that will color your decisions the next time she's starring in a feature film. Why spend ten bucks to see her if she wouldn't even sign her name for you?

What stops *insert your favorite A-Lister here* from being the next *insert any random B-List Hollywood name here* is complex, of course. At the core of it all though is the fact that the mediums which the masses were already used to for the majority of the 20th century have not and probably will not embrace the grassroots movement of offline celebrity.

I'm repeatedly flabbergasted at how great independent films are ignored while paint-by-numbers Hollywood redundancies make millions. I know of many local bands and solo artists who could dance circles around anyone presently listed on Billboard Charts, yet I'm helplessly watching these talented people struggle to get audiences to listen, much less remember their name. Across the board, established mediums of information are resisting, and they ride in the pilot seat. All we can do is sit here and write MeFi threads about it.

As for me? I gave up on that dream three years ago. I thought I knew who the first one to break into the mainstream was going to be. How wrong I was. In so many ways. She might have been great, but we'll never know. She's great anyway, but not in a way that would ever get David Letterman to give her a ham.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:09 AM on April 25, 2002

. . .people on the web put it all out there in the open, you know everything about them, you can email them and they'll email you back, and that experience is completely different than the unattainable celebrities in film, music, and tv.

Doh! Matt, you let the secret out. Stay tuned for the web celebrity who gets famous because he/she never e-mails anyone back, doesn't give interviews and generally acts like a tool to everyone in the universe. It *will* happen. (Don't bother responding to this post mmkay? I won't reply)
posted by jeremias at 4:37 AM on April 25, 2002

fuck. my blog needs an agent. and a stylist.
posted by jcterminal at 4:50 AM on April 25, 2002

jonmc: I believe it was the fact that the dot-com bubble did burst that's allowing for the burst of online creativity over the past year or so.

I don't think fame and celebrity have much to do with quality and creativity. (See Britney Spears.)

I think that had the dotcom bubble continued to expand, we'd see more internet stars. More money, more advertising, more hype. If there were more money, the famous internet geeks would not be the ones who purportedly walk that hallowed ground now. They'd be slicker.

Harry Knowles is a lot of things, but one thing he's definitely not is slick.

If the internet, now, were more like Hollywood in the 20's and 30's, the money would pump the hype, and even your grandmother would have a DSL line for fear of missing out on something. After all, everyone went to the movies in the 20's and 30's. Everyone.

I think the people who are still around do it for reasons other than fame and fortune -- because there's little of both to be had. As it is, the general public, and the media that feeds it, seems to look at internet geeks as objects of wonder but somehow a little dangerous, like a faberge egg that bites.
posted by crunchland at 5:50 AM on April 25, 2002

I image Harry is pretty slick whenever his massive moviegeek bulk should overtax the air condoning unit, causing it to fail
posted by dong_resin at 9:58 AM on April 25, 2002

i'd just like to say that i'm an official online rock star.. about two weeks ago, i'm hanging out at my school's Mac Lab, doing the homework thing. waiting by the printer, i look over to see what this nearby girl is working on.. i see that she's staring at me. i stare back.

she says, "eric?"
i respond, "yeah?"
"oh hey, how're you doing?"
"umm.. fine. how do you know me?"
"oh, i've seen a picture of you on your site."

my page isn't even that popular... if you need me, i'll be signing autographs over there, underneath that sign that says "awesome."
posted by lotsofno at 10:57 AM on April 25, 2002

btw, danelope... did you meet up with robin williams at that visit zannah mentioned recently?
posted by lotsofno at 10:59 AM on April 25, 2002

the circles i tend to run in i get a lot of "hey, you're boogah aren't you?". then again that comment is normally followed by "i heard you crank called carson daly.". of course, carson daly can be interchanged with tom wopat, serena altschul and so on down the line...

reguardless, my ego would like to think i'm an internet rockstar even tho nobody reads anything i do. an ego kept in check by self-deprication can be a good thing.

of course if you've read "small pieces loosley joined" you may remeber these words:

"on the web everyone will be famous to 15 people"

i tend to agree heavily with this. adjust proportions by adding a multiplier for folks like kottke and matt who are responsible for good content and you might get a more accurate number in those cases. but for most people the rule sticks.
posted by boogah at 12:22 PM on April 25, 2002

lotsofno: btw, danelope... did you meet up with robin williams at that visit zannah mentioned recently?

Yeah. (I just wanted to avoid the self-link. Heh.)
posted by Danelope at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2002

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