Cafe Witness

Thursday, March 26, 2009

You're Not Worth My Time

It's widely believed that our attention spans are rapidly eroding. MTV, the Internet, multitasking or globalization may be to blame, but regardless of the source, everyone seems to think that nobody pays attention to anything anymore.

But why should we?

Online, people skim webpages for relevant information. When they find something they're passionate about, they'll devour endless amounts of related material across multiple media platforms. Otherwise, they zip through the bare basics -- enough to wrap their heads around what everything may mean -- and then they move on to something new.

The key word there is "passionate." Not everyone is passionate about everything. Some topics are more alluring than others, and some purveyors of information do a better job of hooking an audience than others.

The real problem? It's getting harder to make a living by being mediocre.

Gatekeepers Gone Wild

Long ago, the public was content to have their media handed down to them by OTHER PEOPLE who decided what information was worth their time. Today, the means of distribution (and production) have been disrupted to the extent that anyone can engage with any type of media at any time and in any format (give or take), which means the gatekeepers are dead.

And they're pissed.

The gatekeepers believe that some media and information is more important (or of a higher quality) than others, and they want to "save you" from wasting your time on the inferior and impractical. But modern audiences have realized that the critics, agents and hitmakers don't speak for everyone, primarily because they don't UNDERSTAND everyone -- and so we no longer trust anyone who attempts to tell us what we SHOULD be embracing.

Beyond that, there's the issue of sheer quantity. A new piece of media isn't competing against dozens of distractions anymore; it's competing with the sum total of all human knowledge and experience, most of which is available at the click of a button.

Given all of this, how can anyone expect that 21st Century digital boys and girls would voluntarily spend ANY time reading / watching / listening to something they personally consider to be uninteresting?

This Blog Post Is Already Too Long

Yes, I understand the elite's self-aggrandizing concern that allowing the public to educate and entertain itself is akin to letting them overdose on junk food, junk media and junk lifestyles. But that's a cynical defense: just because something is necessary, important or vital, that's no excuse for it to be achingly boring.

So next time you're tempted to lament that "no one pays attention" to you, buck up: people are obviously paying attention to *something* out there, and there's no reason that something can't be you.

Get interesting.

(And don't tell me fables like "reading is dead;" it isn't.)

Image by moriza.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hating Twitter Is Like Hating a Hammer

There's been a lot of social media hate thrown around lately, mainly by people who hear about services like Twitter in the mainstream press and then, once they poke around a bit, reject it immediately and with much gusto.

The bitter invective comes from all sides, including Jon Stewart, Gawker, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and this amusing cartoon.

And they all miss the point.

I Would Rather Eat Live Children in a Barrel Than Use a Power Drill

Twitter, like all social media, is a tool. It can be used to entertain, to share, to self-promote, to inform or to educate. Unfortunately, casual observers rarely see the breadth of its use because the bulk of its users aim low, and use the service in inane ("OMG drinking tea cuz I'm sooooo tired lol") ways. Thus, they conclude that these are the only ways the service can be used, and they choose to decry the service (and ALL of its users) as the worst humans on the planet while simultaneously distancing themselves from anything associated with it.

Explaining to these people that Twitter has also been used to exonerate innocents from jail, unite outsiders during a tragedy and raise life-saving donations doesn't always help. If anything, it only seems to exasperate them further -- as though they wonder, "If you CAN do all that stuff with Twitter, why DOESN'T everyone?"

But asking that question is like asking why every building isn't as gorgeous as the Taj Mahal. Trust me: it isn't the hammer's fault.

Image by Being Yogendra.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If YOU'RE Not the Boss of Me... Who Is?

Day 260: Don't Censor Me

Last week, blogger Joyce Dierschke asked a not-quite hypothetical question: Do you censor yourself online? Her example, of whether or not she should have re-posted a link to a (biased) political video that she personally found amusing, encapsulates a question we all ask ourselves on a regular basis:

When I'm online, am I allowed to be me?

The answers to the question are (if you ask me) far too complicated, because they can only be revealed by first determining who you are AND what you believe.

Some Things to Consider About Who "You" Are:

Are you a person or an employee?

Are you a brand or an individual?

Are you more concerned about being authentic or about getting paying work?

If a potential client decided they didn't want to work with you because of something you said or did online -- essentially, because of who you are (and the judgment they believe you display) -- would you regret the action in question?

Are you using the internet for communication or self-promotion?

Is your belief system permanent, or does it evolve over time?

Would the person you are today be embarrassed or ashamed of anything you did 10, 5 or even 2 years ago?

Are you steadily advancing toward a specific goal, or are you exploring for the sake of experience?

Do you expect greater integrity from others than you do from yourself?

Does transparency trump ethics?

Forget Big Brother -- EVERYONE'S Watching

Every decision we make online is a personal decision, undertaken privately (or so it seems) yet available publicly to anyone who knows how to look for it. Classic concepts of privacy, identity and "the self" are in flux now due to the web's multiple layers of "personal branding" and anonymity. And while Jonah may have believed that God could see him even when he was inside the whale, Jonah also never had to deal with recruiters scouring his friends' Facebook accounts for all his potentially incriminating kegstand photos.

So before you start censoring (or uncensoring) yourself online, perhaps you should first figure out who YOU are... and who you answer to.

Image by amanky.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

5 Ways to Increase Your Blog Traffic: Chris Brogan vs. The Watchmen

One of these men has had sex in an owlshipAs I've mentioned before, I notice whenever Lijit reports a spike in my blog traffic. Normally, that spike is caused by someone with a wide online reach (like Chris Brogan) mentioning something I've written, which then drives that person's audience to me (for that day, at least).

But this week I learned a huge lesson: Chris Brogan is no Rorschach.

When Chris (and the rest of the standard social media Twitterverse) mentions something I've written, I may see a peak of 700 views on that particular post.

When I wrote my review of the Watchmen film last week ("10 Things People Don't Seem to Get About the Watchmen"), I had no idea what would happen next:

Somehow, that Watchmen review really touched an online nerve.

Admittedly, Chris Brogan's original retweet of my post (which referred to it as the "best Watchmen review. Ever.") had something to do with it first finding an audience. But that 17,000+ traffic spike is 25 times the normal "Brogan Effect" on one of my posts. This means my Watchmen post reached some kind of escape velocity and broke out of our social media fishbowl (where most of my and Chris's audience tends to live), and crossed over to an equally-passionate (and, presumably, much larger) niche: traditional comic book fans. (It also had legs: look at the numbers 5 days later, vs. the 8 readers from the previous Sunday.)

My attempts to figure out exactly where all this additional traffic came from have been patchy at best, but I suspect Reddit had something to do with it. It also appears to have been retweeted at least 50 times (with another 15 thanks to Copyblogger), and then it may have continued on being retweeted under other names / descriptions.

All of which leads me to...

5 Thoughts on Increasing Your Blog Traffic

1. Write Something That Appeals to the Hubs. I could write amazing blog posts all day, but if none of them were interesting to the folks that OTHER people listen to (like Chris Brogan or Copyblogger), no one would ever see them. I could spend months building an audience that's comparable in size to Brogan's, but that's also time I could spend making interesting media, which is what provides the hubs with interesting things to talk about. (It's a cycle, people; find your spoke.)

2. The Title Is the Hook. If someone likes what you wrote, they'll want to tell other people. In this age of Twitter, they need to be able to explain WHY your article is interesting in about 100 characters (not counting the characters they'll use for the link, plus any "retweet" attributions, etc.). What better shorthand than an interesting (or provocative) post title that does their work for them?

3. The Summary May Also Be the Hook. Sometimes a title doesn't sum it all up. In that case, provide a one-sentence summary of your article or a series of mini-theses within the post itself that readers can cut-and-paste as their "aha" quote to explain the post's relevance. (Things move quickly on the web; making the promotion of your work as easy as possible is imperative to getting it seen.)

4. Don't Confuse Your Traffic with Your Niche. I make a living doing social media, so that's where the bulk of my audience comes from. As a result, the majority of my blog posts are aimed squarely at the audience I expect to be serving. But that's also a closed loop; if all I ever wrote about was blogging, social networking and Twitter, I'd never attract an audience with other interests, and my total possible audience would have a limited cap.

On the other hand, I doubt most of the 17,000+ readers who saw my Watchmen post are interested in social media, which means 95% of them probably have no reason to return to my blog; they were simply passing visitors who were here for one specific post. (In fact, my subscribers have actually gone down since the Watchmen piece ran.) So as great as it is to see a massive bump in numbers, don't kid yourself into believing that the people who find you are necessarily interested in everything you have to say. (And don't get depressed when your subsequent posts fail to reach those eye-popping numbers.)

5. Pay Attention to What's Working (and What Isn't). Personally, I think every blog post I write is great. But not every post resonates with my audience. Some of my best articles (in my opinion) languish with nary a comment, while others (that I wouldn't necessarily expect to catch on) somehow find a life of their own.

Studying the habits of my readers helps me understand what topics most often generate comments AND which posts (or titles, or summaries) most often get redistributed. It also helps me understand when I might be wasting my time. For example, I have a tendency to share my convoluted theories on why and how certain aspects of social media work, but my audience doesn't seem to care. So no matter how interested *I* may be in my ideas, it's evident that my audience isn't (yet), which means I'm much better served by writing articles they ARE interested in (based upon past indicators), with the presumption that my aggregate audience will eventually grow to include new readers who WILL care about what the old readers didn't.

Oh, and a bonus tip:

Don't Feel Compelled to Write Something Every Day. Some people believe that daily content is the only way to maintain an audience. Wrong. People aren't reading you because you're around, they're reading you because you're good. Sure, it's great to be both, but when forced to decide, most thinking mammals prefer to read quality over quantity. And the better you are, the more your audience will forgive your infrequency between bolts of spine-tingling relevance.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I'm a Fag

Not really, but that's beside the point, because that title was decided for me last week. [NOTE: Update at the end of this post.]

I was walking the two blocks from my apartment to the grocery store when two of the neighborhood kids -- girls between the ages of 8 and 12, I'd guess -- noticed that I was:

* wearing a light red (to them, pink) hoodie,
* carrying a recyclable grocery bag (to them, a purse) over my shoulder, and
* bouncing when I walk (which is a happy family trait)

Thus, in their eyes, I was a fag. And they let me know it.

On my way home, the older girl called out to me, and when I looked over, she -- in all the slow-motion magnitude that cinematographers use to signify a watershed moment in one's life -- flipped me off.

I decided to shrug it off, since kids are kids. But I filed it away, knowing that it would boomerang back around again, since kids are also pack animals. And it did.

Yesterday, I was walking Rufus and a gaggle of neighborhood kids -- all of them white and lower-middle-class -- were playing one someone's lawn. When I walked past, they let me know my new name ("Fag Peter") and hurled insults at me and my dog for a full two blocks, loud enough that I (and, certainly, anyone else in the neighborhood) could hear quite clearly. Again, I chose to ingore it, but it does pose a number of interesting problems:

* I now brace myself every time I leave my house, expecting to be venomously insulted by children.

* Since these kids likely know where I live (and what I drive), property damage or vandalism is not out of the question.

* Presuming that everyone else on the block heard these insults and has thus far decided to say nothing about it, I presume they don't mind the neighborhood kids slurring anyone else who walks through.

I'm Wondering How Best to Handle This

If we were all kids (or adults), I could react in an appropriate way (fistfights, reasoned discourse or litigation). If I was a kid and they were adults, I could tell my parents and get the police involved.

But as an adult being harassed by children, my options seem starkly limited. As mentioned above, their parents and neighbors don't seem to think that insulting someone is a reprimandable offense. And even if I did approach their parents, I suspect one of the following things would happen:

* It would let the kids know they were getting to me, thus fueling their desire to further harass me

* It might get the kids in trouble, thus legitimizing their anger toward me, or

* The parents might not see anything wrong with it, and accuse me of either provoking the kids or otherwise causing a needless problem.

As I See It, I Have Four Options:

* Walk Rufus on other streets, and avoid my own neighboring block at all costs (thus living as a prisoner in my own neighborhood)

* Walk everywhere with Ann (which might at least momentarily confuse the kids long enough to Google the term "fag hag")

* Confront their parents, or

* Confront the kids

Also, I should point one bit of clarification:

* Although I'm not gay, it's not the "fag" insult that bothers me. They could just as easily (and nonsensically) be calling me a cripple or a nigger. What frustrates me is that these kids are evidently growing up in a neighborhood where judging someone based on outward appearances, and then slurring them in the streets, isn't deterred.

Granted, I'm sure each of these kids will learn a lesson someday, when they display their prejudices against someone their own age -- or, as adults, against someone who doesn't mind beating the shit out of them -- but for now, I feel unnecessarily cast as the moral protagonist in some afterschool special, in which I know have to reach deep inside and find some pearl of wisdom that will make this all worthwhile for everyone involved, when really I just want to buy groceries and walk my dog in the neighborhood where I'm paying to live.


3:21 PM UPDATE: While walking Rufus this afternoon, I passed by the homes where some of the kids live, and two of their parents were at work (on laptops) on their porch. I introduced myself and explained the situation to them, and we had a fruitful (I think) discussion about it.

They were upset, apologetic and, I think, embarrassed that any of this happened. One of the moms admitted that she'd heard the kids yelling something yesterday, but since their voices all blend together when they're in a pack, she couldn't make out what they were saying. They each said they'd talk with their kids, both individually and as a group, because they said their kids know that kind of behavior is wrong and they want to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Here's hoping this works out, and that we can all move forward as a neighborhood, rather than seeing an escalation in petty insults.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shepard Fairey: Hero or Hypocrite?

[NOTE: Update at bottom of the post.]

This week, the Pittsburgh City Paper reports that now-legendary street artist Shepard Fairey -- he of the Obama "HOPE" poster -- is suing local graphic designer Larkin Werner over the use of the word "OBEY" in association with Werner's own indie art project, Steelerbaby.

In a nutshell, one of many designs for Steelerbaby merchandise says, simply, "Obey Steelerbaby." Fairey's lawyers claim the use of the word "Obey" is trademark infringement, because Fairey himself first became famous for a series of street art featuring an image of Andre the Giant (remember him?) and the word "OBEY" -- which he then evidently trademarked at some point over the past 20 years.

The ironies, hypocrisies and questions raised by this story are numerous, including:

* Fairey was originally sued by the WWF (now WWE) for his copyright-infringing Andre the Giant images in the first place. But who really "owns" an image? And if that image is of a person, doesn't that person have the final say over where his or her image is allowed to be used?

* Fairey has been under fire from the Associated Press, who claim his Obama "HOPE" image is a blatant infringement on a photo they own the rights to. Fairey's response is that the "HOPE" poster is a derivative work, which means he has the right to use the original image as a basis for something new. If that's his defense against the AP, why wouldn't it also apply in Steelerbaby's case?

* Larkin has yet to be sued by the Pittsburgh Steelers (or the Kewpie doll company), either of which would probably have a much better reason for doing so than a corporation founded by a fellow "street artist."

* Can you realistically trademark a commonly used word?

* At what point does an artist cease to be "street" and transition to becoming "corporate"? (Is it when your work is installed in The National Portrait Gallery? Or is it when you countersue the AP?)

* Am I the only person who thinks now is a great time to push for wider adoption of Creative Commons licenses, as opposed to copyrights and trademarks?

What do YOU think? (Because we already know what Gawker and Steelerbaby think...)

UPDATE (March 23, 2009): It seems Shepard Fairey dropped the lawsuit against Steelerbaby.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

10 Things People Don't Seem to Get About the Watchmen

As a devoted fan of the graphic novel, I'll admit that I approached Zack Snyder's Watchmen adaptation with some serious doubts. I didn't think anyone could pack the full breadth of the story Time magazine has called one of the 100 Best Novels into a linear theatrical experience.

I was (mostly) wrong. Snyder's film is slavishly reverential to the book -- sometimes debillitatingly so -- but no one can say that Snyder didn't get it right. Of course, in this case, "it" means "translating the comic to the big screen, panel-for-panel," which is part of the reason why it's seeing so many negative reviews from people who've never read the book.

And thus, in the interest of being an apologist for the entire Watchmen experience, I bring you 10 Things People Don't Seem to Get About the Watchmen:

1. This isn't a film, it's an homage. Snyder knew this movie would be violently dissected by legions of rabid fanboys who consider Watchmen to be an untouchable, unadaptable work that legitimizes the entire genre of sequential art. So instead of applying his own vision to the project, Snyder realized that his only recourse was to literally translate the comic book directly to the big screen, panel by panel.

As such, there's very little negative commentary that any fan of the book can level at this film, because what does AND doesn't work on the screen has been lifted almost completely from the comic itself. To criticize the film is, fundamentally, to criticize the book -- or, more awkwardly, to criticize the fanboys themselves, who may now be realizing that the book needed to be given a life of its own if it was expected to stand alone as a film.

Which, of course, it wasn't. The Snyder version will be remembered as a near-literal translation from page to screen. Whatever version comes next, 20 or 30 years from now, will finally be able to depart drastically from the strictures of the book because now everyone knows what the thing would look like on the big screen, and the bigger question will be, "What could it look like?"

2. The film was destined to be a commercial failure. There's no way to adapt Watchmen to the big screen without spending obscene amounts of money. And there's no way to recoup that cost without promoting the film to look like an action-packed blockbuster, so unassuming audiences will flood the multiplex. But the book is really a drama / mystery, so populist audiences are bound to be disappointed, because...

3. Watchmen is not a superhero movie. Nearly every criticism I've heard of the movie is that it was boring. Considering that Watchmen is a story of life, love, death, politics, time, reality, sanity, physics, fantasy, sex, violence and the meaning of life, it's safe to say that the people who bought into the stereotypical rhythm of the trailer a) didn't bother reading the book, and b) were grossly disappointed to not see a 3-hour action sequence.

4. The wooden dialogue was never meant to be spoken aloud. Snyder decided to stick with the actual dialogue from the book at nearly every turn, and that's a mistake. What's written in a word balloon is written for the eyes, not the ears. If the dialogue sounded stilted -- or, worse, if the emotional impact of the statements was blunted by their hitchy delivery -- that's because it only worked on the page.

5. Watchmen is rated R. "R" means Restricted -- in this case, due to violence, nudity, sex, language and adult themes. People who complain that Watchmen isn't a "safe" popcorn movie that they could take their kids to clearly weren't paying attention to the whole ad. (And people who lament that this kind of sex and violence undermines the story miss the point that this is the point.)

6. Watchmen is political. So much so, in fact, that whole political diatribes are being written about it. But it isn't specifically conservative or liberal, because every character operates according to his or her own morality and personally-defined ethics. EVERY aspect of modern society (and politics) is coldly evaluated throughout the course of the film, and the final interpretation is up to each member of the audience.

7. Alan Moore is not God. His fans may say he is, and Moore himself may believe he is, but the truth is, Moore is just a very good writer in a genre without many talented peers, so he towers above the rest. This overinflates his ego to the point of absurdity, and makes him do silly things like condemning any adaptation of his work as an atrocity. Watchmen may the be Sistine Chapel of comic books, but the greater implication here is that there are so few Notre Dames to challenge it, which allows Moore the architect to get away with petulant murder.

8. Watchmen was published in 1986. Since then, a quarter-century has passed, in which time most of what was genre-shattering about Watchmen at the time has now been assimilated into pop culture. The concepts of superheroes as "real people," traitors operating under noble pretenses, hyper-violence as an art form and anti-heroes as protagonists have become the norm in pop culture, rather than the breaths of fresh air they were when Moore first introduced them to the comics world. Even the idea of pop music lyrics riding shotgun within a comic page was revolutionary then; now, using those same songs in a soundtrack gets it labeled obnoxious. In order to fully appreciate Watchmen, it has to be viewed within the context of its own influence.

9. It's not all about the big blue penis. Let the record show that when you hand an American audience a story about philosophy, psychology, politics and personal responsibility, all they'll be able to talk about is the big blue penis. (So maybe the world still isn't ready for a Watchmen movie...)

10. No, there will not be a sequel.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Responsibility Is for Suckers

I have a dog, but I don't have a backyard. Thus, I walk my dog several times a day. So do dozens of my neighbors -- but evidently not all of them carry poop bags, because the neighborhood is becoming increasingly poop-filled.

This makes me wonder about the mentality of people who think it's okay to let their dogs poop on someone else's lawn, or in the middle of the sidewalk, and just leave it there. Clearly, these are not people who buy into the concept of cleaning up after themselves, or being "good citizens," or respecting anyone else's property.

These are the people who've figured out one of life's little secrets: personal responsibility is for suckers.

Why We Reward Mediocrity, Miscreants and Motherf*ckers

Despite what all 78 variations of Law & Order would have us believe, it's actually quite hard to get caught doing something wrong, and it's even harder to get punished for it. The reasons for this include:

* Evildoers tend to be smart, highly-motivated or both
* There's not enough time to right every wrong
* Justice suffers from scalability, and
* Most people just don't care

At the end of the day, after we're done bickering about which heinous offenses are worth our time and effort to punish and remedy, the fact remains that most wrongs will never be righted because, quite simply, there are too many of them to act upon. How can we care about child soldiers in Uganda, corruption in our government AND poop on our sidewalks?

So the mediocre, the miscreants and the motherfuckers tend to get away with murder. Not because we condone it, but because we simply lack the Batman-like vigilance it would require to take each and every one of them down AND STILL HAVE TIME to enjoy the positives in life (if we could even appreciate them after a marathon of righteous ass-kicking).

Plus, practically speaking, what's anyone going to *do* about it? Nothing. If someone else's dog (or child) shits in your yard, you have to deal with it. Unless you know who it was, but even then, what are you going to do? Demand that they clean it up? How? With what? And where's your leverage in that argument?

Evildoers know that justice may be on your side, but our universal avoidance of conflict is on theirs.

If You Can't Beat 'Em...

Last week, someone broke glass all along the sidewalk. The glass is green -- maybe a car window? -- and, initially, was confined to an area between two houses. The problem: one of those houses is for sale, and the other is occupied by people who don't care. So that glass has been sitting there for about 10 days, unattended, scattering itself across the full width of the sidewalk over time. It's reached the point where I have to pick Rufus up when I walk him down that block, because the odds of him stepping in glass are too great for me to risk it.

I know what you're thinking: if the glass bothers me so much, why don't I clean it up?

Because if I stopped to clean up someone else's mess on the street, where do I draw the line? Do I start cleaning up messes in other people's yards, too? Do I carry a broom, shovel, dustpan and gun with me everywhere I go, "just in case"? (Okay, maybe that's overkill; I don't really *need* the shovel...)

All of which means I'm just part of the problem. The person who broke the glass didn't clean it up, the people who live beside the broken glass won't clean it up, and now neither will I.

And why should I? Responsibility is for suckers.

Photo by What What.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Stop Telling Me I'm Amazing. I Know.

When was the last time someone came up to you and launched into a glowing report on how smart / talented / wonderful you are, and you preemptively cut them off with two words:

"I know."

I'm pretty sure your answer is "never," because doing so is considered rude, ungrateful, egotistical or any other personality trait we apply to celebrities who've lost touch with "who they are" and "where they come from." (Evidently, remembering "where you come from" implies that you should never admit that you aren't there anymore.)

Instead, conventional wisdom mandates that such exchanges must always proceed as follows:

Fan: "You're amazing!"

Hero: "Shucks. No I'm not..."

Fan: "Yes you SO are! And here's why!" [produces voluminous list of rationales]

Hero: "Well, if you say so..." [smiles sheepishly and stares at his own $4,000 shoes]

Such interactions imply that having enough confidence in your own work that you don't need to pretend to be validated by the words of others is somehow a character flaw.

But why?

Because the fan must also feel validated by the hero.

The Inverse Value Proposition of Being a Fan

In the eyes of the fan, the hero already appears to have everything. The hero is getting paid to do something that the fan considers to be a dream job, and by definition, having a dream job means that the possessor of said job would naturally be forever thankful. (After all, if the fan were in his hero's shoes, he'd be thankful.)

Conversely, if the hero no longer appears to be thankful for external validation, that means the hero has "changed," and it now becomes the job of the "fan" to instead tell the hero that he sucks. This is because the fan must feel as though his outreach to the hero is justified by imparting information on him that the hero would never otherwise know (or at least admit to).

All of which means that the rules of modern interaction were obviously written by fans who made the mistake of approaching too many heroes who were confident enough in their own abilities to not realize they needed "others" to validate them. (This makes sense, because their heroes were too busy doing heroic things to bother deciding how they should feel about them; that job fell to the fans, who had a lot of free time on their hands.)

I'd Like to Forget All the Little People

The bizarre lesson being taught here is that being confident enough in our own abilities to not constantly require external validation is somehow wrong. It's not. Not that you'd know that from the hyper-self-fascinated world of social media, where every view / follower / comment is analyzed to ensure maximum validation for the recipient, but it's true:

It's okay to be confident in yourself.

You don't have to be a douche about it, but you're certainly welcome to admit to yourself -- and, yes, to others -- that you are good at what you do, that you do stand out from the crowd and that you really did expect to succeed all along.

And if you're so good that you can be a douche about it and still remain at the top of your game, let's be honest: there's only so much time in the day, and sometimes douchebaggery is the finer part of brevity. So accept the obligatory applause, walk away, and get back to being a hero.

Because if you're good enough at being a hero, the fans will write your legend for you... whether you want them to or not.

Image by Our Hero.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How Long Is Your Internet Celebrity Shelf Life?

Remember last year's video for Weezer's "Pork and Beans"? It was filled with all the YouTube stars of the moment.

How many of them are still recognizable today?

Internet fame is fleeting. People become disproportionately famous for (usually) doing something novel or unusual, once. And then they attempt to turn that one-time novelty into a brand. And then they try to get paid for it.

Some Schticks Last Longer than Others

Gary Vee has been successful both promotionally and financially with his Wine Library TV webcast, a gig that's grown beyond the confines of the internet and gotten him invited on The Conan O'Brien Show. Gary's content is primarily information-based, which means it's built to last over time instead of flaming out when he can't think of a better punchline.

In order for Gary to start losing traction, he'd need to be outperformed by a competitor who offers:

* more compelling information
* higher-quality content
* better ease of access, or
* a more widely-embraceable personality

And even if that were to happen, Gary still has one more ace in the hole: he was first. Some fans won't ever migrate away from the pioneer, even if the competition is stronger, because legacy occasionally trumps legitimacy.

How to Avoid Rickrolling Yourself

If you're planning on becoming "internet famous," make sure you're extraordinarily:

* informative (particularly within a scalable niche)
* entertaining (at least to a dedicated audience)
* engaging (because nothing replaces authenticity)
* original (and unlikely to be duplicated)
* available (everywhere), or
* first

Unless you're one of those things, odds are, you'll never become the kind of celebrity whose exploits titillate the rabid throngs. Instead, you might be relegated to the island of one-hit web wonders, where the real estate is cheap and the skyscrapers stretch forever upward...

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