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internet celebrity

Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269).

I contend that despite the spread of the internet medium and the availability of recording and computing technologies, individuals who rise to fame on the online medium rely on traditional or ‘old’ media outlets to sustain their fame. To demonstrate this, I will first introduce the article by Burgess and Green, and second, consider two contrasting examples of ‘famous’ individuals whose origins lie in the digital landscape of YouTube.

Burgess and Green (2009) explore the truth behind amateur video. They attempt to dispel the “myth” that the wide availability of recording equipment and editing software has meant that amateurs with “raw talent” will be able to rise to “legitimate success and media fame”, supported by the distributive capacity of the internet medium. Although the article considers a number of examples of amateur video makers have “made it” from YouTube to the Small Screen or even the Big Screen, Burgess and Green suggest that for the few success stories, their are countless stories of failure (or stories that didn’t end in mainstream “media fame”); indeed, “YouTube has been mythologised as literally a way to ‘broadcast yourself’ into fame and fortune” (Burgess & Green 2009).

The Burgess and Green article considers that for people to ‘broadcast’ themselves to media fame, “the distance between ‘ordinary’ citizen and celebrity can only be bridged when the ordinary person gains access [to the mass (or traditional) media]” (Burgess & Green 2009).

Let’s consider two examples. One of ‘ordinary citizen becomes celebrity’, and one of ‘ordinary citizen remains ordinary’.

Justin Bieber is probably the most widely cited example of YouTube ‘fame’ and success. At thirteen, a video that Bieber had made and published on YouTube was inadvertently clicked on by a record producer looking for another artist. After being impressed by Bieber’s cover performance, he was flown to meet Usher and sign with a record label.

Bieber’s story is one of internet fame (‘Baby‘ is currently the most watched video on YouTube). But his fame has been sustained by the the traditional outlets of the media:

  • Record deals
  • TV appearances
  • Album sales
  • Feature-length films

Justin Bieber’s truly incredible fame finds it roots in the heart of internet culture. But it is his sustained fame, and “pass[ing] through the gate-keeping mechanisms of old media” to traditional forms of media that has cemented his place in the world of celebrities (Burgess & Green 2009).

Let’s consider another story of internet ‘fame’. In 2010 at Blizzard Entertainment’s annual gaming conference (BlizzCon), a game developer (and Blizzard employee) was asked a question in a panel discussion forum (Know Your Meme 2011).

Soon after this was filmed at BlizzCon and posted on YouTube, the man asking the question (that revealed a hole in the storyline of Blizzard Entertainment’s most successful franchise, World of Warcraft) became known as ‘The Red Shirt Guy’. Within minutes of the video upload, Warcraft fan sites exploded with discussion of the Red Shirt Guy – not so much his probing question, but his shaky oral delivery captured on camera and uploaded to YouTube. Comments on the YouTube video criticised his weight, his voice and his face (Know Your Meme 2011).

But unlike Justin Bieber (and perhaps unsurprisingly), the Red Shirt Guy’s foray into the world of internet celebrity failed to “pass through the gate-keeping mechanisms” into the traditional and mainstream media. Admittedly, the Red Shirt Guy’s internet fame was insular to begin with: his fame was isolated to Warcraft fans and other gamers, but without going beyond the internet medium, an individual’s ‘fame’ cannot be sustained.

The Red Shirt Guy also represents the short half-life of internet fame, and the even shorter attention span of the internet’s users. World of Warcraft is a popular computer game with over 12 million players, but the nature of internet fame, the way individuals can rise out of nowhere (see Rebecca Black), facilitates a short lifespan. One week it’ll be the Red Shirt Guy, and the next week, it’ll be someone or something else that’s captivated the attention of internet culture.

If ‘famous’ individuals of the internet cannot extend their fame into the realm of traditional media, their days as a celebrity will be numbered. They best enjoy (or endure) it while it lasts!


PS. This video from Hungry Beast is also worth a look. It takes a brief look behind the computer screen at what really happened to the internet celebrities we loved and forgot.

PPS. Revisit Antoine Dodson. You know you want to!



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meet the new media, same as the old media

Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228). Discuss while giving an example of a website.

Let’s reflect.

In this subject, we have focussed on the rise and rise of ‘new media’ or perhaps more specifically, ‘Web 2.0’ applications. We have identified a number of features that help characterise a website, or a software application as ‘new media’: user-customization; interactivity; on-demand, and; community/network focussed.

But up until now, our studies have not considered how these Web 2.0 features are presented in the online medium. While we love the idea of ‘new media’ (as if somewhere along the timeline of history, someone performed a firmware update), for ‘new media’ to be an effective medium, audiences and individual users must still be able to interpret and understand the information presented.

Alan Lui (2004) explores this idea. Lui (2004) contends that information presented in ‘new media’ applications is represented within visual metaphors of ‘old media’. Essentially, he argues that although we describe interactive and network-based mediums as ‘new media’, the ways in which information is presented to users is the same as the way information is presented in supposedly ‘old media’ platforms.

A few examples provide a better explanation.

Here, on the Boost Juice website is an ‘encyclopaedia’ of fruits. As a company that emphasises the use of fresh fruit in their products, they have included a sort of fact book that examines each fruit available in their stores. The designer of this website has used the familiar layout of a book (with pages, text and illustrations) to present the information on a new media platform. Essentially, the information that is presented on this website is presented in the same style and fashion as it would be if it were presented in ‘old media’.

Another example is the iBook app that operates on the iOS system software used on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

The iBook software attempts to take the experience that users have with information in old media, and recreate it (or “disguise” it) in the ‘new media’ platform (Lui 2004). With iBook software, users consume, interact and engage with the information in the same way as they would if the information was presented in a physical book.

Another iOS app that uses the visual metaphors of ‘old media’ in on a ‘new media’ platform is the Flipboard app.

As the video demonstrates, Flipboard serves as a “personal magazine” that shows the genre of news and information that you are interested in, in a magazine-style format. Again, this application presents information in the same way that we are accustomed to in ‘old’ mediums like physical, published magazines.

I think that it’s always interesting to consider, whenever there is an instance of revolution or evolution (either in technology, social norms or politics), how much the new is similar to the old. While it is easy to find oneself swept up by the superficial changes between old and new, invariably it is the basic elements that will remain unchanged.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.



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revolutions via social networking

In my weekend browsing of my favourite websites, I came across this little gem.

Cory Doctorow examines the use of technology and online software (like Facebook) for organising activist rallies.

Autocrats’ use of technology against the Middle Eastern uprisings has been a wake-up call to a large group of technology activists and activists who use technology. As I write this, the net is alive with privacy-conscious activists building organizing tools that preserve anonymity, that fill the gap when governments pull the plug on the net, that prevent eavesdropping and fight disinformation.

Doctorow makes an interesting observation. With platforms like Facebook and Twitter being used and cited as vital components to political revolution, a key feature of these services has been forgotten – that they were not built for uses like these.

[Despite] the immediate convenience of Facebook [there are] long-term risks of putting our freedom in the hands of private concerns who’ve never promised to preserve it.

The difference between corporations like Facebook and Twitter and foreign Government agencies, is that the former have no obligation to maintain the anonymity that its activist users rely upon to carry out their operations.

Have a read:



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a more ‘open’ world

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:


A ‘more open world’ is something that Mark Zuckerberg has been pursuing for a long time. On Zuckerberg’s personal Facebook page, his ‘about me’ section spells this out:

I’m trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share.

But this is to be expected.

In my brief essay for this subject, I examined the exchanges that occur in all business transactions.

Facebook, like all businesses engages in an exchange of goods to generate revenue ($1.86b from advertising alone in 2010). But what is interesting about Facebook, and almost exclusive to companies that engage with users on the internet, is that they are trading something that they acquired for free.

Consider the job of a blacksmith. A blacksmith’s tasks could range from forging a sword, to smelting some ore, or crafting a shield. A blacksmith has a set of expertise that allows him to perform a ‘crafting’ task. But the blacksmith cannot just conjure swords and shields out of thin air, he must acquire the ore from a miner, or some timber from a lumberjack. To acquire this ore – this base material for the more sophisticated objects he wishes to create – he must exchange something in return for the ore (gold coins, for example). Once he has this ore, he can make a sword, and hopefully sell it (or exchange it) for more money than he bought the ore from the miner. This is an example of a rudimentary business.

Facebook is the same.

Facebook performs the role of a ‘middle man’, in a way.

Facebook has created a digital locale that attracts users. Facebook do not charge its users for this service. Instead, they ask you to exchange something with them:

‘Tell us a bit about yourself!’

But Facebook is still a business, correct? So where do their profits come from? The exchange of goods with their network of advertisers desperate to tap into a market of 600 million users. Hence, we do not use Facebook for free.

We are charged when we use Facebook. We offer up our (valuable) personal information to Facebook for free, and Facebook in turn ‘sells’ that information to advertisers – a process that created $1.86 billion in advertising revenue in 2010.

But how does Facebook’s role in the social media industry affect issues such as privacy?

Because in the ‘more open world’ that Zuckerberg envisages, there is more information exposed to Facebook and for Facebook to use in their business model of exchanging users information with the lucrative advertising industry.

Facebook has been criticised for it’s complex Terms of Service (that wall-o’-text that you scrolled passed and clicked ‘agree’). Using legalese jargon, Facebook attempts (quite successfully, I would suggest) to dissuade people from reading the document that spells out what a user surrendered when they sign up for a Facebook account.

The internet is a fantastic medium. It’s changed human society as we know it, and for many people of my generation, it has defined our social engagement.

Going online and talking with our friends on the other side of the world is a great thing to do – I know that without Facebook, I wouldn’t have maintained the connections I forged with friends I met in India – but we need to remind ourselves that Facebook is a business. And business is booming.

We need to consider that all businesses engage in the exchange of something – whether it’s as tangible as some iron ore, or as intangible as ‘personal information’, the exchange of ‘goods’ occurs in every business, and Facebook is by no means an exception.

My cynical great aunt used to always say “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

She never used Facebook, but her pessimistic adage hasn’t lost its relevance.

Facebook is not a free service. We do pay for it.

Be aware of the exchange that you make each and every time you log in to Facebook.




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online ‘communities’

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?


YouTube recently launched a vote-based competition, where members of “the YouTube community” could vote for their favourite video-producing artists. By way of majority, the results of the competition reflected each artists’ popularity amongst YouTubers. The community-based competition was appropriately titled “myYouTube”.

This latest community development by the administrators and owners of YouTube supports the argument proposed in van Dijck’s ‘Users like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’. In her article, van Dijck (2009) challenges the perception of YouTube as a website that fosters a “participatory culture”, and proposes that instead, the administrators and owners of YouTube have attempted to create an online “community” using hidden software algorithms. Van Dijck (2009) asserts that although users are valuable “creators and arbiters of media content”, there has been little attention paid to the role that a website’s platform (and interface) performs in corralling these users into virtual “communities”. Van Dijck (2009) argues that concealed “algorithms” are used to “steer” the mass of users to particular videos, and specified “trends”, to help build and develop online “communities” that users can feel comfortable to share and discuss each others uploads.

YouTube’s “ranking tactics” inherent in the “top favourites”, “most viewed” and “most discussed” lists that lie within YouTube’s interface, play an important role in the formation of “online communities”. Lists such as these provide new and existing users with immediate access to the core of the YouTube “community” (Geisler 2007: Dijck 2009). When new users can easily identify the popular videos or current trends, they are given immediate access to the heart of the YouTube “community”. Through ranking “tactics”, users are steered in the direction of the majority, and as a consequence, feel included and a part of a YouTube culture or “community” that encourages the open sharing of information, ideas and most especially, video content (Geisler 2007: van Dijck 2009).

With “ranking tactics” creating something of a snowball effect in the online landscape (where the bigger, more popular videos become increasingly popular as their ‘relevance’ in search results increases), van Dijck (2009) questions whether “participating” in YouTube is really “participation” at all. If users routinely follow the trends of others (and are encouraged to via the site’s ‘trend’ and ‘most viewed’ interface elements), then the degree to which users are actually participating in the online community is seriously diminished (van Dijck 2009). Indeed, their agency over the website and the YouTube community is stifled by the website’s interface.

YouTube’s “myYouTube” feature is exemplifies both of van Dijck’s arguments. First, by encouraging users to “vote” for their favourite video artists, users are made a part of a virtual democracy that through the power of the majority can define which video artists are popular (and thus, superior). This in turn makes users feel a part of a Youtube “community”, encouraging the open sharing of information, ideas and videos. Second (and almost paradoxically), in creating an “online community” that revolves around what is popular or what is trending, the true participation of individual users is limited; instead of participating in the YouTube “community” as they please, they are encouraged to follow the pack and submit to the tyranny of the majority.

Tertiary to this lecture question, it would have been appropriate for van Dijck to further explain and develop her argument behind the economic value of online “communities”. We know that YouTube was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion – but Google were not buying the technology of YouTube’s software – Google were investing in the productivity of YouTube’s online community and essentially “buying the users” from YouTube’s URL… a “commodity” of sorts that YouTube never owned in the first place. To me, this seemed as though an appropriate avenue for elaboration.

It would have also been welcome for van Dijck to have discussed the importance of “Featured” videos in the YouTube system and interface. I think that the “promotion” of particular videos on YouTube invites an interesting discussion about equality and fairness on YouTube and the internet in general – YouTube claims that it’s “community belongs to [us]”, but clearly some users are more equal than others.



  • Van Dijck, J., ‘Users like you?’, Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 41-58, 2009.
  • Geisler, G., ‘Tagging Video: Conventions and Strategies of the YouTube Community’, 2007.
  • Pauwels, L., ‘Strategic and tactical uses of internet design and infrastructure: the case of YouTube’, Journal of Visual Literacy Spring, Vol 28, No. 1, pp. 51-70, 2009.
  • Jenkins, H., ‘Enabling Participation’ in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part 1), October 2006.

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