April 28, 2008

A couple more on being famous

A Surprise Ending is in store sometimes. Carving out a niche in the reputation economy can really work!

...Meredith Farkas has just published real advice on how to achieve real success, and I suppose I’ve managed to do some of the things she wrote about, though for me it’s mostly been a matter of stumbling uninvited into committee meetings and writing about things that interest me.

Fortunately, that seems to have been enough. While getting your first full-time library job can be tough, other sorts of opportunities seem all but limitless, even for new librarians. I’ve had a chance to meet dozens of people I consider role models, and probably hundreds more I admire. Incredible people have agreed to let me visit their libraries, allowed me to publish and make presentations, invited me to join them on committees and boards, and have agreed to work on thorny, long-term projects with me.

Which is a long way of not writing that a funny thing happened on my way to my first full-time job at an academic library: as of May 1, I’ll be director of the Collingswood (NJ) Public Library.

David Weinberger has a couple of posts on web fame which I think are worth excerpting. Web fame is what building reputation seems to be all about these days. The old methods of building scholarly clout seem to be on the way out, as the immediacy of blogs and other online channels push out the serene contemplation of slower forms of communication like books or journal articles. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Yes.
Outside of the broadcast system, fame looks different. This is a type of do-it-yourself fame, not only in that we often want human fingerprints on the shiny surfaces we’re watching, but also because we create fame through passing around links … occasionally for mean and nasty reasons. Kids sitting around watching YouTubes with one another are like kids telling jokes: That reminds me of this one; if you liked that one, you’ll love this one. And the content itself fuels public conversations in multiple media. This is P2P fame.

There’s a long tail of fame, although I suspect the elbow isn’t quite as sharp as in the classic Shirky power law curve for links to blogs. At the top of the head of the curve, fame operates much as it does in the broadcast media, although frequently there’s some postmodern irony involved. In the long tail, though, you can be famous to a few people. Sure, much of it’s crap, but the point about an age of abundance is that we get an abundance of crap and of goodness. We get fame in every variety, including anonymous fame, fame that mimics broadcast fame, fame that mocks, fame that does both, fame for what is stupid, brilliant, nonce, eternal, clever, ignorant, blunt, nuanced, amateur, professional, mean, noble … just like us. It’s more of everything.


One of the differences between broadcast and Web fame is that in making someone famous on the Web, we are putting a little bit of our social standing at risk. We’ve got a stake in it.

For example, during the wonderful, impromptu videofest blogged by (and, to a large degree, led by) the wonderful and impromptu Ethan Zuckerman, during Fellows Hour at the Berkman Center last week, everyone was pointing to the next great video to play. In the midst of this, I lost the thread and pointed to a video that, when projected to the group, was out of place and not even very interesting. People shuffled uncomfortably, trying to figure out why I would suggest such a clunker. I was embarrassed. (At least the video was short.)

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