Google’s iGoogle Showcase was revealed earlier this week, allowing everyone on the whole Internet to look at the homepages personally approved by the publicists of celebrities.
With iGoogle Showcase anyone can take a look at the widgets and plugins that barely likeable celebrities like Al Gore, Demi Moore, Ashton The Kutch Kutcher, Martha Stewart, Ryan Seacreast, and others use on their Google homepages.
Mind you, use should be taken very lightly here.
At first I wasn’t sure what the purpose of showcase was. Then later on I figured something out: I still had no idea know what the point of iGoogle Showcase was. To be honest as of this exact moment I cannot clearly discern any sort of useful purpose for Showcase.
The thing is, there isn’t any obvious use for Showcase. Unlike some of Google’s other neat apps, like Gmail and Google Docs and SketchUp, which are all immediately useful in some ways, Showcase doesn’t provide us with any sort of tools or devices that make things possible. It doesn’t even provide something as vague as an e-solution.
Let me explain. Each Showcase page is ostensibly the personal page of a celebrity, implying that the widgets on it were chosen by a celebrity. That these pages are personal also implies that celebrities make use of them regularly, but that seems unlikely, given how they look like they were designed by a soulless robot programmed to mechanically coordinate PR initiatives.
Are we really supposed to believe that Kevin Rose has a Digg widget on his homepage, even though he owns the freaking website, or that Ryan Seacrest looks up American Idol updates, even though he is literally the first person on the planet to know when someone is voted off? That would be like Wyclef Jean looking for updates about the new album that he himself is writing.
Oh wait, that is already on his iGoogle page.
So are these actually the personal pages of celebrities? Of course not. The fact of the matter is that Showcase doesn’t have any point because it is just marketing. Each page is a thin veil of celebrity publicity, crafted to reinforce a consistent public image while covering some pretty clumsy marketing. Andy Roddick is a tennis player, so his page has a tennis ball. Rachel Ray’s page has a word scramble, because absolutely all stay-at-home moms in the universe like little daily newspaper puzzles. Al Gore’s page has Jon Stewart quotes because the hip, young, liberal demographic is into that.
The only page that looks like it wasn’t pieced together by an army of assistants is The Kutch’s. I mock the guy, but his page is a messy jumble of stuff that real people would actually use, like sports scores and dumb youtube cartoons, instead of a Punk’d widget and a picture of a trucker hat. But other than the Kutchster’s, every page is so generically representative of the public’s view of these celebrities that you can’t help but feel an advertising firm thought it all up while Keith Urban or whoever played golf on the moon while rolling in million dollar bills in a suit made of even more million dollar bills.
So iGoogle Showcase is basically just a cross-promotional marketing tool. That’s fine, and marketing has it’s place. Maybe someone will find a widget they like from the page of their favourite celebrity, or discover some news about someone they’re interested in. But let’s not pretend that these are actually the homepages these celebrities customized and use every day. The sites are such flimsy, cookie-cutter representations of the celebrities’ public images that insisting they are personal is only contrived and artificial.
So why even talk about Showcase if it’s so shallow and pointless? I will make a feeble attempt at answering this question. It seems to me that iGoogle Showcase is representative of a larger trend in which technology is suddenly very cool. Some might even call it hip if they are so inclined.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point tech and tech-culture went from being simply a useful thing for some and a geeky obsession for others, to the prime way for celebrities and public figures to garner some cred with fans. Between The Kutchinator running a competition with CNN to see who could reach a million twitter followers first, and news sites and blogs all over the web obsessing over whether or not Obama is a Mac user, you can’t seem to avoid the new-found trendiness of technology.
Even late night, normally a safe haven where fads and trends are mocked mercilessly, has gotten in on the act. If you can manage to stomach an entire episode of the Jimmy Fallon show you will be exposed to an incredible amount of shameless pandering to the technology crowd, and even Conan O’Brien, who I distinctly remember mispronouncing modem during an old episode, has a skit about twitter every night.
Some of this new focus on technology is obviously very good. Obama’s change.gov site, with its technological agenda, is leap years ahead of the technologically ignorant stone-age that was the last administration.
But I imagine not everyone will see it this way. It’s probably safe to say that many people out there hold a personal attachment to the nerd culture of technology, and many of those people understandably feel as if Hollywood is merely cashing in on their beloved sub-culture. Like someone who suddenly sees their favourite band go mainstream and finds that the music that meant so much to them on a personal level is now being eaten up by everyone in the world, geeks the world over feel violated by the commodification and abuse of their geek and tech culture by celebrities who are merely using it to get a bit more publicity.
The angst of geeks who are caught up in the new Hollywood obsession with their world was summed up pretty nicely in the response to the I Am a Geek video, released last month. Wil Wheaton, star of Star Trek TNG and famous hardcore nerd, was involved with the video and said of it that it seemed like a promotional opportunity for celebrities who don’t know a damn thing about our geek culture, which sums up nicely how most geeks feel about the new found celebrity status of geekiness.
In short, the sorts of celebrities that are featured on the iGoogle Showcase are the exact ones that nerds are shaking their fists at right now, damning them for invading their castle and abusing their culture.
I tend to look at it a bit differently though: being a geek is suddenly cool. Not just cool among an ever-growing population of geeks, but cool among people with a lot of sway, geeky or not. Further, geekiness is not just cool, but influential. Geekiness has become powerful.
I guess that “The Bible” thing was right; the geek shall indeed inherit the Earth.
(I apologize profoundly for that joke. Please don’t melt my computer with your nerd powers.)
Today’s technology has given us all the power to brand ourselves in whatever way we see fit. No longer does one need an expensive PR agency or a full-blown advertising campaign to define who we are or how we want to be perceived. Similar to how corporate branding defines how a company distinguishes itself, personal Internet branding is the sum of all one’s online activities which then triggers an expectation about who you are. Perception trumps reality when one seeks fame on the Internet.
The Internet has transformed the world — connecting cultures, streamlining commerce and revolutionizing communication. Not unlike a mosquito-infested swamp, the Web has become a rich breeding ground for buzz and viral transmission. The ability to become a worldwide celeb and the concept of becoming famous for being famous perfected by Paris Hilton and others can be developed fairly effectively on the Internet, without ever meeting one of your fans face to face.
Twitter can lay some claim for this individual branding movement. Presently organizing a conference this June, 2009 in NYC aptly called the “140 Characters Conference,” Twitter’s reach reinforces one’s ability to gain notoriety quickly. With their intent of not only attracting established celebrities who use their social network (e.g. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher), Twitter is also focusing on the new-found celebs who have learned how to harness the power of the Twitterverse to do their bidding.
For the naysayers who can’t conceive the Internet producing celebrity status, this is the first part of a two part series that will provide you with insight to contrary. The number of budding digi-stars are growing at a phenomenal rate with social media as its major catalyst. I tracked down some of the Internet’s biggest overnight sensations to see if they are truly exceeding their “15 minute of fame” expiration date. While some have settled into lives of quiet anonymity — others are now making grand livings off their Net-based fame. Living the Warholian dream, most of these innovative entrepreneurs are turning self-promotion into an art form.
One of those bright new shining stars is Nick Thune, a Seattle-born comedian now residing in LA and pursing the American dream in the entertainment field. While Nick’s modesty inhibits him from admitting to being an Internet celebrity, as a working stand-up comedian Nick first reached world attention when one of his YouTube videos went viral in 2006. Directed by Ruben Fleischer of MTV’s hit reality show fame “Rob & Big,” Nick’s video entitled “Phone Tag” is a funny sketch about a young man struggling to accept a break-up with a romance gone sour. Also starring Olivia Munn, the video currently tallies almost 1 million page views on YouTube.
An even greater buzz was created with Nick’s production of “Masturbation.” As Nick tells the story, his stage work included a ‘masturbation’ joke that he thought would be even funnier as a short film. Once again with the assistance of Ruben Fleischer a film version of the joke was produce that took slightly longer than the actual act of masturbating! A week later, after editing, Ruben Fleischer met with Funnyordie.com, the comedy video website. In tandem with their website’s debut launch, they posted “Masturbation” on their front page directly below Will Ferrell’s infamous Landlord Video, and Nick’s jerk-off session went viral!
While Nick doesn’t believe that the Internet brought him notoriety, he does feel that the attention it creates with casting directors and fans is immeasurable. On his second appearance on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show in August,2007, Nick’s aptly named “Instant Messenger” stand up routine became an ‘instant’ success.
Nick’s latest project is called “Nick’s Big Show.” According to Nick,”it’s an undertaking” that he hopes will be his “last webseries,” and will act as a stepping stone “worthy of TV” exposure. On March 23, 2009, Atom.com, a digital comedy network and Comedy Central announced the premiere of “Nick’s Big Show.” This new six-episode mockumentary, available now at Atom.com and NicksBigShow.com, follows Nick Thune as he puts his comedy career on hold to do something much more important: “make people laugh because they’re crying so hard.”
One could ask after watching whether Nick really have a clock that reads It’s Go Time? Or Why does he own a pimped-out low rider limousine (driven by his assistant, played by the funny Kate Micucci) – and, for that matter, why does Nick even have an assistant? In Nick’s world, nobody asks these questions, and Nick’s world is a better place for it.
In coming weeks, “Nick’s Big Show” will be distributed widely to consumers across Atom’s multi-platform distribution network, including the “Atom TV” series on Comedy Central, mobile phone partners and other leading Internet destinations including iTunes, AOL, Dailymotion and xBox Live.
Internet Celebrity is not lost on Nick Thune. He appreciates what it has done to help mold his persona and allow him appeal to a growing fan base. But when asked if he tracks his website traffic, Nick mockingly points out that he has “someone track his websites…” as he doesn’t “wanna know numbers. I tell them to tell me if the numbers are low, then I’ll put more work into it. Do you think Picasso knew how many people had or will have seen his work? Is anyone (really) keeping count?”
Well in the case of Nick Thune, I think a lot of folks are keeping count and will be marking their calendars for his next TV appearance which just so happens to be April Fool’s Day, when he appears on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Tune in to see the next comedic superstar with humble Internet beginnings. He measures up… all “5 feet 16 inches” of him!
Speculation is out there about whether or not Twitter is peaking. Is the Social Network darling reaching its saturation point? If so, what will take its place? What is the next the big thing? What could possibly capture our imagination in the same way as Twitter?
As the medium of blogging started to plateau, was it any wonder that our attention-deficit angst would find micro-blogging a suitable alternative? In a world flooded with data overload, 140 characters or less seemed to strike just the right chord for many of us. But nothing lasts forever, as a wise Buddhist once told me (e.g. even the Dalai Lama was recently exiled from Twitterdom… but that’s another story).
So since a few warning signs are blowing in the wind, and a couple of red flags have been raised, it might be worth our while to explore what might be rolling down the social network highway.
Steve Rubel, an elite member of the twitterati with almost 20,000 followers is probably one of Twitter’s most vocal critics. He talks about how the intraweb has attracted celebrities and how this pop culture dynamic can become a double edged sword. As celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Britney Spears put their stamp of approval on Twitter, us common folk became blind-faith followers, attracted to the Twitterverse like moths to a flame. In turn, when something goes mainstream it begins to lose its “geek cred,” according to Rubel, and like nomads looking for the next oasis, the digerati will begin to lose interest and seek out greener pastures.
“Jumping the shark” is a pop-culture catch phrase coined by Jon Hein and has been used by TV critics and fans to mark the point when a TV show or series veers off its original plot course into an absurd story line departure. The phrase refers to a scene in a episode of the TV series “Happy Days”, first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the episode, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a shark while water skiing. This was particularly ironic, in that Fonzie, famous for being a biker, had previously jumped his motorcycle for a publicity stunt¢â‚¬â€but was severely injured in the process, and very remorseful for his actions.
He then learned a valuable lesson, and delivered a moral message, that taking foolish risks “isn’t cool.” In contrast, Fonzie’s later decision to take an even greater risk on water skis “to prove a point” came across as absurd in many ways (particularly since the “motorcycle jump” episode was a major point in Fonzie’s character development).
So the analogy of “jumping the shark” came to mean reaching a threshold and losing the interest of a fan base. Could Twitter have tipped that delicate balance, and be headed for a downhill descent? Will the Founding Fathers of Twitter abandon ship and mosey on down the Social Network trail?
I don’t think so! I think the rumors of Twitter’s demise are grossly over exaggerated.
I believe the basic premise of Twitter is brevity and access. Twitter, dissimilar Facebook and LinkedIn, requires less active participation on our part. While the group involvement of other social networks has its own appeal, they definitely require a focus that can eat up a lot more time than Twitter. I personally can keep my Twitter home page open all day long, and visit it periodically when I have a quick thought or a need to shake out some cobwebs. I can’t say the same of the others. On Facebook and LinkedIn, I get caught up in answering incoming mail, joining discussion groups, reviewing photos and videos, supervising memberships for groups I organized, and a myriad number of other tasks that can become exhausting at day’s end.
I also feel that the Wild West appeal of Twitter provides it with staying power. As a disorganized, chaotic venue, while it sometimes seems like you have entered the Tower of Babel, it is also comforting to be immersed into a space where multiple conversations are filling the void. In the Twitterverse, we are deluged with insights, perspectives, absurdities and the like, all donated freely in many cases by a motley assortment of strangers. It’s a global cocktail party where you can listen, participate or retreat periodically throughout the day. Its a water-cooler environment that never gets old and is definitely part of Twitter’s charm.
So to think about what might take its place is a daunting task. If you think that Twitter is a replacement for how we receive the news, then perhaps Twitter has taken the place of the newspaper. But if that be the case, US newspapers experienced logevity, having been around since the early 1700s. And yes, everything does move a lot faster in the electronic age, but it will be interesting to see how long social networks in general will last. Rubel and others are proponents of FriendFeed, Jaiku and Pownce as possible substitutes. However, it doesn’t look likely that they can gain the critical mass of support necessary to overtake the micro-blogging front-runner. Pownce has already shut down operations, and the others do not have the ease of access that Twitter possesses.
So, while Jon Stewart can satirically joke about Twitter’s ” faux-social network” competitors like “Grunter” and “Stalker,” I think the Twitterverse is going to continue to evolve with its devoted fan base for quite some time to come. “Jumping the Shark” is a bit premature at this stage of the game!