SXSWi: What makes you Internet-famous?

A "conversation" at the digital-culture festival touched upon what exactly constitutes Internet celebrity, and plenty of Web-famous personalities dropped by to talk about it.

Alice Marwick (bottom right, in the pink jacket) leads a discussion about Internet fame at SXSWi. Caroline McCarthy/CNET News.com

AUSTIN, Texas--What does it mean to be "Internet-famous?"

That was the topic of conversation at "I'm Internet Famous: Status in Social Media," a South by Southwest Interactive "core conversation" hosted by Alice Marwick, an NYU doctoral candidate studying feminism and social media.

Not surprisingly, a good handful of the attendees at the "conversation" displayed various degrees of Internet fame (or notoriety): Dodgeball founder Dennis Crowley, Valleywag writer Melissa Gira Grant, video personality and dating columnist Julia Allison, BoingBoing's Joel Johnson, Ypulse's Anastasia Goodstein, Budget Fashionista blogger Kathryn Finney, Boinkology editor Lux Alptraum, and podcaster Dave Delaney (he co-hosts the "Two Boobs and a Baby" parenting podcast with his wife).

Drop any one of those names in a setting outside the technology community, and it's more than likely that you'll get one blank stare after another. That doesn't mean "microcelebrity" isn't worth talking about. Internet fame is insular, but it's still fame among a very connected and tuned-in subset of the population.

"Pretty much any group, or any community, no matter how big or small, has a kind of hierarchy," Marwick explained. It's not evil, she said. "That's just a normal way that people organize themselves." The Web is no exception.

So what makes people Internet-famous? Attendees shouted out suggestions like page views among the content-creator and blogger communities, valuation and investors among start-up founders, the ratio of "followers" to "following" on Twitter, and how valuable one's reputation is as an "information broker" (i.e. if Michael Arrington or Robert Scoble recommends something, it'll get at least temporary traction).

But we still can't confuse Internet fame with mainstream fame, no matter how high-profile an event like SXSWi, packed to the seams with Web-based "microcelebrities."

"A lot of the time, we overvalue our Internet celebrity," one person in the conversation said, referring to the fact that a popular blogger had recommended the Jeff Buckley cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and it promptly shot to the top of the iTunes download chart, seemingly vindicating that blogger's influence.

Only problem is, people soon realized that pop culture behemoth American Idol had recently featured the song, too.

See more stories in CNET News.com's coverage of SXSWi (click here).

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Tech Culture
About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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