The New Metrics of Fame

First published July 2, 2009 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”Andy Warhol, 1968
When Warhol made his oft-quoted prediction, he was referring to the ability of media to push anyone into the bright glare of the spotlight for a fleeting brush with celebrity. What he couldn’t have anticipated was the strange twist the Web would throw on this issue. The Web democratized media and accelerated Warhol’s prediction. Viral fame doesn’t depend on tightly controlled channels like newspapers and TV networks; it seeps, oozes and sometimes gushes, propelled by users. All of us, including middle-aged guys from New Jersey lip-synching to pop songs, kung-fu-fighting bears and teen-aged “Star Wars”-obsessed wannabes, can now be famous.

But it’s not just the opportunities for fame that have undergone drastic Web modification. It’s also the ways we measure fame. Humans are obsessed with status. We are mesmerized by social rankings, and thanks to the infinitely measurable nature of the Web, we have a legion of new status metrics available to see how we stack up against the world at large. And I’m just as big a sucker for this as everyone else. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I regularly check my status on various Web-based metrics. Here are a few of them.

Googling One’s Self

I think everyone’s guilty of this one at one time or another. You check to see what ranks for your name, who else of the same name shows up (my doppelganger is a photographer and musician in Scotland), and how many mentions Google finds of you out in the Web wilderness (22,900).As your digital fame grows, you broaden your search parameters. For example, do you break the top 10 for just your last name? This is admittedly dependent on how common your name is. Hotchkiss is not a household word, but I am competing with a prep school in Connecticut, a town in Colorado, a civil war cartographer, a precursor to the Jeep, the owner of the Calgary Flames and a ballroom dancing instructor. Or how about your first name? Gordon Lightfoot, a video game storeowner and a comic book about ultra bondage offer stiff competition for “Gord.”

Here’s a new variation: Search Suggestion Wheel of Fortune. With the search suggestions feature now available on all the major engines, see how many letters you have to type in for your name before you appear on the list of suggested searches. I come up in 5 letters (on Google.com — my home country is a little less kind. I need to go to 7 letters on Google.ca).

Techno-Rate-i

If you’ve joined the blogosphere, a number of destinations offer updated stats on how you stack up against the Seth Godins, Guy Kawasakis, Michael Arringtons and Arianna Huffingtons of the world. I have been tremendously delinquent here. I was once in the top 100,000 on Technorati, but have slipped back to the lowly 200,000s, due mainly to posting neglect. Still, with somewhere over 100 million blogs in existence (exact numbers seem hard to find) that still puts me in the top 0.2%, so my ego can live with that.

Twitterholics

The newest addiction for those seeking digital attention is Twitter. Now that the celebrities have glommed onto tweeting (come on, Kutcher, DeGeneres and Spears, can’t you share a little love?), it’s not as easy to gain top tweet status, but Twitterholics can get their fix of ranking reporting at Twitterholic. I do better here than on Technorati, once again breaking top 100,000 status. 1,649, 378 more followers and I beat Oprah (@outofmygord if you care).

Fame is Fleeting

In the new wired world, we are constantly reminded of our own notoriety, or lack of same, compared to everyone else in the world. In the pre-Web world, not only were we not famous, we were also blissfully ignorant of the fact. Today, it seems that everyone should strive to have some small sliver of fame. Keeping up with the neighbors isn’t about what’s parked in your driveway, it’s how many hits your blog gets. Social status is now measured in backlinks, hits and followers. My brother-in-law dealt my ego a devastating blow when he gave me a T-shirt that said “More people have read this T-shirt than my blog.” But I’ll get even. He won’t be getting any link love in this column.

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