On pg 102 of Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things, he highlights email exchanges between YouTube’s founders, released in a court case, which suggest the invocation of ‘user generated content’ might be a matter of branding rather than a meaningful growth strategy for social media platforms:

In another email exchange from 2005, when full-length movies were being posted on YouTube, Steve Chen, a cofounder of the company, wrote to his colleagues Hurley and Jawed Karim, “Steal it!,” and Chad Hurley responded: “Hmm, steal the movies?” Steve Chen replied: “We have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. How much traffic will we get from personal videos? Remember, the only reason why our traffic surged was due to a video of this type…. viral videos will tend to be THOSE type of videos.”

Much critical literature has focused on how social media platforms ossify existing hierarchies and establish new ones. It is too easy to see this as an unexpected consequence of a new social infrastructure, as opposed to an outcome which was knowingly designed in from the start.

In Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success, there’s an interesting reflection on pg 46 about Trump’s first experience of being in a newspaper:

In his third year at the academy he earned a headline in the local paper—“ Trump Wins Game for NYMA”—and the experience was almost electrifying. “It felt good seeing my name in print,” he said fifty years later. “How many people are in print? Nobody’s in print. It was the first time I was ever in the newspaper. I thought it was amazing.” This first brush with fame could be seen as the spark of a fire that would eventually light all of Trump’s life. The notice in the paper made him real, and heroic to people who weren’t even at the game. Fame also established that Donald Trump was a special boy. His deep appreciation for the experience shows that he understood that a great many people wanted fame but almost all of them fail to achieve it.

This highlights an interesting relationship between the psychological pay off of fame and the media conditions within which it becomes possible. Contrast this to our contemporary content eco-system: is internet celebrity devalued because everyone can immediately publish in the way that only the richest and most powerful can get themselves in newspapers? 

No, because the distinctions change as the infrastructure does – now the challenge is being ‘heard above the din’ rather than the simple fact of appearing in a publicly recorded way.

This is possibly the most depressing blog post I’ve ever read. It’s the earnestness with which the author conveys the message that “influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life”, as if this was a genuine personal revelation that he now feels the need to convey in as gentle as tone a possible:

After scrolling for several hours, I came to a conclusion.

Some people–including me that night–spend too much time following top influencers.

If only I can get their attention, we think, then I’ll make it big.

As I scrolled, I thought about how hopeless some people may feel when they can’t catch the attention of that one influencer. I imagined how nervous that person might have felt as they crafted their Instagram pitch to Cuban, Vaynerchuk, or John.

Not everyone feels this way about connecting with influencers, of course.

But many do.

At the end of the day, influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life. Our success hardly depends on their attention.

Our success ultimately depends on the attention we give to our work, not the amount of attention our work gets for us.


By definition there can only be a handful of celebrities. As Goffman describes it on pg 68 of Stigma, by ‘fame’ we “refer to the possibility that the circle of people who know about a given individual, especially in connection with a rare desirable achievement or possession, can become very wide, and at the same time much wider than the circle of those who know him personally”.

Digital celebrity detaches fame from achievement and instead renders it a function of network position. To hope that one can “make it big” by “getting their attention” isn’t a career strategy. It’s not even an unrealistic hope. It’s magical thinking and I’m scared by the neo-aristocratic politics I could imagine it one day supporting.

Much deserved Guardian coverage of the weird phenomenon that is the internet cat video festival. What grips me about things like this is not the fact that people are trying to make money from their cats, but rather that many others people are trying and failing to make money from their cats. Not unlike the aspiring professional pick up artists, though you’ll have to read this brilliant paper to see what I’m getting at.

I’m increasingly convinced that a tendency to publicize successful outliers to propagate the illusion‘ can be seen across the web, as a few people who make a living within a novel field wilfully co-operate with platform providers to promulgate the notion that other people could do this too. The result is inevitably a rather off-putting stampede of aspirants which must be read against the background of contracting structures of opportunity which can be seen across more established sectors within an increasingly low-wage and precarious economy.

There’s an interesting BBC programme about the rise of Vloggers which has left me thinking about this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06zw04s/rise-of-the-superstar-vloggers It’s very descriptive but it’s interesting to see these people asked about what they’re doing now and how it relates to what they were doing previously.