Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for June 2008

Gakwer survivors form microfame posse

Everybody who knows me knows that I love the concept of online cliques. I’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of time trying to follow the blogrolls of people in the Gawker network, convinced that whatever flaws Nick Denton may have, no one can match his eye for talent.

Denton finds the best young writers on the Internet, “turns them out” in a matter of days, wrings out their youthful energy like an old man trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of a tube, and eventually leaves them as cynical burned-out shells of their former selves,

The pattern repeats, over and over, as the victims emerge from obscurity, fumble through their charming awkward phase, reach an apex of creativity and snark, and then, right on schedule, they develop a conscience and leave for greener pastures.

Then, after they leave, the Redemption Phase. They struggle for a while, move on to other jobs, and slowly come into their own as writers and editors.

Call me naive, but I believe in the ultimate triumph of talent over greed, and the ultimate superiority of substance over flash.

Whatever you may think of Denton and his recent missteps, no one can fault his eye for talent, and Gawker is the ultimate boot camp for Journalism 2.0.

I don’t have all the pieces yet, but I think the revolution starts with this list:

Microfame is an ecosystem, a collection of fans who contribute and invest themselves in the brand called you. The best current example of this esprit de corps in action is the diaspora of former Gawker editors who have picked up microblogging. Alex, Doree, Choire, Jess, Elizabeth, Emily, and Josh each have their own sites, but their cross-references and incestuous linking have created a blogger’s version of Entourage. The posse—or as media theoreticians call it, the network—creates influence that grows exponentially with its size. If fame is an investment, the members of your posse are the stockbrokers keeping your wealth properly distributed.

So, the Gawker Rat Pack is:

Alex Balk
Choire Sicha
Doree Shafrir
Elizabeth Spiers
Emily Gould
Josh Stein

To this I would add:

Alex Pareene
Ana Marie Cox
Lindsay Robertson
Maggie Shnayerson

and a dozen others that I haven’t identified yet.

Collect the whole set!

UPDATE: Unbelievable. I spent 20 minutes rounding up links to supplement Balk’s quote of this, then I locate the original source and find that Rex Sorgatz had already done it for me. Epic Stalker Fail.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 21, 2008 at 00:09

Posted in Gawker

Duff: AP starts copyright fight but can't handle blogger backlash

Duff: AP starts copyright fight but can’t handle blogger backlash

The Associated Press stirred up some trouble in the blogosphere this week by dropping the hammer on a site called the Drudge Retort.

The Retort started as a parody of the Drudge Report and has now turned into a news aggregation service. Visitors post excerpts from news stories and invite others to comment. A poster to the Drudge Retort posted 18 words from an AP story and a 32-word quote from Hillary Clinton.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 20, 2008 at 16:10

Posted in Columns

Jessica Coen doesn't really love you

I need to take a moment and cackle over Jessica Coen’s Myspace profile.You will never see this tongue again.

Her regular blog is here, but the real masterpiece is on Myspace. This profile is the most succinct commentary on male desire and female enabling that I’ve ever seen.


Result? The most artfully-crafted NO TRESSPASSING sign on the Internet.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 19, 2008 at 12:46

Posted in Gawker, Humor

Another Alex Balk Quote of the Day

I seem to be stalking Alex Balk today. The best writing on the web these days is being done by gay men. Certainly the smartest. In terms of sheer wit, you really can’t beat the bloggers at Radar or the commenters at Gawker.

This quote isn’t particularly witty, but it gets to the heart of what’s wrong, and right, about politics right now:

Who’s more annoying: the idealistic kids who think Barack Obama will bring us into a brave new world of transparency and change, or the hardened adults who think they’re speaking truth to power when they remind you that Barack Obama is just as cozy with corporate interests as anyone else who’s ever been in the position to be elected president? — Alex Balk, 6-9-08

Sigh. I guess I need to add Alex to my stalking tag.

12:01 a.m.: I’ve been Balked.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 15, 2008 at 11:55

Posted in Gawker

Duff: Does the Internet have a culture?

Duff: Does the Internet have a culture?

Sometimes it can be very hard to explain what I do here.

I like to describe this as an “Internet culture” column, but nobody really knows what that means. It sounds smart, so most people just look thoughtful and nod. But every now and then I get some troublemaker who calls me on it and asks me to explain.

I’ve developed a list of meaningless stock phrases to deploy at these times. Like advertising slogans; they sound cool as long as you don’t think about them too much.

My favorite one is, “I tell people what the Internet cares about.”

When you use this line on people over 40 they nod, look thoughtful and rub their chins as if they understand. But if you think about it, it’s a really stupid thing to say.

The Internet is a technology, and technology can’t care about anything. Imagine how you would react if a columnist said: “I tell people what television cares about.” Or, “I tell people what the telephone cares about.”

Your television may be an intimate part of your life, but it doesn’t actually care about anything. And your television can’t read the newspaper, although I hear Apple is working on it.

When I say, “I tell people what the Internet cares about,” I mean I tell readers what people who use the Internet care about, as if the class of people who use the Internet is fundamentally different from the people who don’t.

This used to be true, when the Internet was populated exclusively by scientists, educators and geeks. But now the Internet has spread to every home, and “Internet culture” could include anybody with a phone line and a keyboard.

So now that Internet access has become as common as the household blender, I have to ask, “Does the Internet really have a culture? And if so, is that culture really worth writing about?”

The truth is, I’m not just writing about Internet culture, I’m writing about the Internet Generation – the generation of people who grew up with the Internet as part of their daily lives. Not merely a function of age, the Internet Generation includes 8-year-olds sending text messages to their parents and 60-somethings who send e-mails from the nursing home.

It includes the professor posting assignments to the class message board and the office worker surfing YouTube on the clock. It includes teenagers on MySpace and professional bloggers like Emily Gould, writing in a medium that rewards gossip and erodes privacy.

In 20 years, the Internet will be so integrated into our lives it will barely be worth talking about, but we’re the first. Consider how baby boomers had their lives changed by television. When boomers look back on their childhoods they don’t just think about stick ball and playing jacks; they remember Tonto and the Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody and the Green Hornet.

They remember Apollo landings and the Kennedy assassination. Their lives were defined by what they saw on TV, and like it or not, subsequent generations will have their lives changed by what they do on the Internet.

Right now people are making friends, finding jobs, learning new careers and finding love on the Internet. Internet use has changed family structures and moving patterns all over the world. I trade e-mail every day with friends in Georgia, Florida, Boston and California. My guild buddies in Australia have become part of my daily life.

Contact with friends in other countries has destroyed prejudices and changed my politics. Correspondence with successful people has expanded my horizons and made me want more out of life.

So the next time someone asks me what I do here, I’ll still tell them I cover Internet culture, a culture that we’re all part of, ready or not.

MICHAEL DUFF writes an Internet culture column for The Avalanche-Journal, but no one actually knows what that means.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 14, 2008 at 13:32

Posted in Columns

Duff: Emily Gould warns bloggers about the consequences of 'oversharing' on the web

Duff: Emily Gould warns bloggers about the consequences of ‘oversharing’ on the web

Emily Gould is a new kind of celebrity, a type of celebrity so new that we don’t even know what to call it yet.

Emily started with a modest personal blog, just like the one started last week by your sister, your cousin or your kids. She talked about her job and her boyfriend, about childhood memories and stuff she was reading. She kept it up for a while and soon had a small community of people reading and commenting on what she wrote.

Emily’s blog was sharp and well-written, interesting and intensely personal. She shared stories, jokes and intimate details about her daily life; the kind of thing you’d find in a personal letter. But what happens when the letter is written in public, to an audience of a dozen friends at once? What happens when that audience grows to 50? 100? More?

Suddenly your intimate revelations aren’t so intimate anymore. When you publish an embarrassing quote from your boyfriend, you’re not just sharing it with a tight group of friends who already know and love him; you’re sharing it with a group of strangers who know him exclusively through what you write.

Emily slowly gained an audience and caught the attention of Nick Denton at Gawker Media, who made her the editor of his powerhouse gossip site in 2006. Suddenly, Emily had an audience of thousands, a platform read by some of the most influential publishing and media figures in New York.

She covered New York culture with the same intimate style she used on her personal blog, and the commenters loved her for it. At the height of her popularity, Emily realized that the more personal she made her posts, the more her public responded.

But can you really maintain an intimate relationship with 10,000 people? Can you really turn a major metropolitan city into your new best friend? And once you cross the line and give your soul to the Net, how can you possibly take it back?

The mob is fickle after all. Every flattering comment was matched by an equal or greater insult. You tell yourself not to take it personally, but how can you not? When you share the intimate details of your life in public, you are inviting strangers to know you and, inevitably, to judge you.

Blog authors build reputations by revealing their most intimate thoughts, but critics can fire back without revealing anything at all. This is the sad contradiction of personal blogging. For most people, trust has to be earned. You don’t walk up and start discussing your relationship problems with random people on the street. You discuss them with friends and family and people you trust, people who know you and love you and have your best interests at heart. We share things with friends because our friends know enough to take us in context.

Bloggers skip that step and give themselves to everyone, sharing personal details with people who don’t know (and don’t care) what came before. Some readers are smart enough to withhold judgment when they comment, but most of them dive straight in.

I know Emily’s story because it’s my story, too. I started a personal blog in 1996, sharing intimate thoughts, office gossip and overwrought political commentary with a small audience of friends.

My audience grew and my commentary got meaner, feeding off the attention I got when I tore people up. No matter what side of the argument I was on, I could always spin it to make myself look right. Loyal readers egged me on and close friends started to withdraw from me, scared that their comments would be analyzed, or maybe even mocked, in my public blog.

Every time someone complained I would do damage control and lecture them about “freedom of expression.”

Today my old blog posts are buried in archives and Emily Gould is starting a new project for the New York Times. Emily has diagnosed her condition as chronic “oversharing.” I wish I’d heard the word 10 years ago, back when it would have done me some good.

Emily’s fighting with her therapist because she doesn’t know if she’s a celebrity or not. I had the same problem in 2002. I decided that on the Internet, a person can enjoy all the downsides of fame without actually being famous.

You can inflate your ego, betray your friends, alienate your family and earn the contempt of strangers without earning a penny in extra income. You may think your blog is only being read by a dozen close friends, but you never know who’s going to link to you, and search engines can spit out secrets faster than you can take them down.

I hope fledgling bloggers will learn from Emily’s example and think twice before they take their personal lives public. You may think you can pacify your friends and ignore your critics, but you can’t predict what people are going to be sensitive about, and once a critic decides to turn your words against you, there’s no way to put the genie back in the bottle.

MICHAEL DUFF writes an Internet culture column for the Avalanche-Journal, but no one actually knows what that means.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 7, 2008 at 13:33

Posted in Columns

Molly McAleer takes 'overshare' to a whole new level

Defamer didn’t know what to make of this, and neither do I.

The only one who came close was friendslikeJimRome who said, “What hath God wrought?”

I didn’t want to watch it, but I couldn’t really stop. Sure it’s degrading and demeaning and sad, but when she’s done, you can’t help but be a little bit in love.

I mean, what choice do you have?

P.S. For any 40-something newspaper people who might be reading, this is why you don’t get us. This is why we’ll never make sense. This is, ultimately, the face of the new world. And no, I’m not ready either.

UPDATE 9-30-08: Molly McAleer forgives me …and perhaps, by extension, all of us.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 5, 2008 at 22:21

Posted in Gawker, Video