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tom moody

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Eyebeam has organized a contest on the theme of contagious media, the idea being to come up with a meme (project, hoax, web page, joke) that gets you the most hits within a certain period of time. This occupies an awkward zone between social sculpture (art), public relations (not art), new media art, and web-development-as-usual. Participants in the workshops include Nick Denton of Gawker media, who didn't wait to see how the unruly and amorphous new form of expression called "blogging" would evolve but rather led the charge in turning it into something streamlined and branded a la the late 90s dot com model. Blogs under the Gawker umbrella are much like the one you're reading except they have nicer logos and blinking ads interspersed with the copy. They do get hits though. This page has had a couple of mentions on a site called Screenhead (thanks, mon) and both times stats spiked big time.

Speaking of stats, mine are great, thanks. Numbers aren't crowed about here like they frequently are at Josh Marshall's blog but let's just say they're very encouraging and I appreciate everyone who reads. One of the discussions I had early on with fellow bloggers at Digital Media Tree (a collective that is the brainchild of tech whiz Jim Bassett) is that blogging isn't like dot coms because it isn't about number of eyeballs but quality of eyeballs. "Paradigms (memes, whatever) grow around communities of strong interest" is another way of saying it. Well, maybe they do, maybe they don't--you never know what's going to be important in the long or short run. But a perverse thing about the Internet is too much success can destroy the effort before it begins: bandwidth costs money, and more traffic makes blogging more expensive. To accommodate the traffic you have to upgrade and put up ads or a tip jar to keep going.

It can be exhilirating to have a contagious project take off, but recent history teaches us the party's quickly over and you're left picking up your guests' cigarette butts. The only solutions to the problem of the hit meme are to embrace capitalism, quit while you're ahead, or be like the characters in Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," who wear prosthetic devices that blunt their natural talents (thick eyeglasses for painters, heavy ankle weights for ballerinas) so they're perpetually good but not too good.

And when it's all said, what did "Turkish Man Kiss You" and "America We Stand As One" really contribute to the discourse? Is their "success" as ironic artifacts something that could, or should, be deliberately contrived?

Updated slightly to accommodate a good point from someone who seemed mildy surprised that these things get updated/rewritten after they're posted (let me know if you want credit for the thought in the last sentence). The rule of thumb is if the post changes substantively I do an "update," otherwise it's just sub-Orwellian tweaks.

- tom moody 4-28-2005 7:18 pm [link] [1 comment]