People of the Year

So as you’ve no doubt heard,Time has decided that the Person of the Year is the users of Web 2 apps who are, uh, revolutionizing the world as we know it or something like that:

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Sure, why not, (though I kind of liked Muhammad Yunus)?

The LA Times, for their part, have offered Ten moments the web shook the world which, like the Time story, struck me because although it doesn’t make it explicit, it shows what a big chunk of this ‘revolution’ is fan-driven:
They start with Snakes on a Plane:

No, “Snakes on a Plane” did not go on to challenge “Titanic’s” box office record, but it did become the first studio release entirely championed, developed and, for a time it seemed, directed by film fans on the Internet. The moment when the movie’s cast and crew went back to the cameras for Internet-ordered, gore-boosting re-shoots will go down in history as the first time the Web grabbed the production reins away from movie producers.

Then they trash the promo site for the movie Running Scared:

the studio created a game that allowed visitors to take on the role of hero Joey Gazelle, played in the film by Paul Walker. Players could dive into the game to shoot it out with bad guys, drive fast cars … and perform oral sex on Gazelle’s wife, with an interactive guide showing to how to do so more effectively. After a few raised eyebrows in the mainstream media, New Line removed the game.

Lonely Girl shows up next (” The most riveting entertainment story of the year was neither the Mel Gibson nor Tom Cruise”), along with a number of other ordinary folks who became web stars through these new platforms. MySpace, which has transcended being a fan space, but still uses fandom as a major point of similarity-assessment, gets a paragraph.

They include a dose of politics (George Allen’s Macaca moment) which could be interpreted as a move by a Webb fan to discredit Allen (and which is very reminiscent of the Two Gallants arrest in Houston fan vids on YouTube).

All of which is to say that in the big picture of ‘ordinary people are becoming media producers’ narrative, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re seeing a new mainstreaming of fandom and a shift that makes it easier for ordinary folks to become objects of fandom. If you tell the “Web 2″ story and don’t talk about the centrality of fans, you’re missing a huge piece of the plot.

Two Gallants and fan journalism

By now everyone who pays attention has heard about Saddle Creek band Two Gallants‘ violent and disturbing run-in with Houston police at their show there the other week (if you haven’t, google this for summaries). Aside from issues about the enthusiasm with which some law officers whip out their tasers, it’s interesting because of the role of fan communication in its aftermath, as addressed in this Minnesota Daily editorial:

News coverage of the event has been scattered and varied from sources ranging from the Houston Chronicle and Rolling Stone to MySpace and community journalism efforts, such as first person accounts and digital videos posted online. These efforts had a huge impact on spreading news of the incident and gaining more media attention.

Some MySpace pages about the incident seem to have mysteriously disappeared, though the Two Gallants page seems to be working just fine.

I follow political blogs pretty closely (well, some of them anyway) and one thing that has become a recurring motif is the fear that strikes the hearts of politicians when they realize that YouTube can be used to put up videos of all the stupid things they say and do off the record that are captured by anyone who happens to catch it with their camcorder. The moments they turn their back on the mothers of soldiers, cuss people out, and otherwise act very unpolitic get posted and the blog networks make it viral, ensuring that anyone paying close attention gets to see it. It’s an amazing transformation in control, because reports from those present are one thing, but videos have an impact that’s hard to beat, and now that every digital camera (and many mobile phones) record video and YouTube makes their mass distribution easy, every moment that isn’t poised is fair fodder for your destruction.

What we see in the Two Gallants incident is the same thing, only this time it’s the police (or the band, depending on where you stand) instead of politicians, and it’s music fans instead of political junkies. Nearly 500,000 people have watched this video of the incident. It’s given rise to a lot of discussion about the limits of police power, what to do in incidents like this, and, of course, lots and lots of flame wars. Not the highest level of civic discourse, but still a lot more than there would have been had there been no cameras or YouTube.

Burnlounge: Another take on fans as retailers

Burnlounge bills itself as “the world’s first community-powered digital download service,” offering its own version of the emerging new music business model starring fans as retailers. See here and here for some cynical takes on this. Joe at who used to be sympathetic has also now modified his opinion to “Burnlounge sucks.” Digital Media Wire recently interviewed Burnlounge co-founder Stephen Murray. Here are some excerpts:

DMW: What was the driving force behind the idea for Burnlounge?
Murray: I had a record company with Carson Daly and a couple other people including Ryan Dadd. We were trying to figure out how to market our artists in a new and unique way, using a process that’s always existed, which is friends telling friends about artists they think are cool.[...]

What’s the Burnlounge concept?
What we do is turn fans into retailers. It’s this whole crowd sourcing concept, giving tools and resources to enthusiasts to allow them to become part of the entertainment business, to go semi-pro, if you will.

So for that to occur you need two things: One, a platform, which in this case is a virtual record store. [...] The second thing is marketing resources. We need to give enthusiasts the tools of a professional [...]

So with those tools, how do store owners go about getting customers?
The same way that you already recommend music: you tell your friends about the music you’re into. The difference is you’re not telling them to check it out at another digital music service, you’re telling them to check it out at your own store.

They set it up with three different packages, depending on how serious people are about acting as music retailers. The less-serious models earn credit on all their sales which they can use toward purchasing music in their own stores. The more-serious “moguls” can translate their credits into cash. Minimum earning are apparently a whopping five cents a sale. I’m not sure I’d call this a next-generation snakeoil ponzi scheme, as the Digital Music Weblog has, but it seems like you’d have to move an awful lot of tunes to make it worthwhile.

More interesting than this instantiation of it, is the notion that fans are not just the record store customer, the fan is the record store. It used to be that working at the record store meant you were intrinsically cool (except, perhaps for my own employment at such an establishment for several years and all those bozos who worked at the corporate-owned other record store in town). In the near future will it be running your own online record store that makes you Really Cool? And how will people know you’re the cool kid from the record store when you’re out at the rock shows?

My peeve: just because people connect with each other doesn’t make it a “community.” As my friend Marc Smith says, community is a great term for marketing but a lousy term for thinking. Oh yeah, all the flash on their site is a turnoff too.

But peeves aside, the real question is where the line is to be drawn between Digital Music Weblog’s critique that they (or any other fan as retailer sites) are selling snakeoil through ponzi schemes and a more generous interpretation that they are empowering fans while benefiting musicians. How much money do fans and musicians have to make per sale to make it synergy rather than exploitation? It’s not an inherently bad idea to have fans selling the artists they love, in fact I’d argue it’s an inherently appealing idea. So the issue is what it takes to do it right.

Community first, Movie second

Here’s an article about, a site designed to make a movie from the fans up:

Established in 2004, Ckrush started out as a sports promotion company but quickly evolved into an entertainment group, producing three independent feature films in two years. First up is “Beer League,” a raucous baseball comedy starring Artie Lange of “The Howard Stern Show,” which opens today. Second is “National Lampoon’s Pledge This,” featuring celebutante Paris Hilton as a queen bee sorority girl. Third is “TV: The Movie,” another comedy starring the cast of “Jackass.”

The most exciting film project on Ckrush’s slate, however, will go into production at the end of spring 2007. “LiveMansion: The Movie” is the company’s fourth and most highly anticipated feature production because it involves a new and highly innovative model for filmmaking: It will be produced, almost entirely, by members of an online community.

Sorta American Idol meets Soaps On A Plane via MySpace?

If you always wanted to break into film but didn’t know how, it’s not too late to hop on over and sign up…

Baseball tries a “fan-led franchise”

The issues raised by “Snakes on a Plane” have nothing on those raised by letting sports fans pick the team lineups for real:

“Just goofy enough to work” may prove to be the operating principle of the Flyers’ experiment with fan-picked lineups as part of “Fan Club: Reality Baseball,” an Internet show that takes fantasy baseball leagues to new levels of interactivity.

To promote his club, Ehrenreich signed on to have cameras follow the Flyers through a half-season of baseball — 48 games — in the independent Northern League.

And Ehrenreich agreed to let fans, voting online, decide the team’s starting lineup each night. Diehard supporters, opposing fans and Web surfers who know nothing about the team have an equal say about which Flyers play and which ride the pine.

“It’s ‘Bull Durham’-meets-fantasy-sports come to life,” said Larry Tanz, chief executive of LivePlanet, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based production company that created the reality show, which can be seen on Microsoft’s MSN Video site and at

In reaching out to customers, Ehrenreich has ticked off his manager, many players and even some fans. They say the promotion threatens the integrity of baseball.

The notion that this “threatens the integrity” of baseball gets at the same fears people seem to have about fan engagement in authoring in any way — fan input threatens the integrity of YOUR FAVORITE THING SOMEONE ELSE CONTROLS HERE. But unlike with those things, this seems to offer a pretty clear measure of how well letting the fans have more power works — do they win more games?

The point that “even some fans” question integrity raises a lot of questions about what many fans want in their experience. I know I like the idea of fiction-writers taking into account input from fans. But I also know I don’t want my favorite pop bands letting fans write their songs. I’m not sure I really want them taking that much input: ‘we like the fast ones better than the slow ones’ I’m ok with, but ‘this chord change is better than that one’ — well at what point would they not be my favorite pop band anymore?