The Wisdom of Ze Frank

Whenever I teach about creativity on the internet I start with those wacky people in the early 1970s turning punctuation marks into facial expressions and end with Ze Frank. I don’t keep up with his daily show, but I always appreciate what I see. I’ve got a student writing a paper about his fan forum this semester and she’s been telling me it’s pretty intense — if you don’t watch every day you can’t keep up and you better not try. So it was with interest that I saw the New York Times article on “Online Auteurs” (ooh la la) which, toward the end, has this to say about him:

Over a typical week, “The Show” is seen more than 200,000 times, and several hundred viewers post comments in Ze Frank’s forums. It seems that he’s reading every word. Unlike a film or TV audience, Frank’s viewers have a chance to connect right in the middle of the project, and he seems almost maniacal about his loyalty to them. “I think we may have experienced the last generation of actors who can be disconnected from their audience,” Frank says. He asks for show-theme suggestions and answers questions politely, and his need to include whomever is watching sometimes feels like a lifeline to keep him from drowning. He cites this ongoing conversation with the viewer as one reason that he refuses to post his show on YouTube.

“For me, the show itself is far less interesting than everything around it. And if you stick it on YouTube, out of context, it loses all the inside jokes, all the responses, the history of what led up to that show. The framing gets lost. Also, you can’t make money off of YouTube. Unless you are YouTube.”

YouTube sells ad space, but contributors are paid nothing. And Frank is perfectly happy with the revenue from the small ads on his Web site. He says he makes about as much from a single text ad as “an entry-level hooker in Washington, D.C.”

Maybe I’ve had all the wrong career aspirations?

But following up on yesterday’s post about building your online presence through proprietary spaces, this just drives home the point. I wouldn’t advise people against using those sites, and I think a lot of what Ze Frank does could well stand alone elsewhere, but it’s a good point that on your own space you get to create the context as well as the content. Plus of course, no one’s going to buy out from under him and change how things work without his having a say.

If you’re not familiar with his work, you’re in for a treat. I am crazy about his build yer own kaleidescope but all his interactive stuff is great. His participatory projects are super fun too, check out Office Supplies Attack for a glimpse of what he can get his fans to send him.

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