In 1968, pop artist Andy Warhol promised that, "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." Forty years later, his prediction is sort of coming true.
While most people will never become a household name, millions of people are achieving a certain amount of notoriety thanks to social networks, blogs, and micro-blogs like Twitter.
There are people using these sites who have tens of thousands of "friends," "followers," or whatever the particular site calls those who consume their musings and look at their pictures and videos. It's not uncommon for a blogger to have more readers than a columnist from a daily newspaper or for podcasters to have more viewers or listeners than some broadcast personalities.
Some videos on YouTube attract more viewers than network TV shows. Some online stars, like Arianna Huffington, were famous before they started blogging, while other "online celebrities" have achieved their notoriety through the Internet.
Then there are those - often teens or people in their early 20s - who achieve notoriety on MySpace or other sites based on provocative photos and posts. Young women who look great in photos can sometimes attract thousands of "friends," and the more outrageous their online behavior, the more people will visit their sites.
I don't know what they get as a result of all those visitors to their page, but I guess it's what Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears get from all their publicity - minus all the money these real-life celebrities get from movies, albums and paid appearances.
The issue of online fame became a bit personal last week after a friend gave me some career advice. He said that if I want to stay relevant in technology journalism, I needed to start Twittering. Not only does Twitter provide you valuable information and insight, but also extends your influence, he said.
That was a tantalizing comment. As journalists go, I'm not exceptionally egotistic, but I admit that one reason I write and broadcast is to exert some influence. It doesn't get me better treatment at restaurants or admiring glances from adoring fans, but it does make me feel "relevant." And, it feels good to know that some people appreciate what I do. So, if writing for newspapers and Web sites and appearing on radio and TV is good, then having a following on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and who knows where else might be even better.
To help me figure out what this all means, I used that oh-so-20th-century communications tool, the telephone, to consult a colleague who is a prolific Twitterer and who also has a following in print, online and on local radio in Houston. Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle (http://blogs.chron.com/techblog/) says he uses Twitter, "not just to raise my profile, but also to tap into a community that is knowledgeable, passionate and responds quickly."
Silverman, who has 2,200 followers on Twitter, said the site allows him to participate in an ongoing conversation. He also interacts with readers on his blog, but says the instantaneous nature of Twitter is both intimate and rewarding. In fact, he finds himself sometimes using Twitter instead of his blog when he wants to say something short and concise.
When you sign on to Twitter, you can "follow" other people, which means you can read what they write but they don't necessarily see what you write unless they follow you.
It's not uncommon for well-known Twitterers to have far more followers than people they follow. For example, from his Twitter profile (twitter.com/leolaporte) I can see that podcaster and tech radio personality Leo Laporte has nearly 53,000 followers, yet he follows only 486 other people on Twitter.
I haven't been Twittering long enough to understand how it might enhance my career or keep me abreast of what's going on. But after a few days, I do see the value of engaging in a conversation with an extended group of friends and acquaintances. Like having a Facebook profile, it allows you to express yourself and engage with people who interest you - a little like what I sometimes get in the real world when I have coffee with friends in the morning at the Palo Alto Cafe.
But if you let too many people into your online circle, it becomes more like hanging out in a crowded mall than huddling with your friends at an intimate coffeehouse. And engaging with people on Twitter is time-consuming. While I'm enjoying it at the moment, I'm not yet convinced it's worth the time. I guess I'll figure that out over the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, if you wish to follow me, you can do so at twitter.com/larrymagid. That way, maybe I'll get 16 minutes of fame.
By Larry Magid