Clay Shirky makes an interesting point in his book 'Here Comes Every Body'. Applying the concept of fame to the communication facilitating tools of the social media, Shirky highlights an aspect of the online conversation which I personally had overlooked. Whilst Shirky's application of the fame concept differs slightly from conventional interpretations thereof, once acknowledged the resultant impacts are clearly visible throughout the world of social media.
The Direction of the Conversation
Despite minor differences between traditional and social interpretations of fame, a number of similarities also exist. Mirroring fame in it's traditional sense, social media fame comprises arrows of attention. When a blog, profile or account has more inward pointing attention arrows than outward pointing attention arrows, the greater the level of fame. This is a simple concept. What is perhaps more interesting is the potential effect that this has on the conversation. Consider the case of influential bloggers. As the perceived value of the content produced is increasingly recognized within the community, the number of individuals engaging with said content is likely to rise proportionately. The act of content engagement is most likely to take the form of a comment. As the number of interactions with the content increase, the ability of the author to adequately address each comment diminishes. In effect, these authors are becoming increasingly detached from those conversations which they are creating.
Whilst this view is somewhat simplistic, failing to take into account a number of important considerations, the logic behind these assertions is, in one sense, undeniable. Admittedly, as the number of inward facing arrows increases, the capacity of the author to personally address each comment becomes increasingly difficult. Were this the end of it, the social media would comprise a horrible muddle where significantly more questions are asked of the author than answers provided. The development of community has of course enabled the avoidance of such a muddle. Despite the impossibility of personlised two way communications beyond a point, building a community encourages conversational development amongst its parts. Authors such as Chris Brogan and Danny Brown have established significant communities in which conversations are enhanced through group discussion. This is reminiscent of the social media adage 'We' are more intelligent than 'I'.
Developing Knowledge Together
According to Shirky, social media allows us to experience the downsides of fame, notably these being the inability to reciprocate in the way the community would like us to. Whilst I recognize the logic in these assertions, I think that the enabling capacity of the social media has been overlooked. It is undeniable that these authors are unable to individually address each comment directed at them, however I truly do not believe that this is the intention of authors such as Brogan and Brown. Rather the goal for these individuals is to encourage the development of knowledge collectively. Whilst the two authors referenced herein are clearly experts in their fields, we must remember that interest in the social media is still in its relative infancy. It is only through such collective knowledge development that genuine insight will be gleaned. True social media gurus such as those referenced herein realise this and, instead of broadcasting a lesson, will subtely encourage conversational development over time.
Fame is overrated. It is an ability to truly influence the conversation that impresses.