Web Puts Fame Within Our Reach, But It’s As Fickle As Ever

By Patrick May
San Jose Mercury News

Karen X. Cheng wanted to do two things: learn to dance hip-hop in a year, and then share her joy with the rest of the planet.

She posted her two-minute dance video on YouTube one Tuesday morning in July. Facebook friends passed it around, and social media sites Reddit and Mashable grabbed it and flung it every which way.

By bedtime Wednesday, “Girl Learns to Dance in a Year” had 280,000 YouTube views. By Thursday, nearly a million had watched Cheng finding her groove. It got another million hits by Friday, and it’s been hurtling through Internet space ever since.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said the 26-year-old Web designer from San Francisco, still reeling from her byte-borne debut. “You can share a video all you want, but you can’t make people reshare it. My message must have really resonated.”

Uh, yeah.

What about the rest of us? With a clever idea, couldn’t we all be as wildly successful as Cheng? We decided to make a video and find out.

We explored the changing nature of fame through our own quest to go viral, using our homemade video as a touchstone for the broader evolution of celebrity on the Internet today. And it’s not only the Justin Biebers and Ashton Kutchers who have harnessed the power of social media to supercharge their careers.

The Internet and tools like Twitter and Instagram have turned scores of nobodies into somebodies. Some had huge talents; others relied on equal amounts of pluck and luck. But they all found cyberfame in ways that would not have been possible 20 years ago.

Our video was made to provide us a peephole into that phenomenon. But when we reached out for guidance from the social media mavens, the “experts” were all over the map.

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