Here’s The Cold, Hard Truth About Viral Content


The Internet is maturing.

What does that mean? Stunts will be scarce and the odds of going from obscurity to fame are dropping ever lower.

Remember when record labels used to sponsor YouTube contests? Those evaporated. You can’t ask people to make clips for a small prize when they’re too busy uploading their own concoctions in an effort to become famous themselves. But it’s worse than that…you just can’t get the message out.

The other day, Paul McCartney played Hollywood Boulevard and it was a nonevent. Oh, the L.A. “Times” did a story, and there will be footage on Kimmel, but we learned long ago that appearances on late night television don’t sell records, because live shows are far from scarce, they populate the aforementioned YouTube, there’s more than you can see.

Kind of like documentaries. Now everybody’s got one. Not a week goes by without someone hawking their new one or asking me to appear in one. Who’s going to watch all these? Probably nobody, just like all those songs that are never downloaded on iTunes. Oh, you can post your stuff online, that does not mean anybody will see it.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. The Internet was supposed to level the playing field and give everybody a chance to play. Oh, we can all now play, but alone. The Internet now resembles America at large, the rich get richer and the middle class evaporates and the poor don’t matter.

Used to be we were all thrilled by the next innovation. First it was e-mail, then it was texting. Along the way we burned through jokes and online greeting cards and MySpace. Now we’re left with Facebook and Twitter and there are new services but none of them seem to reach critical mass, none of them seem to be used by everybody, because the public is fatigued. That’s the number one problem facing both Facebook and Twitter, fatigue. After you’ve posted your history to Facebook, where you went to school, who you married and pictures of your progeny, the thrill is gone, especially when you realize fewer are paying attention, that only a small core care. But it’s even worse on Twitter. If you’re a nobody on Twitter, you’re truly nowhere. And now no one goes from no followers to many unless they’re already famous offline. Never mind all the stories about fake followers, even Obama, you see people sign up for Twitter and abandon the service.

Not that you’d expect Wall Street to take notice, not that nobody plays anymore. But the excitement of these services was built on the fantasy that everybody had an equal voice, but that turned out to be just a fantasy.

Meanwhile, we’re all overloaded with input. A mentally ill maniac shoots up a Naval Yard and days later it’s gone from the news. Miley Cyrus will have her moment of fame and then drop off the face of the earth like every teen star before her, she thinks it’s forever, we’ve seen New Kids On The Block.

And even if you’ve been a star for decades the new reality is harsh. No one cares about Elton John’s new album other than those beholden to his handlers. Yes, the press trumpets it but there’s no audience for it. Youngsters don’t care and oldsters have already got enough Elton. Meanwhile, his voice is a shadow of what it once was and do we really expect him to be as great as he was in the seventies?

That’s a baby boomer problem. The belief that what was once important will continue to be.

But look at it this way… When we were listening to the Beatles back in 1964, were we also listening to the music from 1914? Of course not! So why do baby boomers expect that kids today care about what happened fifty years ago?

They don’t.

As for boomers saying they loved Frank Sinatra growing up… I don’t believe this is true, Sinatra nostalgia came much later, but in any event, his moment of fame came only twenty years before the Beatles, it’s like patting today’s kids on the back for liking George Michael.

Track the spread of today’s stories and you will almost always hit…a dead end. If you’re lucky, what you’ve done has been forwarded once or twice, but when it hits the great sea where you sink or swim on your merits, not based on who you know, it sinks. Oh, some things swim, but very few, and not for long.

So what we’ve got is the old era, but it’s even worse. Only a tiny sliver of stuff breaks through and becomes successful. The rest is wiped clean, as if the world were a giant magic slate.

So be thrilled if you’ve got friends who care about what you do. If you’ve got non-friend fans, even better. But if you’re dreaming of your one big break, the odds are exceptionally long.

“Barack Obama is political king of the fake Twitter followers, with more than 19.5 MILLION online fans who don’t really exist”: