Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Does authenticity matter? (The case of Marié Digby)

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece on Marié Digby, a “YouTube sensation” that turns out to be a sort of recording-industry stool pigeon. As it turns out, Digby’s ascent has been carefully orchestrated by a major label, and everyone’s been lying about it, not least twenty-three year old singer herself.

It’s going to be an interesting test case for Web 2.0. Everyone says that “millenials” value authenticity more than anything. Sites like YouTube have stoked things, but there has always been something extraordinary about finding something interesting, instead of having it pushed on you.*

There’s a good post about this on the Matchmine blog, asking why this stuff makes us “feel so dirty.” One explanation is particularly good: We want to believe we’re one idea away.

“The web has made celebrities out of regular people, and billionaires out of ham and eggers. Or at least that’s what we want to believe. There is something optimistic about the web; there is a feeling of opportunity here. I think that many people are hungry for examples of ‘amateur has idea, takes it to the web, makes it big.'”

I find this idea appealing, and I think it’s been responsible for some of LibraryThing’s success—that people know it was a hobby project of a booklover (me) that took off. If it was revealed that LibraryThing was some sort of astroturf plot by Borders or Amazon, I think people would react quite negatively.** I know this how we felt when an author created sock-puppet accounts on LibraryThing to shower her book with positive reviews. Of course, we blew her accounts away, but one employee—not me—was so angry he took the time to add creative insults to her Amazon page.*** How dare she?

Maybe I’m idealistic, but I hope the Digby stunt backfires in the same way. I’m something of an old-fogey when it comes to music and copyright. But, if I liked her music, I’d go the extra mile to steal it.

*For my senior thesis at Georgetown I ended up reading a lot of antebellum literary reviews from the South, looking for images of anient Greece. The writers that filled these journals are mostly quite forgotten and, particular as concerns the poets, rightly so. Anyway, one day I came across the poem “To Helen” and thought “Wow! Has anyone noticed this before?” Pseudonyms and initials-only names are the norm in these things, and not all have been subsequently deciphered by scholars. So I took down the initials and prepared to look them up in an index to these things. “E. A. P.” Oh, dammit, I just discovered Poe!
**Against this idea, we have our largest competitor, started by music people, funded by Amazon and responsible for a lot of astroturfing blog comments. It hasn’t hurt them… yet.

Labels: authenticity, book reviews, marié digby, ugc, user generated content, web 2.0


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