Twitter Race: Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN Breaking News

As you may have read recently, Ashton Kutcher and CNN are having a light-hearted contest to see who can become the first to amass 1 million followers on Twitter. At the moment, @cnnbrk has 980,761 followers while @aplusk has 980,001. It’s a tight race! If he wins, Ashton has said he will donate 10,000 mosquito bed nets to charity in honor of World Malaria Day, an offer than CNN quickly matched. Electronic Arts, Oprah, and others are getting in on the action now too.

It’s great that some charities will benefit from all of this, because it’s a silly race. Having said that, it’s also a good opportunity for me to write down some thoughts I’ve had over the last few months as more and more celebrities have joined Twitter:

  • If I were TMZ or PerezHilton, I’d be scared to death of Twitter. When celebrities themselves are breaking the stories that the gossip blogs would normally cover, it doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the future of sites that depend on getting the news first. And it’s not like they’re very good at analysis.
  • Related to that, what a great opportunity for celebrities to take back some control over what is said about them! If a negative or untrue rumor hits the net, a celebrity can post a tweet about it immediately to clear things up. Not to say that celebrities are honest 100% of the time, but you get the idea. Posting to an official website just isn’t the same as directly tweeting half a million engaged followers, who will in turn spread the word.
  • I think this’ll humanize some celebrities. I’m sure they all use Facebook, but we can’t be their friends or see their activity there. With Twitter, anyone can see whatever a celebrity posts. They don’t get anything special – they have the same account as everyone else.

As for the race, I hope Ashton wins. He’s becoming a sort of celebrity ambassador for the web and all of the cool things people are doing with it. For instance:

[Larry] King has invited Kutcher to appear on his show, "Larry King Live." Kutcher, saying "this is a saga for the Internet," asked King to come on his Internet show to settle things.

Among other things, he’s the Creative Director for VoIP startup Ooma, and he continues to experiment with online video through his company Katalyst Media. Who knows if any of his projects will be successful, but the fact that he’s out there experimenting and paying attention to what’s coming next is encouraging.

Apparently @Oprah’s first tweet will be tomorrow when Ashton is on her show. I’m interested to see what she does with the service.

What do you think? Do you care about celebrities on Twitter? By the way, CelebrityTweet is a site that tracks celebs on Twitter.

UPDATE (~12:15 AM MST): Ashton did it, he beat CNN to 1 million followers!

Death in the celebrity age

Post ImageIn a recent post, Jason Kottke (who by the way, blogs for a living) raised a very interesting question, one that I had not pondered before:

Are you worried about the future glut of obituaries in national newspapers? Because I sure am. Think about it: because of our networked world and mass media, there are so many more nationally known people than there were 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

I had never really thought about that before, but I suppose it’s true. I know far more people who are considered “celebrities” than my great grandparents probably did back in their day. Jason goes on:

Frankly, I don’t know how we’re all going to handle this. Chances are in 15-20 years, someone famous whose work you enjoyed or whom you admired or who had a huge influence on who you are as a person will die each day…and probably even more than one a day. And that’s just you…many other famous people will have died that day who mean something to other people. Will we all just be in a constant state of mourning?

No, I don’t think we will. I mean, just because someone famous dies, doesn’t mean that there are millions of people who will mourn for that person. Indeed, just as celebrities enter our lives out of no where, I see no reason they cannot exit the same way. Take for example, Luther Vandross. He died at the age of 54 on Friday, and yet for most people, it’s just another news item. This is a man who released 14 albums and had each one reach platinum or multi-platinum status. Millions of people included him as a part of their lives. And yet, millions of people are not mourning. If four other people with similar levels of fame died today, would the world be any sadder? I doubt it.

Basically, there is only one Pope and personally, I think the mourning done for the Pope was extravagant, to say the least. There will always be those people who have reached a certain “celebrity” status that will be mourned by many people, but I think they will remain rare, no matter how many famous people we have.

Thinking a bit further, shouldn’t we expect the number of “celebrities” to normalize? I mean, if so many people are getting famous now, you’d think that in 15 years, it would be harder to be considered “famous”, and thus there would be less famous people.

Read: Jason Kottke