headshot of Taylor Lorenz in red shirt and blue-yellow book cover of Extremely Online

Extremely Online by Taylor Lorenz

A new kind of celebrity emerges from social media platforms that rivals legacy media— just as TV did to radio before it. Like other big platform shifts, it’s overlooked because young people lead the attention. 

That’s from the 2023 book from my friend and prominent tech journalist Taylor Lorenz called “Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet.”

As she writes: “Tech founders may control the source code, but users shape the product.”

I read the book as a people’s history of early creator culture. It tracks one of the subtler but more important transitions of the recent web: From social networking between people who know each other from real life, to social media, in which people fully define as creators on platforms to fans.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

My notes below:

  • Socialite Rank story: two Russian immigrants used a blog to cause an uproar in high society New York, what an upending of culture
  • Matt Drudge was earlier but a pure aggregator; Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo better resembled the blogger identity of original content and voice that developed a following.
  • When Marshall led the way to oust Trent Lott, the NY Pos’s titled  its story the internet first scalp”
  • Mommy bloggers invented sponsored content
  • Early social networks resisted creators, tying networks to existing friends only
  • TheGlobe.com to SixDegrees to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook
  • Tila Tequila as first influencer?
  • MySpace allowed pseudonyms
  • MySpace Scene Queens developed community and celebrity followed; when it collapsed the wrong lesson was learned: that influence seekers were distracting and should focus on friends — Twitter and Instagram started there but Facebook news feed set foundation for new generation that YouTube and others capitalized, leading to the influence graph over social graph
  • Paris Hilton as the cross brand influencer
  • Julia Allison as creator; mixing journalism with celebrity
  • YouTube started as dating service but their flexible hosting and uploading processes were best
  • Lazy Sunday SNL digital short defined early YouTube, first breakout hit
  • Lonely girl15 and others created vlogging on YouTube
  • Chocolate Rain and Carls Jr YouTube deal were early prominent signs of YouTube power
  • YouTube partner program in 2007 signaled where creators were going
  • 2010 VidCon by Green brothers
  • Next New Networks acquired by YouTube to serve creators (using that word to replace Partner)
  • George Strompolos credited with YouTube Creator program
  • Twitter ditching friends and sticking to followers, and an open model was different than Facebook
  • Tumblr “fuck yeah” blogs another point toward interest graph; Facebook fan pages similar
  • Snoop Dog first celebrity on Instagram and his first post was a promotion of Colt45; but Kevin Systrom resisted advertising and billboards pushing for aesthetic value (likely why it remains stronger brand today)
  • Scooter Braun told Instagram to pay Justin Bieber or let him invest; Instagram called the bluff. Bieber left but then returned as IG grew
  • April 2013 first viral Vine was “scared of love”
  • Explaining TikTok to nonteenagers 
  • Josh Harris pseudo.com
  • Justin.tv turned Twitch was akin to popular cooking shows (watching others)
  • Mr. Cashier younow stream
  • Argues generate sprung right wing (credits Meme Wars book)
  • Grapestory talent agency: Gary Vee pitched by Jarre
  • DigiTour and MagCon creator tours were hit but got diluted by lesser stars
  • Launch of security measures following murder of Christina Grimmie (born in Marlon, NJ)
  • Collab house: 1600 Vine in LA for viners or ones for YouTubers or blogger houses for Hobart House for Ezra Klein and Flophouse of Matt Yglesias
  • Argues creators left Vine because in-fighting led to collapse and Snapchat because Evan Speigel wanted a messaging tool not creators; Facebook was too big to care much once big media brands were there
  • LinkedIn in March 2021 launched creator mode
  • Instagram and TikTok playing for YouTube creators
  • Musically flourished as Vine closed
  • As early as 2012, YouTube prioritized watch time, not just views (prioritizing high quality longer videos), also better for ads
  • Millennial pink as Paul smith LA shop pink wall defined Instagram backdrop
  • March 2016 Lord & Taylor hit by FTC for Instagram sponsored ads without disclosure
  • But #ad tags didn’t hurt engagement. What Nord said “what we misjudged is that audiences actually thought it was cool that brands they knew and respected were working with creators that they respected and followed”
  • Teenagers who faked #ad to gain credibility (Christine Dior handbag release feature many who pretended to be sponsored)
  • Many mid level influencers used influencer marketing firms that delayed payment…  
  • “In those cases, no matter how many image filters you applied, the only color you were left with was blue.” (The book does have a lot of weak transitions like this one)
  • Instagram aesthetic died with Fyre Festival and the flop Instagram museum Happy Place
  • Emma Chamberlain credited with ushering in relatable YouTube, or “slacker YouTube” with lots of editing but a less pristine aesthetic — criticized for being young white women
  • “On fleek” introduced by a black kid but not benefited from the culture
  • “By the end of 2019, the old Musical ly guard were no longer the hottest stars on the app. The D’Amelio sisters, Easterling, and several dozen other Gen-Z stars had become internet A listers and that December, on Christmas Day, they made an announcement that defined the early TikTok era. Dressed in matching jeans and white T-shirts, fourteen creators huddled together against a white backdrop making goofy faces. The stars had come together to launch the Hype House, a new creator collective and content house. Collab houses (also known as content houses) were by now a long-running tradition in the influencer world. The first content house had been the Station, which YouTubers operated in Venice Beach. In 2014, members of a YouTube collab channel called Our Second Life moved in together in Los Angeles in what was known as the 02L Man-sion. In 2015, nearly all the top talent on Vine moved into the 1600 Vine apartment complex. YouTuber mansions dotted L.A. by 2017, with members of the Vlog Squad living in Studio City, Clout Gang renting a $12 million mansion in the Hollywood Hills, and Team 10, Jake Paul’s infamous YouTuber collective, occupying a giant house in West Hollywood before eventually decamping to a mansion in Cala-basas.”
  • Clubhouse publicly traded content house in November 2020
  • TikTokroom Instagram account tracking and breaking celebrity gossip news
  • Author’s story on Jalaiah and renegade dance
  • “Whereas traditional companies would develop a product and then find a way to market it to consumers, creators build an audience first and then develop products tailored to the fans they already have.” (p 287)
  • She argues Clubhouse the app flamed out because it was the creation of VCs who wanted to be the influencers
  • “When one thinks of ‘the media’ they often think of broadcast news and newspapers; in reality, creators are ‘the media’ today. The media landscape that they dominate is only becoming more digital and more distributed,” she writes. “Legacy institutions that refuse to adapt will continue to fade into oblivion.”
  • “Tech founders may control the source code, but users shape the product.”

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