August 29, 2006

Fame! (I'm Gonna Live Forever) –

If you get a chance, check out, a new social networking site where users collaboratively profile their favorite celebrities, who are then ranked according to “fame” based on the number and reputation of members contributing to their pages (at least that’s what I gather from the site’s somewhat opaque FAQ pages). Paris Hilton, Natalie Portman, and 50 Cent figure prominently. But there are also well-drawn and active profiles of Napoleon, Einstein, and Martin Luther King.

In one sense the work that’s done at kevo isn’t very different from the kind of collaborative biographical authorship that occurs on Wikipedia. What’s different is the explicit recognition that social networks and robust communities of interest can be built around amateur historical work. This fact should be obvious to anyone who has ever been to a baseball card expo or seen a convention of Elvis impersonators, but it is the first time I’ve seen it put forward as the basis for a business plan. I’ll be interested to see how far it takes the operators of kevo.

Another thing that interests me about kevo is the concept of “fame” as applied to historic figures. Professional historians tend to assess past actors in terms of importance. Yet I suspect that the general public tends to think more in terms of fame or celebrity. Therefore, providing a space for collaborative biography isn’t the only way kevo enables amateur historical production. Through its fame rankings, kevo allows its users to make judgments about the relative historical importance of historic figures. In this way, over time, kevo’s profiles and fame rankings could provide not only the substance but also the interpretive contours of a real people’s history—that is, one written by the people. Let’s hope it succeeds.

Thanks again to Jeremy at Clioweb for the tip.

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