Click to viewWhy is Kevin Rose on a publicity binge? In the past two months, the founder of headline-voting site Digg has garnered two magazine covers. There he is, with a smoldering leer on local San Francisco magazine 7x7. The look reminds everyone why Diggnation cohost Alex Albrecht once said that Rose, a prolific dater, has "plowed through everyone in town." For Inc., Rose participated in a wacky crowd shoot which echoed the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." It's obvious why Rose is a hot commodity: Write about him, and traffic to your magazine's website will soar. (Will he sell print copies? I doubt Digg users visit newsstands.)It's obvious what's in it for the magazines which write about them. Rose makes a compelling story, even if Inc. had to resort to ridiculous hyperbole:
Rose has managed to put himself at the center of an ever-expanding new-media empire. In addition to Revision3 and Digg, he recently launched an Internet messaging service called Pownce. Thanks to Rose's star power and a well-designed website, Pownce quickly attracted more than 150,000 people, who use it to share music, videos, and links with their friends. This means Rose owns an online newspaper, an online television network, and an online communications platform. Ladies and gentlemen, geeks of the world, please welcome Kevin Rose. He is the first vertically integrated Internet celebrity — part Steve Jobs, part Howard Stern — and the next media mogul.
Wait a second: Revision3, Rose's "online television network," is mostly a vehicle for distributing videos where Rose chugs beer with Albrecht and discusses Digg headlines. It just laid off several employees and canceled five shows. Pownce is barely known outside of San Francisco — and its insidery core of users know that it's secretly a great way to swap copyrighted music and video files without getting threatening letters from the RIAA. And Digg? Well, Digg just raised $28.7 million in venture capital, after several rounds of acquisition talks with Current, News Corp., and Google went nowhere. Digg needs to get big — which means Rose needs to change his image. He's always been the beer-drinking slacker who started Digg on a whim, and never wanted to run a big company. That story no longer works. Instead of believing in the wisdom of crowds, Rose needs to run from it. His tech-geek fan base isn't large enough to take Digg into the territory where an IPO is plausible. Burnt by a goofy BusinessWeek cover that made him look like a joke, Rose has stayed away from print. But now he needs the mainstream media as much as they need him. Coverage in second-tier publications like 7x7 and Inc. lead to more, higher-profile stories. Will editors in New York's high-rise offices ask pesky questions about Pownce and Revision3? No, they'll just read his clips, and think Rose really is the next Howard Stern. In that future path lies true stardom, not just Internet fame, and real riches, not just paper ones. But it means abandoning the ideals which led him to start Digg in the first place.