What does it mean to follow? The digital footprint

In a recent post about VC Will Price’s decision to leave his venture fund to helm a startup named WidgetBox, Mike Arrington says “If you want to follow Price’s regular updates, his blog is here”.
Reading this, it struck me that the very concept of following someone, rather than reading them, is very tied to this next generation of social media that Friendfeed, Twitter, and to some extent Facebook and flickr and other slightly older SM services, embody.
Follow is the phrase Twitter uses, and it means to follow someone’s tweets–but what it really means is to watch their updates of what they are doing in (almost) real time. Extending this in Friendfeed means that people who follow me there can see my almost real time updates to whatever set of services I choose to aggregate–my blog, del.icio.us links, flickr stream, upcoming events, tweets, FB status–and any set of the other 24 or so applications I can choose to allow people to track me on.
In other words, if I choose to allow it (or if I promote it), others can *track* or follow my digital footprint on the Net, almost in real time–every step I take that creates content (as opposed to creating clickstream data) can, theoretically–be held up, viewed, and shared.
What’s prompted this chain of thought is the (to me) large number of people requesting my friendfeed, many of whom I do not know. I’m interested in what’s pushed this; my sense is it isn’t actually my postings on my blog, or at Blogher–I think it’s actually the posts that I and others wrote about my layoff, which turned me, for some people, into an interesting *story*–I have no way of knowing is that is true, but I wonder if it is.
Or, to put it another way, *following * people can mean not only do we have better access to people whose thoughts and words and images we find valuable, we can also track people whose lives we find interesting, or whose personalities we find engaging –and that’s a new sort of digital footprint that searching for someone’s name in a Google search.
Following people also allows the kind of vicarious celebrity-gazing of the not truly famous that’s become a staple of reality TV and celeb gossip; a continuing chronicle of the activities of a (supposedly privileged) few, whose lives the rest of us can either aspire to, or enjoy at a remove. (Is there any other way to explain the huge followings that Scoble, Calcanis, and Mark Cuban have–people rush to have a look at the publicly lived lives of Internet-famous entrepreneurs–so they can both experience and hopefully learn from their hot rush of success (which took talent, focus, and hard work…no question there.)
So, is this a high horse? Am I both allowing people to follow me and disdaining others’ interest in my digital footprint? Not.
For me, it’s more a fascination with how our world is changing, and how our culture’s move from reality TV to user-generated content and sharing online is generating new ways for us to entertain and educate one another….”following” someone being a new one.

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  1. Scott Lawton (Blogcosm) says:

    I think the phenomenon is probably growing, but isn’t a new issue, nor is “follow” a new term.
    I just Googled “i’ve been following your work” (with quotes). Plenty of results (though the initial number is quite misleading!). Substitute “his”, “her” and various permutations (“I follow”, etc.).
    But, that’s an admittedly crude measure even if it does confirm my sense….

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