Alex Blagg, the Stephen Colbert of New Media
Alex Blagg, the demented genius behind the site BajillionHits, is having a ball playing a parody of an Internet guru. Ben Crair talks to him about making a mockery of New Media consultants.
Alex Blagg has always been a comedian, but when he unveiled his latest act, some people were confused about whether he was joking. Having previously run popular blogs like Best Week Ever and Wonderwall, Blagg’s new website, BajillionHits.biz, presented him as a “tech media douche,” as he called it. “I’m not an early adopter,” he wrote in one post. “I get people pregnant with ideas and then put the newest networks, apps and tech buzz up for adoption.” In a video, he bragged that he had read the entire Internet five times.
Continuing like Jeff Jarvis at his most insufferable, Blagg coined and made generous use of his own buzz word, “strat,” which he says is “an abbreviated word for people who are too busy winning the whole Internet to say 'strategy'.” Elsewhere on the site, he said, “David Fincher also wants to make a movie about my life (called The Whole Internet), but I told him he can’t do it unless I get to play myself, and he gets Brad Pitt to play a guy who watches me make love to Angelina Jolie.”
Meet the Stephen Colbert of New Media gurus. Blagg’s performance is “basically an only slightly exaggerated version of someone who actually calls him or herself a social-media guru with a straight face,” according to blogger Lindsay Robertson, a close friend of his.
When I asked Blagg about BajillionHits, he maintained a straight face. “There does seem to be a lot of confusion about whether or not I'm joking, which is just amazing to me,” he said. “Who would possibly joke about business as serious as the Internet? I think the expert knowledge and killer strat on display every day at ABH.Biz is self-evident to anyone with a brain and/or more than 100 Twitter followers. Being a social media genius and ridiculously successful Internetist is not satire. It's Stratire.”
Anyone who has followed Blagg’s career knows he’s a master of digital impersonation. Blagg tends to his new creations with Andy Kaufman-like devotion: He insisted on conducting our entire interview in character. On his earlier personal blog, Blagg Blogg, posts assumed the voices of “a Clever McSweeney’s writer who enjoys excessively long titles” and “a relatively unknown comedian going home after taping a soundbite on some VH1 show about celebrities.”
As Blagg began encountering the tech and social-media world, first in San Francisco and then in New York (he now lives in L.A.), he discovered an untapped wellspring of material. “I think he saw this huge gaping void—something that takes up so much of the Internet conversation and takes itself SO seriously, but without anyone really satirizing it or making fun of it, even lightly,” says Robertson.
Blagg puts it in his own terms: “A few years ago, there were a lot of hits to be gotten in the celeb/pop culture space, but after getting most of them, I got sort of bored and wanted to be focusing on something more important, so I decided to turn my focus to tech and social media and the whole Internet.”
His act draws on several inspirations. Bajillion Hits’ listicles, with titles like “ 5 Ways to Optimize Your Facebook Birthday Message Strat,” parody the types of lists you find in earnest on sites like Mashable (example: “ The Top 10 Twitter SEO Tips”). A post Blagg made on “12 Social Media Masters with Really Nice Strat” serves as something of a hitlist of his targets, including Mashable’s Pete Cashmore and Gary Vaynerchuck, a sommelier-turned-inspirational-speaker. (An email to Vaynerchuck asking for comment on Blagg went unreturned; however, an auto-reply directed me to a video in which he thanked me for my email and explained, “I made this video because I don’t want anybody to not recognize how appreciative I am of the volume of emails I get.”)
Blagg also says he considers himself the peer of “strat theorists” like Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen—media men who make their living by saying, often without much additional insight, “The Web is the future.” In newsrooms terrified of declining readership, such turds can be sold as golden eggs. Take, for example, Jarvis. Recently, he admitted to not reading The New York Times Magazine before going on to suggest that it “become a molecule-maker” by reinventing itself as “a curation of great content of the week from the Web.” Putting the Internet on paper is a transparently boneheaded idea; but Jarvis’ shtick is less about actual ideas than it is impressing his audience with an aura of special knowledge through the use of empty phrases.
Such buzzwords are the building blocks of Blagg’s act. In one video, he just unspools them: “Personal branding, user-experience interface design, meme making, social-media landscaping, paradigm adjustment, Bieber baiting, thought exercises, buzz words, idea design, Danny Glover, attention economics, super Powerpoint.” His punchline: “Gone are the days that you can just walk into a boardroom, say ‘Twitter,’ and expect someone to pay you $20,000 and land yourself on the cover of Wired magazine. Now you have to say ‘FourSquare.’”
“I really do think it’s kind of funny,” says A.J. Daulerio, the editor of Deadspin. “When you look back at the 1999-2000 Dot Com Era, there was this world with words like ‘stickiness’ and ‘traction.’ Now we have this whole entire new vocabulary totally around Facebook and Twitter.”
Part of what makes Blagg’s act stick, if you will, is that there’s real Web know-how beneath all the irony: A Bajillion Hits may not quite live up to its name, but Blagg knows the tricks of the trade he tweaks. In one post, he dissects in typical tech-douche fashion a video he made of a man behind a camcorder reacting to a joint KFC-Taco Bell store with the same awe as Double Rainbow guy. The thing is: The KFC-Bell video was a legitimate viral hit, garnering more than 500,000 views on YouTube.
In fact, Blagg’s game is so good that some in the new-media world are playing along. “I find myself using ‘strat’ now in conversation,” says Rex Sorgatz, the founder of Kinda Sorta Media, who adds, “Several people have commented that [Blagg’s act] sounds like someone like me.”
Considering his credentials, I asked Blagg for his advice on how I might make this profile go viral. “Well, I think I'm giving you some gold bricks here,” he said. “I would let the strat speak for itself, give the whole thing a really sharable/retweetable/hyperbolic headline/takeaway in terms that are quick and simple to understand (I liked what you said before about ‘Stephen Colbert of the Internet’ or ‘genius’ or stuff like that), then tell Tina Brown to put it on the homepage front and center like it deserves.”
Ben Crair is the Deputy News Editor of The Daily Beast.