He Sees Stars

Charlie Fink knows a Net celebrity when he sees one.

Charlie Fink, 38, knows a net celebrity when he sees one. As senior vice president and chief creative officer of Greenhouse Networks, the original content division of AOL Studios, his job is to create stars for America Online's sports and entertainment channels. Fink's career in entertainment began 12 years ago when he joined Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg at Walt Disney Pictures. He explained to Fast Company how he sees stars on the Net.

Hollywood has action heroes, romantic leading men, other kinds of stars. What about the Net?

I see three kinds of Net celebrities. First, you have niche stars — people who become experts in a field, create an appealing voice, and attract an audience of the people in that field who matter.

Then there are true cybercelebrities — people with millions of fans. This kind of Net stardom isn't all that different from stardom in TV or in other mass media. We're talking about personalities who get elevated to mass awareness through context and distribution. You need a popular show. It has to be about something with broad appeal. It has to be on at a good time.

The third set of stars are like cocktail-party hosts. They put up a homepage, use a Java applet, or get a small-scale ichat license, and create a community around their personality. Maybe a hundred people visit regularly, but it's a very important place for those hundred people.

People want to believe that the Net, unlike mass media, is all about content. How important is performance?

In each of these categories, the experience has to be fun. We're all in the fun business.

Some people distinguish between "personality" and "community." Do you?

Everyone tries to create community. You interact on a one-to-one basis with members. You provide a shared context in which people can interact. But that's why personality matters. Personalities create context. Gina Lee Nolan was a key person on our Love@AOL site; she was the host of Party Games. She attracts a certain kind of person, and those people like hanging out together. A community has formed around her personality.

Coordinates: chasfink@aol.com

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