Gawker Stalking In The Age Of “Following”

Gawker Stalker, the infamous celebrity-tracking Google Maps mashup, is back. But will it creep people out anymore? posted on

There was a time when people were afraid of Gawker Stalker. When the prospect of the internet knowing where a celebrity was mere hours after the fact, pinpointed on a Google Map, was a genuinely nervewracking thing. Which seems quaint (hours!), but that was in 2006, and in technology, the old “creepy” is the new normal.

Gawker got bigger, hungrier for more eyeballs, and Stalker faded from prominence a few years ago (more or less). In the meantime, things like Foursquare, Apple’s Find My Friends, Google Latitude, Color and Highlight happened — they made us all stalkers (and stalkees), all the time. Not of celebrities, but of and by our friends. And we weren’t seeing where someone was hours or even minutes after they’d been there, but in real time, or seconds later at the most.

Gawker Stalker is back today, part of A.J. Daulerio’s Gawker renaissance, and I very much love the fact that it is. It’s in much the same format as before: You report where you saw a celebrity, a Gawker intern updates the Google Map with a brief description of the celebrity and what they were doing wherever they were spotted (I assume no one paid in money spends their time updating it). So, for instance, Jake Gyllenhaal was spotted early today at La Colombe Torrefaction on Lafayette St. in SoHo. That was hours ago, though, so if you’re looking to make a sighting yourself, the information is less than directly actionable — which of course, is exactly why it’s somewhat silly for celebrities to complain about Gawker Stalker.

But in the face of all these things that have happened since the original iteration of Stalker, the bunches of services providing bunching of direct feeds showing us where everybody is, I wonder if something visceral and vital about Stalker’s old-school format isn’t lost, like when you pull out a Nintendo 64 and Mario Kart 64 for the first time in years because you remember just how good it was — then you turn it on and everything feels slow and hokey, somehow short of feeling of “classic,” because some technology doesn’t age very well. You know, lame.

So I wonder what a Gawker Stalker would need to look like today, in 2012, if it was really going to unnerve people and send those little creepy feelings down their twerpy spine, the way that the original did. Perhaps a real-time celebrity sighting iPhone app, like Highlight, but populated exclusively by the famous, semi-famous and pseudo-famous. Or a celebrity sighting photo app. Who would need paparazzi anymore? It needs to push boundaries to make people uncomfortable, and the boundaries have shifted — we’re way more comfortable today than we were in early 2006.

Disclosure: If for some reason you didn’t know, I worked at Gawker Media for like forever and like everybody there a whole lot.

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