Twitter celebrity makes about as much sense as regular celebrity: Most of the service's top users are by definition recognizable, but not necessarily good at tweeting. It doesn't feel fair; it's like we're all running in the same race, but they started three steps from the finish line. They've already got real fame. Can't they leave the Twitter fame for the rest of us?
That, in part, is the concept behind @fame. Here's how it works: Everyone who signs up for the game is essentially entering a raffle. Signing up gets you one ticket, and tweeting about the service gets you more. A raffle winner is selected every day at noon; whoever wins gets followed by every other player until the next winner is drawn. Then, the followers disappear. That player's 15 minutes of fame — or 24 hours, rather — is over. The system for accruing more tickets rewards sharing, and gives value to sticking around. The more you use Fame, the better your chances are relative to everyone else's. (Of course, the more players it gets, the worse everyone's chances are.)
It's a tidy critique of the Twitter celebrity complex: What has Kim Kardashian done for those 14,246,752 followers, really, other than win a seemingly randomized contest? What has she done to be famous at all? And why shouldn't we try to systematize the process?
But things won't get really interesting until the numbers start to grow, and the stakes get legitimately high. What happens when you give some schmuck a hundred thousand followers for the day? What happens when some teenager with 24 Twitter friends gets a million? What happens when someone who is legitimately fame-hungry wins a 25-million follower lottery? Fame will have worked when it makes someone's career, or when it causes a Jason-Russell-style meltdown.
Adam Ludwin, the young VC who came up with the game in his spare time (it was built by BigHuman), tells FWD that he doesn't just want Fame to give people a taste of Twitter celebrity, he eventually wants Fame winners to the be most popular users on Twitter. That means blowing by Lady Gaga, who's got more than 20m followers. It seems both crazy and completely possible, given how central narcissism is to the Twitter experience. Everyone who joins has thought about it — what if I wake up one morning with a hundred thousand followers? What would I do.
Of course this all hinges on Twitter, whose application interfaces Fame is using and whose leaderboards it could throw into chaos. But Ludwin says the company has been supportive, and that they're open to this kind of experimentation — assuming, of course, it doesn't devolve into spam. To put it another way, Twitter understands that their service is a service, but also something more: a contest.