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Friday, October 24, 2008

iTube or why 23,000 people care why Justine just ate a cookie

video Watch iJustine’s cheeseburger and iPhone bill videos.

Twenty-four-year-old Justine Ezarik, who goes by the moniker "iJustine," is bouncing around on my computer screen in a pink tank top and black bra, her platinum hair--ordinarily perfectly straight-- increasingly mussed as she works herself into a frenzy about something. I have turned my computer's sound off, so I don't know what's making her widen her heavily made-up eyes, flail her head from side to side, and fix the camera with an open-mouthed pout. My boyfriend glances at my screen as he walks by--and stops in his tracks and watches.

"When is she going to take her top off?" he says after a minute.

A few days later, on the phone from her new home in L.A., Ezarik tells me that women who work "in technology" are at a disadvantage: "People don't want to take us seriously." Her chirpy voice is familiar from the video (which turned out to be about a frustrating exchange with a prissy waiter who tried to steer her away from ordering a cheeseburger). "Like, speaking on ­panels, people don't want to take you seriously. I've been in technology all my life. Like, I was the only girl in my computer science classes in high school. That's why a lot of younger girls look up to me now, because they want to do this stuff and use it to its full potential."

By "this stuff," Ezarik means video blogging about gadgets and social-networking sites, not widening your eyes and yelping with delight and making sure your cleavage is in frame. But you'd have to be even wider-eyed than iJustine to believe that those latter skills, impediments to being taken seriously on panels though they may be, haven't contributed to stardom in new media.

For iJustine is a star: a week after that cheeseburger video was posted, it had been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube. That's nothing compared with the more than 1,336,000 views generated by the most famous of her 168 YouTube videos, "iPhone bill." (In iJustine's masterwork, which like most of her oeuvre takes a little over a minute to consume, she simply flips through her hefty 300-page phone bill, exasperated.) Her channel on the two-year-old user-generated-video site, where for six months she wore camera equipment and "lifecast" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is still one of that site's most popular.

Ezarik is one of a new breed of completely self-constructed celebrities. Like my friend Julia Allison, whose online self-­promotion recently landed her on the cover of Wired, she is a Web 2.0 version of the American everygirls with bleached teeth and fake tans who have enjoyed reality-show notoriety for a decade. But Ezarik didn't wait around for a reality show to cast her: she trained the camera on herself, controlling every aspect of how she was portrayed. And while her shtick is that she's just putting quotidian stuff online, she's actually as invested as a reality-show producer in shaping and policing a brand. "I feel like iJustine has become sort of like this character," she explains. "It's not like I don't drink or go out and do stuff, but I won't drink on camera, and if I swear I'll bleep it out. I really try to keep it clean. I kind of think if my grandmother won't like it I won't do it, 'cause she's proba­bly one of my biggest fans."