Every day brings an avalanche of new ideas and novel creations to the web, from witty t-shirts and viral videos to innovative methods of collaboration and powerful new software. The creation of unique and interesting things is not new, but the current surge in individual creative activity and its subsequent high visibility on the web is unprecedented.

The most compelling of these creative products I have been referring to as The New Awesome, and they represent a tiny portion of the total creative output. Historically, the word "awesome" might have been used to describe the power of a tornado or the grandness of a majestic vista. Today, the word is more often used to qualify the ingenious or impressive products of personal creativity, such as using hairspray to launch a potato 200 yards, hosting a talk show in Halo 2, or mocking the Kansas school board’s ruling with an ingenious take on religion.

But there’s more to the New Awesome than merely creative flair. The most interesting and, well, awesome creative products seem to share some common characteristics:

  1. It is novel and non-obvious
    Nothing like it has really quite been done before. Whether a clever approach, an unforseen bending of the rules, or just a commitment to excellence far beyond the expected, the New Awesome never fails to evoke surprise and delight.
  2. It emerges from passion, without the prospect of audience or profit
    From the first encounter, it's clear that the creator felt compelled to make this. Recognition or revenue is icing on the cake.
  3. It is initially under the cultural radar
    The New Awesome invariably emerges from the depths of the long tail. While the creator might be previously known for their creations, your mom has never heard of them.
  4. It captures the essence of the medium, moment, or method
    For something to truly stand out in the sea of creativity, the creator needs to tap into something true and magical. Don't ask me to define it, because I can't. In the words of Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.
  5. It evokes passion, community, like-minded behavior, and the insatiable desire to pass along
    The New Awesome is meme fodder. From it springs a thousand remixes, knockoffs, spinouts, and analogs. People gather around the hem of awesome.

An interesting result of this creative surge is the rising importance of effective discovery and distribution of the best creative products. In other words, when there is a rising sea of mediocrity, how do we find and highlight the very best? Alas, this will have to be the subject of a future post.

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