Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Tube, You Tube, We all Tube for YouTube

At this point, I’m sure almost everyone between the ages of 13 and 35 has seen the insanely popular music video Here it Goes Again by OK Go. And the Crying Britney Fan. And Ninja Kitty. And countless other inane yet admittedly amusing videos that owe their fame—or infamy—to the ever-popular YouTube.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, YouTube is something of an Internet phenomenon. The video sharing website jumped into the cyber-scene in 2005 when three former
PayPal employees, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim founded the site. By 2006, with its popularity growing by leaps and bounds, Google acquired YouTube for US$1.65 billion.

The site’s popularity is hardly surprising when we consider two important facets of human nature:
  1. the desire for social interaction; and

  2. the desire to gain recognition by making an utter ass of oneself in front of an international audience.
But perhaps more important is what we can learn about ourselves as individuals through YouTube.

First, the site allows anyone anywhere to see playlists that you have made. The wackiest, most disturbing video you only added because someone dared you to is part of your online identity by virtue of the fact that your playlists are public knowledge. This not only tells others that you have interesting taste, but it also tells you that you have a propensity to be swayed by others. YouTube is sort of like
Facebook, then, since what you post can be affected by others’s perceptions and influences.

Second, YouTube taps into the desire for social interaction by allowing comments and giving users the ability to have “friends”—other YouTube users with profiles on the site. The number and type of these friends may indicate a friendly disposition, low self-esteem, the tendency to associate only with a certain type and many other aspects of identity. The ability to comment on videos adds an aspect of interactivity to the site as well as allowing users to create a persona through the choice of which videos they comment on and how they construct these comments. In this way, YouTube is like a chat room where the language you use says as much about your identity as the topic discussed.

YouTube also brings up issues of popularity. The number of views and favourites that a video receives goes a long way in manufacturing popularity. People are simply more likely to watch a video that many other people have watched, since the number of views seems to translate to an increased popularity. We can say that YouTube profiles are a bit like blogs, since the authority of the user often depends on others’ perception of what you say and what you like.
YouTube boasts many other features with diverse effects on cyber identities. While these are only a few, it gives us a good place to start when it comes to analysing such a complex medium. If YouTube is like Facebook, a chat room and a blog, all rolled into one, perhaps its success lies in its ability to combine aspects of other popular media and bring them all together in one friendly, easy to use service.

Or maybe it’s the appeal of sitting back and enjoying the show. With 200,000 of your closest friends.

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