This paper discusses the impact of the YouTube platform and how its social aspects have assisted in the forming of flourishing communities of collective interests. This facet and the social networking qualities of the platform have attributed to the expansion of many channels, including journalists and enthusiasts of new technologies, whilst expanding the ability them to reach an audience in a creative, timely and interactive manner.
Keywords: YouTube, communities, influencers, tech community, video sharing, social, web 2.0
The Google owned YouTube is the second most visited website globally, after Google’s search page itself. “Founded by former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, YouTube’s website was officially launched with little public fanfare in June 2005” (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 14). “Social networking sites [are] web-based services that allow individuals to construct a public or semi-public profile [and] articulate and interact with a list of other users with whom they share a connection” (boyd, 2007, p. 210). YouTube certainly does not fit perfectly into the standard picture of a social networking site in which a user utilises the platform’s features to connect with existing friends, through maintaining a friend list and posting updates and images on a regular basis. Yet many of its features have social aspects at their core, although a vast number of users would be deemed more a lurker, or in this case a consumer, as they might not contribute to the video content, more likely just comments on those videos viewed. More of a community base than a network, YouTube has a strong social impact on the way users create, consume and share media with the public. Being the largest worldwide video hosting website, collaborative innovation over geographically distant individuals has been possible, as well as some videos increasing awareness of social issues and overcome stereotyping of minorities. YouTube stands out compared to other video sharing platforms as it has become an important visual journalism platform and since copyrighted materials cannot be uploaded, you can be quite sure that the content you watch is unique. The community and audience are far larger than any competing video sharing platform, such as Vimeo and Metacafe and the content is broader than the likes of Twitch, a video streaming service. YouTube is also treated as a search engine, as with its huge catalogue of content, there is almost guaranteed to find an answer in one form or another. These factors assist in differentiating YouTube from its competition. The communities formed through YouTube are a big factor in how it has become and remained so relevant as a video sharing platform. The aspect of the community base is that of many shared identities around topics that represent a collective intention or interest. This is different to a network which refers to the relationships between participants, with personal interactions and linkages of user nodes.
YouTube has become a great platform for video blogging and has been an easily accessible evolution for many bloggers and reviewers. In these ways, YouTube has expanded the ability for tech enthusiasts and journalists, to reach an audience in a creative and interactive manner.
SOCIAL ASPECTS AND THE YOUTUBE COMMUNITY
The social aspects of YouTube at first glance aren’t as in depth as other social networking services (SNS). Burgess and Green (2018) reflect that YouTube’s “original purpose was, on the surface, a technological rather than a cultural one” (p. 14). YouTube has evolved over its many years to accommodate a wide community base spanning every topic and genre you could imagine. At its core, YouTube was designed to enable “people to upload, publish, and view streaming videos without much technical knowledge, using standard web browsers and modest Internet speeds” (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 14). This ability quickly enticed users to create and upload video to share to the world or directly to others. YouTube membership is optional but with it users have the ability to subscribe to Channels, post comments on videos, join channel memberships for extra perks and have a curated list of content delivered to the user based on activity and subscriptions. YouTubers, the content creators enlisted in the Partner Program, can and often do interact with users in the comments section, particularly during live broadcasts in which the chat is also live. The channel memberships can award those paying users with live chat badges and emoji to stand out during the live broadcasts when commenting. Other perks include merchandise discounts, in depth insider knowledge on the channel, exclusive content, and a greater influence on future projects through suggestions or polls. boyd (2007) states that “most SNSs require bi-directional confirmation for Friendship, but some do not. These one-directional ties are sometimes labeled as ‘‘Fans’’ or ‘‘Followers’’” (p. 213). YouTube fits into this category, in the sense that the subscribers of a YouTube channel can be thought of as followers. “Some YouTube content creators understand and discursively represent themselves as ‘YouTubers’, and as part of a YouTube community. For these users, YouTube works not only as a content delivery platform, but also as a social media platform” (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 77). A Trending section on the YouTube main page allows the user to view what videos are trending globally based on current views around the world, with more specific filters for music, gaming, news, films and fashion and beauty. These specific filters are the more common, popular community bases for YouTube, yet there are many more including the tech enthusiast community.
“For members of a YouTube (www.youtube.com) community, ‘publicly private’ (private behaviors, exhibited with the member’s true identity) and ‘privately public’ (sharing publicly accessible video without disclosing member’s true identity) behaviors were employed to signal different depths of relationships and communicate empathy, respect or inclusion among members of the network. (Lange (2007), as cited in Papacharissi, 2009, p. 202)
Channels based solely on items of technology can focus their efforts on reviews of products and first impressions, unboxings, demonstrations and entertainment using new and existing products or concepts. Burgess and Green (2018) state that “over the past decade, lucrative but precarious careers have been built on just these kinds of carefully produced and platform-specific cultural forms and practices” (p. 35). Channels such as LinusTechTips, Marques Brownlee and Unbox Therapy have amassed huge followings by doing these such things. YouTubers have become an important source of information and entertainment for the millennial generation for news, education and entertainment. These tech YouTubers are a small portion of the YouTube traffic, yet significant to the point of appearing on the trending lists from time to time. As such, they tend to be a tight knit community, often referencing other tech presenters in their videos. Furthering this, collaborations are commonplace, with the intention of introducing viewers and in turn subscribers to each other’s channels. It can be difficult for creators to get a foot hold on YouTube, with its 500+ hours of content being uploaded every minute, so the tech community tends to work together in this sharing and collaboration, as well as encouraging the viewers to subscribe and turn on notifications so videos uploaded won’t be missed by subscribers. The uploads and channels of these tech YouTubers are also linked with their other social networking services and vice versa to ensure a viewer may invest and follow updates from each platform provided.
[YouTube] connects with surrounding social and cultural networks, and users embedded within these networks move their content and their identities back and forth between multiple platforms. YouTube has never functioned as a closed system, from the beginning providing tools to embed content on other websites like blogs. By 2017, professional social media influencers or entertainers were operating in a dynamic, real-time, and cross-platform environment. (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 81)
The social aspect of YouTube is vast, yet many common social network features are not present when compared to those such as Facebook and Twitter. To keep themselves relevant between uploads, or to avoid being missed through the torrents of content being uploaded and the YouTube algorithm, these tech-based YouTubers often complement their channels with links to their other social media networks such as Twitter, Instagram and forums or chat platforms such as Discord. LinusTechTips have all the above, including their own in-house forum which is hosted on their own server.
These social media services provide alternative means of receiving updates and communication for the supporters and community as a whole. Where YouTube fills the desire for video from amateur to professional content and everything in between, it is limited in its social functions and creators are forced to look to other platforms as mentioned above to keep the fanbase interactive and their content relevant and accessible to the viewers. “The YouTubers’ community-building activities take place within an architecture that, while it embedded social networking features, was not primarily designed for collaborative or collective production” (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 80).
STRENGTHS AND SHORTCOMINGS
Where YouTube really does shine in the social aspect, particularly for these tech content providers, is in producing reviews for recent products, first impressions videos and unboxings. The video medium is perfect for these as the viewer isn’t just limited to a quick write up and some photos, but instead they can see the small intricacies and from multiple aspects, particularly as anyone has the ability to upload their own relevant experiences. Another incredibly ideal genre for video is that of a user guide. Step by step instructions for things such as building a desktop PC, troubleshooting, or following along with screen recordings. Less of an issue with YouTube is that of privacy concerns. Considering that many users will be registered for YouTube with their Google account, it could be of comfort or concern. Users might find comfort that Google is one of the largest, broadest and most competent technology companies in the world, hence would be unlikely of a leak or hack. That being said, a lot of data is being fed through their systems and users may be concerned with the level of information Google would have on each user, particularly if an attack or leak were to take place. Due to the fact that the majority of users do not upload a single video, then there may not be anything to be concerned about besides content consumption preferences. Compared to Facebook, with a history of privacy issues and the quizzically large amount of data they hold on each user, YouTube is certainly less of a concern. A bigger issue that privacy for YouTube are those of censorship and filtering, and copyright and licensing. There is a set of guidelines that YouTube implements, designed to reduce people abusing the sites features of uploading and consuming video. Content that would be deemed prohibited include sexually explicit content, shock videos, animal abuse, hate speech and predatory behaviour among others. Algorithms are designed to recognize and flag this material for internal review. Users also have the ability to manually report videos if they deem the content to break any of the set guidelines. Users can also report copyright infringements if they haven’t been picked up by the ever-improving algorithms set in place to avoid copyrighted material from being redistributed without the owner’s consent.
SPONSORSHIPS AND REVENUE
The vast majority of content on YouTube is free to watch and ad supported. The primary source of revenue for the service is that of advertisements, amassing USD$15.1 billion in 2019. YouTube launched its Partner Program in April of 2007 “which allows creators to share in advertising revenue generated by views on their videos” (Burgess and Green, 2018, p. 52). YouTubers are eligible to join this partner program by having more than 1000 subscribers and more than 4000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months, among other requirements. In this case, typically 55 percent of the ad revenue of a particular video will go to the uploader. Many a tech YouTuber, or in some cases, companies, earn their revenue through making content for the site. Most of these creators couldn’t survive entirely off this ad revenue and so offer merchandise for sale, the choice to join their channel membership as mentioned earlier, joining external Patreon pages, and the most common, through sponsorships. Tech YouTubers will generally have sponsors related to the product they are demonstrating, or a more general sponsor related to their field of interest. These sponsorship spots are mentioned during the video and YouTube policy is to ensure that sponsors are made very clear so as dissuade biased reviews. The products and concepts utilised within these tech videos often inspire or passively encourage viewers to consider or follow through with a purchase themselves. This is particularly true of reviews, in which a channel known for unbiased honesty belays a level of trust and appreciation of the content creator. It creates a go-to mindset in which users continue to consume regularly of these channels, with the level of confidence that these tech YouTubers are producing content to assist and entertain them. A regularity of uploads, particularly from a few times a week to once a day assists in creating a habit of the viewer. That the viewer may anticipate viewing the next chapter of a vlog or next product reveal. In 2017, the average viewer watches more than an hour each day on mobile.
Many users of YouTube will not actively take part in the two-way communication that is available in each video’s comments. Even less so will they create their own personal content to share to the world. As Burgess and Green (2018) states, “participation in YouTube takes many different forms, from casual viewing, to binge-watching, to fandom, through to highly invested and intensive participation as a content creator” (p. 77). These watchers come to visit YouTube in what might be considered a selfish manner. Yet through the simple act of subscribing to their channels of interest and regularly checking in with their favourite YouTubers on a semi-regular basis, they are inherently taking part in a larger community, guided by their interests. “As the social media and user-generated content phenomena grew, websites focused on media sharing began implementing SNS features and becoming SNSs themselves” (boyd, 2007, p. 216). YouTube has evolved into an ideal medium in which the tech community can learn, share and entertain. Particularly for the millennial generation, for both creation and consumption of media.
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