Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Making Sense of Youtube

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

Making Sense of Youtube

Article excerpt


Drawing on the literature of digital culture and new media studies the author offers a statement of original intent: the theorization of Youtube. Using broad strokes the paper conceptualizes Youtube through a number of prisms: Architecture, Use, and Impact along with developing a Genre analysis of its stories. Extended endnotes provide examples and additional theoretical embedding.


This essay began with a simple question: How does one make sense of Youtube? There is no reliable "sample" of videos on Youtube; no easily identifiable ways to determine it's dominant thematics; no way to evaluate "quality"; no benchmarks for establishment of impact (beyond the questionable number of times a video has been watched), no seminal literature. For all purposes, it appears to be a new kind of media animal with rules that are weekly emergent. It challenges traditional relations between consumer and creator (Anybody can upload a video on Youtube) and begs the evaluative question-Who does Youtube serve?

This essay emerged from a five-year projecti and offers a theory for deconstructing the textual universe of Youtube videos and the participatory culture that surrounds each video. It draws sustenance from an elemental truth-that storytelling is at the heart of all media. As the sociologist David Silverman puts it, "all we have are stories. Some come from other people, some from us. What matters is to understand how and where the stories are produced, what sort of stories they are, and how we can put them to intelligent use in theorizing about social life" (1998: 111).

Locating Youtube

So what is Youtube? Youtube may be many things-a platform, an archive, a library, a laboratory, a medium (Snickar & Vonderau, 2009, 13). It may be a form of "complex parasitical media" (Mitchem, 2008) or "networked individualism" (Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 2002, 34) but I see it as a modern-day bard (Hartley, 2009), a storyteller for the digital age (Ryan, 2006), a provider of modern day myths (Mosco, 2005) all rolled into one. It needs to be emphasized that the stories on Youtube cannot be separated from the story of Youtube. From the mythology of its birth, to its acquisition by Google, to it being the poster child (and first destination) for consumer generated content. I suggest that we see Youtube as much more than a website it is a key element in the way we think about our online experience and (shared) digital culture. As Uricchio puts it, "Youtube stands as an important site for cultural aggregation...the site as a totality where variously sized videos, commentaries, tools, tracking devices and logics of heirarchization all combine into a dynamic seamless whole" (2009, 24) While the industry narrative on Youtube grows daily with news coverage about the latest applications, and self-help books on the subject (Lastufka and Dean, 2008; Miller, 2007; Jarboe and Reider, 2009), the academic literature on the subject is just emerging (Burgess and Green, 2009; Snickars and Vonderau, 2009; Lovnick and Niederer, 2008;Lange, 2007, and Strangelove, 2010). Whose stories are being told on Youtube? Burgess and Green's (2009) survey of video sources on Youtube found that user generated videos made up a little more than half of all videos in their sample. Their study while an important first step does not address issues of content a question that only a content analysis of all Youtube videos can answer (or a reliable sample of these videos). In the absence of such a study, another way to approach this question is to examine a sample of the most popular videos every week and see what thematic might connect them. The author's study found that the most commonly occurring videos (especially those that are most viewed, most favorited, most responded, most discussed) could be most broadly categorized as dealing with "youth/popular culture." Even the most casual user of Youtube will recognize that many videos reflect popular culture elements of interest to young people. …

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