Today the world’s second most popular search engine is a video-sharing website, YouTube, which functions on the slogan it has had since its founding “Broadcast Yourself”. What can the ideas behind this slogan and the popularity of YouTube tell us about the role that communities and collaboration perform on the Internet?
YouTube was founded in 2005 and has grown to be the number-one video sharing site in the world. According to YouTube’s statistics page, “about 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute, there are more than 1 billion unique visitors each month,” and since the launch of the YouTube Partner Program in 2007, “thousands of channels are making six figures a year.” YouTube is a key player in the realm of digital labor and is often criticized for not paying members of its Partner Program enough for the content they produce. But this criticism does not come from the people producing the content, but rather those outside of the YouTube community. Why do members of the YouTube Partner Program not mind being exploited for their digital labor? What forces are acting in this relationship that allows YouTube to continue paying a majority of its partners a measly $10?
I came across a very interesting study by Eileen Fischer and Brenda Gainer of York University and Julia Bristor of the University of Houston that might provide some answers to these questions. In their paper titled, Creating or Escaping Community?: An Exploration Study of Internet Consumers’ Behaviors, they explore the idea that communities are formed through consumption. “...the internet is increasingly a marketplace where virtually anything could be bought or sold. Thus, the internet is not merely a commodity around which consumption communities may form; it is also a means through which consumption communities centered on other goods and services may be established and developed.” It is through this principle which YouTube acts as a platform for creating communities. The video content produced by YouTubers is “sold” by being posted to the site and “bought” by viewers watching it. When fans are created, communities are created; especially around channels.
A community created around a YouTube channel is different from a community created around other forms of media, such as the fans of a Television show, for one very important reason: YouTube channels are interactive. YouTube’s own instruction section titled “Build Your Community” says “Online video is social. People are drawn to online video and web series because they can interact with the channel in ways that they can’t with television. The ability for creators to interact with their viewers is key to the medium.” In a successful YouTube community, fans often drive the content. Back to the Consumption Community essay, fans and creators of YouTube channels ignore their exploitation because of the creation of community. Although the formation of online communities can be seen as a form of digital labor, we don’t associate our actions with the act of being bought and sold because there is an emotional bond masking the economics. “First, we anticipated that links exhibited between members of an internet group would vary considerably, ranging from common bond through to strong tie. Second, we anticipated that the resources shared would include both information and emotional support. Third we believed that there would be some evidence that members shared a sense of identity with and/or belonging to others who participated in the group.”
Our2ndLife demonstrates all three of these proposed points by Fischer, Gainer, and Bristor. The members of O2L share their personal lives with their subscribers who feel an emotional support by having knowledge of these boys lives. Take this quote from a fan when asked why she likes O2L.
These boys have achieved internet fame through the creation of a community based on the consumption of their personalities. But what differentiates them from the millions of other personalities on YouTube? Why are they the hottest commodity on the market? These are questions that I plan to explore in the next part of my series.