September 05 2008

Dear Diary…

Posted by matt in Blogging, Culture, Web 2.0

In an interesting development last week, video sharing site Veoh left court relieved having successfully fought off copyright-related allegations. The victory could be good news for Youtube who are in the midst of a similar copyright battle themselves.

In response to Veoh’s victory, Youtube commented that they too ‘go above and beyond the law to protect content owners whilst empowering people to communicate and share their experiences online’. Whilst this immediately sounds like philosophical spin, I think it is important to look a little deeper at the ‘power’ and impact of Youtube.

Browsing the blogs I stumbled across Anthropologist bigwig Dr Michael Wesch who has been singing Youtube’s praises from the rooftops, or the digital soapbox, studying in depth the value of the virtual community. Most can appreciate Youtube on an everyday basis but what I found interesting about this guy was his determination to investigate the ethics and implications of the website. Who’d have thought there was more to it than Star Wars kid?!

Wesch’s research stems from his ‘participant observation’ methodology by which he submerges himself in social, cultural or occupational practices so as to gain a fully fledged understanding of them. It is this kind of strategy that journalist Louis Theroux is famed for, most recently entangling himself in the cosmetic surgery industry.

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Louis Theroux goes ‘Under the Knife’

I enjoyed watching Wesch as he quirkily attempted to become a ‘youtuber’ in the same way that Louis Theroux gives you an access all areas pass on his ‘weird weekends’. I didn’t even have to leave my desk (not that I would have had to, ironically!).

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Wesch serves up some great food for thought about the influence of Web 2.0, it made me think about the impact it has had on so many lives worldwide. Essentially:

Change in media and technology = change in human relations = change to lifestyle

My favourite illustration of Wesch’s was his likening of Youtube to the fall of the corner grocery store at the hands of the supermarket juggernauts. This honest observation illuminates man’s need for community, relationships and authenticity whilst we strive in the modern world for individualism, independence and commercialisation – a sad and complex tension. I think Wesch is strangely right when he says that Youtube bridges this gap because it is a community of individuals.

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This community means that the vlog can potentially be viewed by millions of people. The strange thing is that in reality a vlogger is actually alone addressing a single camera, exposing their thoughts and feelings to an unknown mass of other users. There is certainly something disconcertingly Orwellian about this invisible audience. Despite this, the vlog has liberated people worldwide; ‘Hi Youtube’, a common opening to entries, has become our modern day ‘dear diary’.

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Wesch’s discussion of hyper self-awareness praises the ‘diary-room’ setup for providing self-examination as well as the freedom (because of physical distance) to openly engage in dialogues with other users. Debate ranges from grappling with the finer details of Britney Spears’ breakdown to political rants! From the weird and the wonderful to the sober and the serious, 9232 hours of video is broadcasted on Youtube every day. In the last six months, Youtube has produced more than the 1.5 million hours of programming cobbled together over 60 years by the three major US television networks. What is incredible is that 88% of it all is new and original material. The world of vlogging has had an enormous impact upon this.

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‘Leave Britney Alone!’ cries vlogger Chris Crocker

Evidently pressure mounts on Youtube and friends to tighten their leash on the user-upload/copyright chimera. The threat posed to this innovative environment by a $3 Billion lawsuit could be catastrophic, but with Veoh off the hook users are now optimistic about the website’s future.

Do, if you have time, check out Dr Wesch’s video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU

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