April 06 2009

How well do you tube?

'Hi John, what did you do this weekend?'

'Not much - Friday night I stayed in, but on Saturday a friend was having a youtube party, so I had quite a late one.'

Not true.  No-one I know had a youtube party on Saturday, and the notion of a youtube party is not something you are expected to know about, but are actually not aware of because you can't keep up with the edgy new media vanguard.  However, it's a sentence which I think is closer to being a standard piece of conversation than you might think, and here is why.

A funny thing happened to me the other night.  I was having a drink at a friend's flat when someone mentioned a clip on youtube that they thought was funny .  Without a moment's hesitation a laptop was produced and we all sat down to watch it, oh how we laughed.  Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, you might say.  However, what (quite naturally) happened next was that someone else stifled their chuckles enough to suggest another video, which we all watched and laughed heartily (again).  This went on for a good half hour, until we all got a little embarrassed and decided to stop being so damned geeky. 

Half an hour.  Isn't that quite a lot?

I don't expect this kind of an encounter is a rare occurrence.  It's certainly happened to me a good couple of times and I imagine 80% of the student population does it all the time.  But if you think about it, prolonged, communal youtubery is quite an interesting phenomenon, for 2 reasons:  1, it brings an element of  face to face social interaction to the medium which I'm not sure the people who hailed the revolution of web 2.0 ever really meant.  2, this face to face interaction brings with it a whole set of intriguing social rules and dynamics.

Let me elaborate point 1.  Web 2.0 was (is?)  all about (among other things) people easily creating and sharing content with one another, with the web providing a means by which to do so.  People thought it was great that a guy from Uruguay could make a video about knitting which could be viewed, responded to and commented on by my grandma in Poland, or a janitor in Delaware, or the Queen.  It introduced openness of communication.  But what it also did was introduce content that could be discussed and shared in a personal context, not just by people firing off links at each other down the information superhighway, but shown to one another after dinner, whilst you're getting ready for a night out, pointed at whilst crowding around a monitor in the office.  It provided content people could physically take someone by the hand and show to them, which is an altogether different thing.

Which leads to point 2.  For years marketing gurus have been mindful of the fact that you are much more likely to buy something if it's recommended by a friend.  In focus groups we've run here at Online, we've heard that it's important to someone sharing a link to something on the internet that they preserve some kind of  reputation.  If you post lots of trash on your friends' walls you exhibit a certain lack of credibility that is not insignificant.  This kind of thing manifests itself wonderfully if you bring it into a face to face group dynamic.  Picture the scene: my friends and I have worked ourselves into a cheerful youtube frenzy via a string of  Japanese TV shows, childhood nostalgiadramatic rodents, and Hungarian rappers.  Then someone enthusiastically types in a link to this.  The group tries to get into it, but it's a slow starter, and they fall into an awkward silence.  Energy drops.  Suggester tries to pick it back up with this one, but it's worse.  Mumbles excuses.  Gets coat.

Similarly you musn't over share.  You've got to let everyone in the audience have their say, otherwise they feel left out.  You can get the youtube samaritans, who in the face of their friend's poorly chosen pat them on the shoulder and reassure them that it was funny, really.  Picking a youtube video to share with people in this context requires a judgement of mood and possession / lack of sense of humour.  You need to deal with those maladroit 'Hang on, we need to wait for it to load' moments. You need to be sensitive to what certain people might find impressive, and what leaves them utterly nonplussed.  You need to be consider whether they've just had their lunch.

I'll be the first to admit that it's possible to over-analyse this.  But in thinking about how these technologies are changing communication we mustn't neglect the possibility that it opens up new ways to interact with the person next to you, not just the Delaware janitor thousands of miles away.  Of course all of these communal internet encounters ('social surf sessions', if you will) occur as afterthoughts to what you or I might call 'normal' social situations - people just fall into them.  But 5 years ago no-one could possibly have imagined the way in which youtube wanders into our everyday exchanges now.  5 years hence?  Get your party invitations ready.

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  • [...] technology also provides delightfully new face to face social encounters &#8211; like that of communal youtubing, for instance.  I&#8221;ll grant that Shaun was simply recommending caution (he himself admits [...]

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