YouTube: It’s Not About the Sharing

12 Aug ’06

Dvorak has an interesting article out about YouTube, puzzling over why the commentariat kvetches about one shortcoming or another, all the while not giving enough credit to its utility as a tool for sharing video. Fair point. But even so, I’ll kvetch about one more thing. I suspect that YouTube’s success isn’t really about “sharing”, at least not in the sense that term is used by most. Of course there’s a social network aspect to the site, and it has lots of web 2.0-y tools to use with its content. And of course it allows creators to make their content available – to share it – with viewers. But that’s just distribution with bells and whistles, and one might as well praise YouTube for being a video distribution site. Or perhaps for being a giant online petrie dish where a bewildering array of creative content engages in a grand media evolutionary experiment to figure out exactly what people want to watch.

But my sense is that, after you strip out the infringing content, what makes YouTube so powerful is that it has directly connected two powerful impulses – the urge to create and the urge to consume. Each would be nothing without the other – no audience will gather without the artist, and how empty it is to create in the dark. (Surely the same is true of blogging).

And so, what an extraordinary tool for creators! Announce yourself to the world – be an artist, be famous – be David Lean, be Andy Warhol, be Jack Nicholson, be Meryl Streep, be the Backstreet Boys – be anyone you want to be. YouTube provides the audience. And what a remarkable tool for consumers! Better than TV – you can watch what you want when you want, and then you can easily find more just like it. You can create a media channel designed for you personally.

Call it sharing, call it social networking, call it whatever. I still have my doubts about YouTube’s viability without all of those Zidane headbutt clips, or Daily Show / Colbert Report clips. But what makes YouTube so powerful is that it gives both creators and consumers exactly what they want. (Now imagine this delivered over a 100mbit pipe, and served up on a large screen TV.) Surely, crack for a media-obsessed culture.

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