While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?
The emergence of Web 2.0 and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and WordPress has prompted many to discuss the impact of social interaction online upon traditional societies and social structures. The rise of virtual communities, communities based on shared interests via the Internet rather than geographical location, is often associated with a “move increasingly towards the creation of a global virtual society, which optimistically promises unlimited/uninterrupted democratic freedom of speech and self-expression, as well as the general revision and revival of the so-called public sphere” (Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41). While it is completely idealistic to say that they promise “unlimited democratic freedom of speech and self-expression”, it is often thought that those interacting and participating online promote cultural citizenship by being more involved in and aware of a global society (van Dijck, 2009: 44). However, it is much less straight forward than this.
Popular video sharing website YouTube is one website claiming to be for the sake of online communities. “It is your community! Each and every user of YouTube makes the site what it is, so don’t be afraid to dig in and get involved!”, the site claims. Though, YouTube is less passive than this implies. The website’s interface displays collections of videos suggested for certain genres, with links taking you to pages dedicated to comprehensively informing you of what is popular and ‘top of the charts’ regarding, say, music videos. Further, YouTube have created their own blog in order to update you on the latest trends for YouTube videos and search patterns.
Another example of a website that works to create a user generated content community is radio station Triple J’s Unearthed site. It states that it is “a music community open to musicians and public alike”, which allows unsigned artists to “upload and share their best tracks … with the ever growing community of music fans”. Its homepage, though, offers similar structures to that of YouTube, by presenting featured music and artist spotlights, alongside a selection of reviews, a list of recent uploads, and a chart listing the top 5 songs on the website.
The interfaces and, particularly, the ranking systems that these sites use play a role in “maneuvering individual users and communities” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). They are understandable; websites such as YouTube need to inspire any passive users they attract for financial reasons. Though they are an element of user generated content (UGC) websites that are not entirely considered when it is claimed that “new networked technologies lead to enhanced involvement of recipients as well as to active cultural citizenship” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). This assertion is generalized; there are many different variables, a significant one being ranking tactics, which aim to shape and mould the formation of online communities. Claims that an idealistic public sphere, a “citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network” (Rheingold cited in Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41), will inevitably be formed are premature; sites like YouTube have some degree power in forming these communities and controlling them. Though it is not obvious, ranking systems often direct us to forming communities on their basis and, therefore, sites controlling these systems have control over the creation of such networks.
van Dijck, J. (2009), ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, in Media, Culture and Society, vol. 31 no. 1, pp 41-58.
Koskinas, K. and C. Tsekeris (2011), ‘General Reflections on Virtual Communities Research’, in China Media Research, vol. 7 no. 1, pp 39-47.