Tag Archives: YouTube

Week 3: Ranking Tactics and Virtual Communities

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.


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Week 9: YouTube and Celebrity

A) Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269). Discuss giving an example of a YouTube video (embed it into post). 

There is much talk about how the Internet and new media have resulted in a “democratization of cultural production” (Grossman cited in Burgess & Green, 2009: 21) and the associated idea that it has allowed those with raw talent to permeate the world of media fame and success (Burgess and Green, 2009: 21).  Particularly, it is the rags-to-riches stories of YouTube users who have found celebrity via their amateur videos that have inspired many to assume that the clear distinction between the ordinary person and the celebrity is blurring (Burgess and Green, 2009: 22).

Many celebrities today have used YouTube to showcase their talent and creativity in attempt to gain fame and fortune without having to rely on the immensely powerful mass media. Ted Williams, who was homeless at the time the following video of himself was published on YouTube, is a unique example of someone trying to generate attention and profit from the video sharing website.

Williams originally was appealing for work as a radio presenter on the side of the road. A journalist recorded his voice, interviewed him, published it on YouTube, and generated millions of viewers within a short amount of time. His popularity on YouTube prompted numerous American television shows to interview him, which led to a plethora of job offers, one of which included a free house, and even a reunion with his mother, whom he had not seen for 20 years.

Following the huge popularity of his YouTube video and the number of job offers he received, newspapers headlines, such as “Homeless man with ‘God-given voice’ gets job offers thanks to YouTube”, were quick to appear. Though his story is quite unique, he was labelled an ordinary person made a star alongside the likes of Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, and Rebecca Black thanks to the video sharing website. However, it would be wrong to insinuate that it is entirely to YouTube’s credit that these people become celebrities, and that the site offers a path to fame that bypasses the mass media and empowers those with creative talent.

As Burgess and Green write, “when ordinary people become celebrities through their own creative efforts, there is no necessary transfer of media power: they remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (2009: 23). Their success and fame is measure by their exposure on older media; television shows, recording contracts, album releases. While Williams gained popularity due to YouTube, it was only through television coverage and the subsequent job offers that he became a ‘star’. The market of success “is measured not only by their online popularity but their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanism of old media” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). Though money can be made through advertising on YouTube, it, perhaps on a different scale, makes celebrities in much the same way as cafés do by hosting ‘open mic’ nights; it gives people a platform to draw attention to their talents and, ultimately, appeal to rather than bypass, the mass media.


Burgess, J. and J. Green, (2009), ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’, In YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press,  pp 15-37.

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Lawrence Lessig on Copyright and Creativity

YouTube has evolved as a medium for which we are able to interact which each other, our personal lives, our public lives, and, most prominently, pop culture. The examples Lessig use in the above video are quite extreme, however they manage to get his point across. YouTube is predominantly a space for creative output, for sharing videos. It is not (primarily) about making money. To not be able to film someone dancing to some music and post it on YouTube is not what copyright laws should be aiming for. We can only imagine if this moved to copyright laws not permitting musicians to cover songs and post them on YouTube, or not allowing guitarists to film a tutorial for how to play a song on the guitar, or denying individuals the right to create ‘How to look like so-and-so’ makeup tutorials. The mass media should not be promoting passivity among their audiences; though perhaps, in accordance to consumerism, they should be, for the sake of communication, discussion, and, most importantly, democracy, active interaction with pop culture is vital. When copyright works to stifle this, it is in the wrong.

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