videocracy book
Book Review

Videocracy: Forms of Collaboration on YouTube

I recently read the book Videocracy. There was so much rich stuff in there about collaboration. Here are some of the things I learned and thoughts I had while reading this book.


Videocracy: About the Book

First I’ll tell you a little bit about the book Videocracy. It is all about YouTube trends. The head of the company’s “Culture and Trends” department is the author. Naturally, he has a lot of interesting insight into video watching trends. I think there’s some bias on his part to see YouTube as a mostly great thing. However, in spite of that there’s tons of interesting information in the book.

I’m currently working on a book about Internet Addiction. So, I picked this book up because of the “we can’t stop watching” part of the tagline. I found a little bit helpful in the book towards that end. However, mostly I learned a lot of really fascinating things about the world of YouTube.

First, I have to confess that I don’t watch YouTube much. I mean I certainly see things on it now and then, of course. But I’m not an avid watcher, don’t subscribe to channels; it’s just not my preferred medium. The book definitely made me more intrigued about its potential – in particular, the potential for collaboration with others that it offers.

So I’m drawing from this book to share some thoughts on that … thoughts about how the medium itself is collaborative, how people collaborate through it and what some interesting collaborative projects are that have come out of it.

Viewers Choose the Content that Succeeds

One of the key points that the author makes in the book is that what makes YouTube unique in comparison to other forms of media is that the people watching the videos have all of the power to determine what content succeeds and what doesn’t.

Traditional media before Internet videos produced a limit amount and type of content. There were only a certain number of TV channels and film companies. It cost a lot of money to produce that content so creators erred on the side of appealing to the mainstream. With YouTube, anyone can create anything at a low cost; the people who find and follow the videos and share them and promote them are the ones that determine success.

The author makes this point in many ways, highlighting how various viral videos seemed to come out of nowhere but caught on at just the right time because the people sharing the work propelled it forward.

My experience working in online media says that this isn’t 100% accurate. Companies, including content creators and the writers of blogs sharing content, implement a whole range different tools to get eyes on their content. There are tricks to attract an audience. And increasingly brands and companies have their own YouTube channels that people turn to instead of seeking out indie content producers.

That said, there is a lot of truth to the the fact that anyone can create something new. They can put it on a site like YouTube. There’s potential for people to see this work that wouldn’t see it any other way. Each time that you like a video or comment on it or share it, you’re becoming a part of that community.

As viewers and people using social media, we actually do have a lot more power than we think. I tend to be someone who doesn’t love social media and I don’t share links often but thinking about this has made me realize that we have a responsibility to highlight the content we find truly valuable. We can collaborate with society as a whole to spread the information we find important and to NOT share the content we don’t find valuable. This is powerful beyond belief!!!

The book goes on later to talk about amazing political movements that have been altered because of YouTube and viral sharing. Arab Spring is always a popular example of how on-the-ground reporting allowed the whole world to see what was happening quickly and powerfully thanks to Twitter. People called Obama “The YouTube President,” as another example of how this medium has become important in our society.

So, think about what media you choose to consume. Think about how you interact with it. Think about how you collaborate to enhance, support, share, spread or alternately quiet and dismiss it.

Videos of Videos of Videos

nyan cat

One thing that I found to be super interesting in this book was the author’s exploration of different viral trends where spinoffs of videos become as popular, or more popular, than the original content.

For example, the popular Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know” gained significant traffic after a remake by a musician named Luminati was spotted by a blog. Numerous different versions of this song / video were created and shared. Then Gotye did a video mash-up of all of the most popular covers of the song called “Somebodies: A YouTube Orchestra”.

Or there’s Nyan Cat. Do you know what it looks like? I do and I didn’t even really know anything else about it. Turns out the cat was a drawing made by artist Chris Torres as part of a live drawing event. The drawing was suggested by the audience and Chris drew it (collaboration!) then he later posted it as an animated image. A fan passed it on to a blog that spread it to other blogs (collaboration!)

A woman named Sara Reihani was interested in playing with a new music genre called Vocaloid and she took a song she liked from it (Nyanyanyan …), paired it with the animated loop of the cat drawing, and created a video. The video went viral. And then many, many, many other people started creating their versions of Nyan Cat. The image became an Internet symbol so strong that YouTube named one of the rooms in its headquarters after it.

Author Alloca writes,

“Remix art like Nyan Cat challenged the assumption I’d grown up with: that art and entertainment were thoughtfully considered collaborations from teams of professionals. This was instead pop culture created by a group of disparate individuals working independently yet, somehow, together.”

He goes on to say that thousands of people went in to creating this “emblem of the Internet”.

It’s so interesting to think about collaboration in this way – a combination of intentional and unintentional collaboration, a combination of people choosing to collaborate and people who just take inspiration from one another. It’s interesting to think about all of the cover songs, parodies, fan videos and various versions of how a video becomes something other than it originally was and how prevalent this actually is on YouTube and how at some level it reflects how amazingly interconnected we all are while at the same time allowing us to express ourselves uniquely.

Examples of YouTube Collaborations

star wars uncut

True collaboration means that people sit down with an intention to work together, to combine their skills and to create something new, hopefully something better than the sum of the parts. Here are some examples from the book about collaborations like this …

The Gregory Brothers

are three brothers plus the wife of one of them and what they do is combine music, video and comedy. They started out as a more traditional touring band but Michael was particularly interested in video and in 2008 made a comedy video about the presidential campaign. The rest of the group joined in after the first one to make a song; they write and perform the song and green screened in the presidential debaters.

The result is Auto-Tune the News, which goes beyond the presidential debates to all news. They collaborate with one another and use the medium of the news and the tool of AutoTune to create videos that people love. It’s a sound that has become familiar to many people even if they don’t recognize where it comes from. If you’ve ever seen “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” the catchy intro tune is by The Gregory Brothers.

The Fine Brothers

love producing videos and did so as kids, long before YouTube but YouTube was their medium for success. The “Kids React” video series is what their most well-known for, and there are a bunch of spinoffs that they created based on that.

They collaborated together doing what they love to do. Due to their online success, Disney’s Maker Studios eventually hired them together as the heads of production and creative. Now they run their own company called Fine Brothers Entertainment. They employ 50+ creative people. They cite collaboration with the audience, in the form of audience engagement, with their success.

The Star Wars Uncut

series is an impressive feat of collaboration. Casey Pugh took “Episode IV: A New Hope,” broke it into nearly 500 different 15-second scenes, and uploaded it to a site asking people to recreate a scene. People took the work seriously – creating costumes, sets, etc. to re-film their fifteen second section.

More than 1500 people collaborated to create the final product. It won the 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media. Lucas Films didn’t give permission for that original project. However, they then did commission a second crowdsource project: “Empire Uncut”.

Types of Collaboration on YouTube

So, people collaborate at the most basic level – two people working together to make something happen … and they also collaborate on huge scales like the Star Wars Uncut project. There is typically one or two people working on the big vision but everyone plays a part in the final creative project. This book has got me thinking in a whole new way about collaboration. There’s Collaboration – the capital C kind that we usually think about – and then there’s the kind of multi-layer, multi-level, multi-person, multi-media collaboration discussed in detail in this book.

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