Is YouTube Really a Community?

I’ve often argued that one of the things that ‘makes’ YouTube is its community. But I’ve just been looking at the comments around one particular clip and wondering just what kind of community it is.

It’s less like a close-knit rural community with a sense of pride and an annual entry into the ‘Best Kept Village’ competition, and more like a run down inner-city estate where people are happy to drop litter and mainly stand around on corners shouting abuse at people. Where rather than feeling compelled to do the right thing out of a sense of civic responsibility the justice is doled out by deleting comments and banning (the online equivalent of ASBOs).

Here’s my evidence:

Here’s a recut version of a scene from Monty Python with Darth Vader dubbed into it. Add some light sabres and you’re pretty much guaranteed to flick all of the buttons going in geek culture (it’s had 950,000 views so it’s doing something right). Those views have generated just under 800 comments so far.

And here’s a selection of the comments under the clip:

There’s a load of posts trying to get people to spread spam all over YouTube by re-posting a junk message, then tricking suckers into closing down their browser by pressing a certain key-combo:

its not a chain letter! its kinda scary at first but it really works!! paste this message into 3 comments and press ALT F4 and your crushes name will appear on the screen!!! its soo wierd

Here’s a lovely piece of ascii art that two people (or one person with two IDs) have posted in quick succession to show their appreciation for the clip:

Then aside from that the comments are all just banal:

fuckin funny vader voiceovers

Or people just mouthing off using a kind of sub-English language:

wow, i could never have thought of a worse way to destroy two perfectly good series. Good job, freaking idiot.

u destroied the movie u mother fucker

And there’s plenty of people asking how it was done:

i lovwe it so much but how do you make it so realistake with the lightsaber

But the thing is, even when someone is making a semi-serious point or asking a question nothing ever turns into a conversation. It’s all just people lobbing rocks into a bottomless pit. Maybe that is a kind of community. But, given the lack of social interaction that’s going on I wonder how important some of this is for the YouTube experience. Certainly the actions of the wider community in terms of rating, view counts, etc. are important for floating good content to the surface. But does this high noise, low signal, chatter actually help anything?

It’s a tough one. Once the ‘rot’ has set it and the comments are just full or rubbish, it’s difficult to attract quality comments (personally I’d be scared of some 12 year old ripping me apart with his superior spelling and mastery of homophobic slander). But at the same time the ability to comment like this is obviously fulfilling some kind of function for a chunk of the audience.

12 thoughts on “Is YouTube Really a Community?”

  1. …it’s almost enough to make one cynical of the whole setup. With youTube “Celebrities”, such as ‘Brookers’ on the one hand, and trashy comments which mean little beyond a textual grunt on the other, unfortunately we are seeing a large part of what is rotten in the state of Denmark being reflected back at us through the very medium that many herald as distillation of everything that is good in humanities drive to create. I suppose the Utopian fruits of state of interweb (open source projects, creative collaboration, 2.0 etc… blah ) have to attract a counter balance or we may be in danger of skewing the order of the universe; or we could simply cite youTube as a reason why the interweb should be banned from the masses.

  2. It’s a tricky one indeed.

    I think that YouTube as a whole is not a community. It’s just too big to behave and be regarded as a community.

    However, within this behemoth, there are various communities that gather around content and channels in a similar way to myspace music/comedy etc.

    The key difference (I think) is people’s reactions vs. people interactions

    One ‘viral’ hit like in your example is like a big news item and it usually generates noise – any form of people’s reactions to it but it cannot generate and sustain a community as such as this necessitates more substance.

    On the other hand, if you look at the ‘stuff’ that is generated around LG15 or Geriatric1927 and renetto in the forms of comments and wiki-like video replies, you can certainly see community behaviors – people interact (the key ingredient for community) with the channel as well as among themselves.

  3. Good point. I invariably leave a comment on all youtubes I view, and the auto alert service means I know when someone responds. I’ve yet to have more than a handful of considered responses. Most of the comments have a heavy US bias and are puerile. One point that you’ve maybe missed though is that a lot of Youtube is embedded and so the real conversation goes on elsewhere. As indeed this post dramatizes very well.

  4. Networked sharing can not exist as a singluar community. The interweb is not a community, it’s a loosly coupling of platforms.

    What Youtube hasn’t yet succeeded in is being a operating system for media production. Lack of Licence clarity stops this. Flash wrapped media stops this. Google has no desire to become a media based company, but it does want the production traffic.

    With movie redux projects as above, you can see the power of co-creation. Until you get communities of professional actors, producers, camera handlers etc etc, YouTube will remain as a dumping ground.

    And the only thing stopping the pros is their Auteurism.

  5. I think you raise a good question “what can be defined as a community”. You indicate that it is when a conversation appears between individuals.

    I think we can define a community through four points:
    > a place : whatever a village, a town or a continent but a common place
    > a conversation: I think we all agree on that point
    > some common habits : that a re the rules that does appears on every social network
    > a langage : as for youtube the language is not only “comments” but also “videos”

    May be we could talk about a youtube community if people would answer a video through a video, a mail or a comment. I think it’s import to consider the three of them as a conversation.

  6. Hi guys,

    Im working on youtube now. Im very new to it. I created groups and chennel. But i coulnt find how to create community for my account in youtube. Can anyone help me to find out how to create a community for my account in youtube? I couldnt find out it. Any help is been appreciated.

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