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.