At last the tours are through! While I found them increasingly tedious, they did prove a useful exercise in that I made some sense of the hundreds of videos my class produced (and from these tours I am going to teach Learning from Learning from YouTube in fall 2008, stay tuned), and I got to organize my thoughts thematically. So, I end with the failures of YouTube’s archive and how this structures its problems with community.

Importantly, the architecture and ownership of YouTube draw users by fueling their desire for community. While many come to the site to be seen and heard by others, to make friends, they are much better served by the world, or MySpace. For, the very tools and structures for community-building which are hallmarks of web 2.o (or a library or classroom)–those which link, gather, index, search, version, allow participation, commenting, and networking–are studiously refused on the site, even as it remains the poster-child of web 2.0. People go elsewhere for these functions, dragging their favorite YouTube videos with them to more hospitable platforms (with YouTube’s permission).

YouTube is a site to upload, store (and move off) videos. The very paucity of its other functions feeds its primary purpose: moving users’ eyeballs aimlessly and without direction, scheme, or map, across its unparalleled archive of moving images. YouTube is a mess: videos are hard to find, easy to misname, and quick to lose. While it’s users would certainly be aided by a good archivist, the site signals to us in its conscientious failings that it is not a place to hunker down or hang out with others, not a place within which to seriously research or study, not a place for anything but solo-play. Enjoy!

The user is told she is free, but this is not the case. Nowhere near it. She makes work in forms that best serve the master’s (oops) owner’s needs. Her ideas, spoken freely through newly accessible cameras, and on little screens encircled by ads, reflect those that the master taught her. They move freely across the internet, insulting some along the way, encrusted by flames of others the longer they sit still.

The user feels she is free, and so she speaks. But the owner uses other users to censor her as the owner sees fit. The user might be a person, she’s often a corporation, but more often yet, she’s an individual servicing a corporation for free! Even though all of this is done gratis, justifying YouTube’s highly celebrated “democratic” claims, little of this labor works outside the corporate economy (even for non-profits) that does very well by users’ work.

The owner, well, he has very little to do! The user (slave, oops) does all the work, and for no pay! Makes the content; rates it; censors it; watches it (and gets her eyeballs to the ads).

This is from my fifth tour. Yes, I know it’s too negative. Yes, I know people get to speak and be heard. But this is what my students learned, (perhaps because I am their teacher [master, OOPS!]):

“In computer networking, master/slave is a model for a communication protocol in which one device or process (known as the master) controls one or more other devices or processes (known as slaves). Once the master/slave relationship is established, the direction of control is always from the master to the slave(s). The County of Los Angeles, saying the term master/slave may be offensive to some of its residents, has asked equipment manufacturers not to use the term.”

I Look to Third-Tube

March 5, 2008

To wrap up this thread of ideas coming from my bad manifesto videos, I’d like to try to better attend to “Third-Tube,” that manner of video, currently available on the web, that is neither the vlog nor the music video. This kind of video formally marks the hand of its DIY producer (with “bad” production) while also signaling the seriousness of her mind, vision, goals or politics (with “big” ideas). It uses the sketch-like form of the You-Tube video (made and seen quickly, without aims at perfection or mastery, but with some attention to style and with clear goals of communication) so as to make videomaking and viewing a part of daily experience.

Now, it may seem that I’m suggesting that the “personal” nature of the vlog disqualifies it from Third-Tube (which is, of course, an homage to Third Cinema), but that would go directly against my feminist politics. So let me add this simple feminist formula: the personal is the political. When vlogs move to the next step, which is making systematic (theoretical) and communal (political) claims grounded in personal experience, then they move into what I am calling Third-Tube: people-made, simple-in-form, complex in thought, media about the material of daily life that is not beholden to corporate culture and products. This stuff is all over YouTube, and perhaps my next move is to be more thoughtful about what sits in Third-Tube.

I’ve recently come across the research of AnthroVlog on YouTube. Her site “examines how people use digital technologies such as video, blogs, and video sharing sites such as YouTube. We hope to take what we learn to consider new design of online environments and educational programs.For more information see: http://groups.sims.berkeley.edu/digitalyouth.”

Then there’s the Anthropology class at Kansas State that is thinking about YouTube through questions of culture, communication and community.

And AMorrow has been making comprehensive and useful lists of video that functions as art, entertainment, history, social commentary, etc.

Thanks to ZigZigger (Michael Newman) who I met in the hallway at SCMS and who kindly explained the linking function to me.

I have been thinking about the badness of this set of videos. About how when I make conventional vlogs, I never worry about form, and that’s liberating: YouTube as soapbox. About the fact that I do actually make “quality” documentaries (my most recent is SCALE, see much about it on these pages), and for that work (which I also characterize as DIY), I hire a cinematographer and an editor, it take several years of my life to complete, another year or more to distribute, and loads of money to do all this work (in comparison to the insignificant amount of time, capital, planning, or execution required for any of my YouTube videos).

What does this tell us about form, expression, and politics on YouTube?

1. Form mandates where you sit and how you move on YouTube. Bad form relegates you to the conventions of the vlog, “good” form is your passport out of  NicheTube.

2. Form effects how well and how much you are heard on YouTube. The bad form of a vlog propels its movement in that this marks its veracity and authenticity. Bad form on any other form of video limits the effectivity of your message, both in how well it can be understood and in how many people will be moved to watch and listen. Bad form marks the hand of an amateur, and the space of the mundane.

3. Bad form is intimately linked to the private, humble expression of the vlog; good form (aesthetics) is required for effective expression outside the personal.

4. Politics demands the building, feeding, and inter-relating of individuals to make committed communities. If you are using media as part of this program, the media must inspire conversation and connection: because the words, images, and sounds are compelling in combination. Need they be “good” to do so?

So where does the humble YouTuber fit into this? How trained need she be? How articulate? Does this need to be her job? Isn’t the point that she is an amateur? When we actually use our own material, and the skills we have, what and who can we effect?