MAIN POST: week 3 blog questionPosted: June 21, 2011
While discussing YouTube, Jose van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favorites. How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?
YouTube, like many sites that feature archivable web content, operates under an interface that ranks videos according to popularity. Jose van Dijck (2009: 41-58) argues that sites that are primarily based on user generated content, like YouTube, give the false impression of being user controlled whilst being subject to influences such as the ranking system. For van Dijck, the notion of an online ‘community’ relies less on the parallels of participation and citizenship that occur in real life – instead, these communities are formed under common interest groups (2009: 45). Jeremiah Owyang further defines online communities as “a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools”. Given that these communities are formed under the idea that the generation of content and resulting social interaction is user controlled, the notion of a ranking system may seem to upset this democratic ideal.
Yet, upon closer inspection, it seems that van Dijck ignores the fact that the initial popularity of a video still requires a starting investment from users to bump it into prominence. The popularity of a video is rated by the number of views it gets, and the more popular your video is, the likelier it will be seen. Without a ranking system that features videos that have gained the approval from peers, YouTube would be an endless swamp of unfiltered clips, making it hard for a newcomer to locate where to even begin. By promoting certain clips to be seen more regularly, this allows YouTubers and viewers to have similar experiences and thus have more to share and discuss.
However, this simple formula can be easily sidestepped and maneuvered with cunning tactics to promote views. For instance, this recently trending video called Cereal Killer features links to two alternate endings at the end of the clip. For a user that wants to find out what other ending was, they would have to return to the original video. In reality, both endings are more or less the same, but by adding this bonus it fools more users to view the video twice. This would seemingly promote its number of views.
Perhaps a clearer example of a YouTube ‘community’ within the wider YouTube network is the notion of YouTube celebrities. These users of YouTube become popular by regularly posting vlogs or similar web content. Once they become well known on YouTube, they will often collaborate in videos, or create response videos that feature each others work. This community of YouTube celebrities would not be possible if YouTube did not feature a ranking system to categorize the website.
For a newcomer, the sheer volume of videos on YouTube can become daunting. For users who want to get involved in the YouTube community, viewing videos that are popular and well received – therefore highly ranked, can be an easy way of figuring out what YouTube is about.
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Van Dijck, Jose. “Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content””, Media, Culture and Society 31. 2009: pp. 41-58.