June 25, 2008

Anthropology of YouTube

The Library of Congress invited Michael Wesch to deliver the third of four “Digital Natives” lectures. Wesch, creator of the world-famous YouTube video, “The Machine is Us/ing Us,” presented the “Anthropology of YouTube” to a packed, fascinated and amused audience on Monday.

He kicked off his talk by showing the video that sparked what he called the first worldwide participatory movement in the YouTube phenomenon, “Numa Numa.” While the audience laughed at the silly dancing in the video, Wesch pointed out the deeper implications of the video and the over 58,000 responses it provoked: it was the beginning of a new, user-driven community in which everyone is invited to participate. Respondents to and viewers of “Numa Numa” were “celebrating” a new sense of empowerment, community, and global connection.

Wesch said that there are now well over 200,000 three-minute videos posted on YouTube. About half of those videos are posted by 18-24-year-olds. Pew Internet reports have also tracked the increase in video-sharing in recent years as well as the social nature of online videos.

See our “Online Video” report here and our “Teens and Social Media” report here.

Beyond the statistics that prove the ever-growing YouTube population, however, is the expanding and deepening sense of an actual community among YouTube users. Wesch, an anthropologist, is keeping a keen eye on this community.

According to Wesch, at least 10,000 videos a day are addressed to the “YouTube community,” many users report “profound experiences” on YouTube, and most significantly a sense of shared values is emerging from the community. Wesch displayed two YouTube video campaigns in particular as evidence of the emerging values and sense of community: “Free Hugs” and “The Message.”

At the same time video-sharers and vloggers are growing as a community, they are becoming more aware of themselves through the YouTube community and through the bridging of public (internet) and private (home/bedroom) spaces. On YouTube, users can maintain their increasing independence while at the same time satisfy their desires for stronger relationships.

These social trends and values will be important to keep in mind as we continue to study social media in general and video-sharing in particular.

A video of the lecture will be posted by Mike Wesch on YouTube in the coming weeks.