YouTube: From Video Sharing to Building a Community
What? Where? When?
For some, YouTube is just a video sharing platform, but for others (such as PewDiePie, JennaMarbles, or Zoella – only to mention some of the famous YouTubers) it is actually a job. However, in order to maintain a relation with their followers, further than simply sharing their videos, creators have to build a community. The scholar, José Van Dijck argues that “platforms started out as indeterminate services for the exchange of communicative or creative content among friends” (6). Therefore, since the beginning of social network websites, users had the tendency to create different groups on these platforms – such as, groups of friends interested in their content. In addition, people started using such sites in order to create and develop communities of users who share a common interest – fans of a public person, supporters of a cause and so on. Moreover, Van Dijck explains that “the widespread presence of platforms drives people to move many of their social, cultural, and professional activities to these online environments” (4).
Last Tuesday, on September 13th, the Senior Product Manager of Youtube, Kiley McEvoy, has announced via a blog post on YouTube Creator Blog the introduction of “a beta version of a new product to help strengthen the bond between you and your viewers, called YouTube Community”. The launch of this product represents a significant change for the whole usage of the platform. The newly added ‘Community’ tab allows YouTubers to use the (initially) video-sharing website for more than just simply uploading videos – now, they can actually interact with their followers. Through this tab, users are now able to upload live videos and post text messages, images and GIFs, without being forced to switch to another platform such a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. This way, YouTube hopes to give their content creators the chance to expand their community directly on the platform. Followers can choose whether or not they want to be notified when a new post is added or simply keep up with the feed in their Subscriptions tab. For each post in the ‘Community’ tab, followers can either like it, dislike it or simply add a comment – the same as it happens with the normal video uploads. One difference though, is that the videos uploaded within the ‘Community’ tab will not appear under the other tabs of a channel.
For now, in the beta version, YouTube has given access to this tab only to a few famous YouTubers. The twelve lucky content creators chosen by YouTube to ‘test’ this feature are: John and Hank Green, AsapSCIENCE, The Game Theorists, Karmin, The Key of Awesome, The Kloons, Lilly Singh, Peter Hollens, Rosianna Halse Rojas, Sam Tsui, Threadbanger, and VSauce3. However, according to the blog announcement “[t]his is a first step and, with creator and fan feedback, we look forward to rolling out new features and functions as well as including more creators in the months ahead” (McEvoy).
On the day the ‘Community’ tab was launched, Hank Green – one of the creators of the Vlogbrothers channel – has uploaded a video in which he presents this new feature of YouTube. He goes on and explains the necessity of this addition in order to build and maintain a stronger relationship between creators and their subscribers, directly on YouTube. For example, previously, if a creator wanted to show their fans something else than a video, he or she had to move their community of subscribers to a different platform such as Facebook, which allows one to publish different types of files. Green stated that “YouTube always thought of itself as being about video, but for many of us it’s mostly been about community, I’d argue that the best YouTube channels aren’t just shows you Leanback and watch, they’re communities you’re part of” (vlogbrothers). Thus, there was a high demand of a new feature to allow YouTubers to connect with their subscribers.
In their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, danah boyd and Nicole Ellison have defined social network sites (SNS) as:
web-based services that allow individuals to (i) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (ii) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (iii) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (211).
Considering this, both YouTube and Facebook meet these requirements; however, many features have been added to them making one – Facebook – more ‘social’ that the other. Allowing its users to directly communicate with their followers, within the platform, YouTube might transform the platform into one of Facebook’s biggest competitors. Since Youtube’s announcement, many websites have brought up this discussion. For example, in an article on Engadget it was mentioned that “YouTube wants more social features to fight off rival Facebook, which has grown video exponentially over the last year” (Dent). Another article, posted on WebProNews claims that “Google is using YouTube to counter its number one online ad revenue competitor, Facebook. After all, Facebook itself has made YouTube its number one competitor by focusing its energies on video” (Ord).
All in all, with such additions and the increased popularity of content creators, YouTube represents a high threat to other SNSs.
boyd, danah m., and Nicole B. Ellison. “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13.1 (2007): 210-30. 17 Sept. 2016. <onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x/pdf >
Dent, Steve. “YouTube Becomes More Social with the Community Tab.” Engadget. 14 Sept. 2016. <https://www.engadget.com/2016/09/14/youtube-becomes-more-social-with-the-community-tab/>
Dijck, José Van. “Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity.” The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. 3-23.
McEvoy, Kiley. “YouTube Community Goes beyond Video.” YouTube Creator Blog. 13 Sept. 2016. <https://youtube-creators.googleblog.com/2016/09/youtube-community-goes-beyond-video.html>
Ord, Rich. “New YouTube Community Tab Makes It a True Social Platform… and a Facebook Competitor.” WebProNews. 13 Sept. 2016. <http://www.webpronews.com/new-youtube-community-tab-makes-true-social-platform-facebook-competitor-2016-09/>
vlogbrothers. “YouTube’s New Thing (and a New Thing of Our Own).” YouTube. 13 September 2016. 17 September 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9v0p29u_ue>