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GEK 1046: The YouTube Analysis

Bay Wan Qin Cherie Joy Wong Shu Yee Lim Sze Kee Vanessa Ng Wei Lin Ong Yang Qin Bren Rie Chong

A0114942J A0114410A A0101512E A0101066X A0096565N A0115151X

cheriebay@nus.edu.sg vanessalsk@nus.edu.sg weilin.ng@nus.edu.sg brenong@nus.edu.sg riechong@nus.edu.sg

Introduction YouTube, the most visited video-sharing website, is undoubtedly a significant part of today's online media. According to YouTube Statistics, more than one billion unique users or one seventh of the world's population visits YouTube each month. The fact that such a large proportion of the global population visits YouTube shows the significance and impact it has on the world today. With multiple purposes and genres of videos, ranging from educational and political to entertainment and music, it is not surprising that YouTube has become so pervasive in many peoples' lives. To most, the idea of clicking on a video link on Facebook or other social media and getting directed to a YouTube video is probably not foreign. What is foreign, though, is stopping after that one video. One video always seems to link to another, and then another. How does YouTube draw us and manage to make us stay on it? Is it an involuntary knee-jerk reaction, or does the space of YouTube force and manipulate us to stay on it? In this essay, we aim to explore these questions and critically analyse whether YouTube is truly a platform for freedom to view and share or if it is actually doing the converse by controlling and dictating how we live our lives. YouTube is a virtual space which combines media production and distribution with social networking features, making it an ideal place to create, connect, collaborate, and circulate media. An average YouTube user visits the site 14 times a month and spends an average of 25 minutes on the site each time they visit (Monica, 2012). These statistics raise a pertinent question: why do viewers continuously stay within the YouTube space? Structure of YouTube The interface of YouTube is key to keeping users glued to YouTube, thereby maintaining and growing its high viewership. The structure of YouTube is carefully engineered to keep users engaged and dwell on it for hours (Silva & Dix, 2007). It has the ability to dictate the videos each user should watch through various "distractions". What strikes us first when we enter YouTube is the What To Watch tab. Other columns titled Most viewed, and Most discussed are also placed strategically on the main page to facilitate quick access to popular videos. These links are visual cues which prompt and aid users in the selection of videos. The Recommended Channels sidebar relates to videos which the user had browsed in past sessions. This allures the viewers into the realm of YouTube from the very beginning of the video browsing experience. For example, a user who searches for a particular video on YouTube ("How to cook fried rice?") will be bombarded with numerous recommended videos on the main page (Figure 1) even before the search begins. On that note, thumbnails of Avril Lavigne and other attention grabbing titles will distract him. A fried rice tutorial could potentially become an Avril Lavigne video instead.

Figure 1

The end of the video brings an appearance of related recommended videos that will pique his curiosity and lead to a cascade of videos (Figure 2). Supporting this function, the Recommendations section on the right promotes videos which are relevant to his interests to keep him engaged on the site. The layout of YouTube is devised in a way that controls the whole video surfing process from before, during and after watching a video.

Figure 2

This creates a cycle that together with the elements of curiosity and surprise, creates a remarkable engagement which keeps users locked within the YouTube space. Ironically, the video links are a signifier of the various places one can go. It seems as though by clicking and selecting a video, we are transported into another world, though in reality, we remain where we were. YouTube ostensibly provides us with a myriad of outlets to choose from and the freedom to enter the lives of many others. In actuality, YouTube confines users to the very space that was entered. Creating more opportunities for users to move from one video to another allows users to explore different experiences yet incarcerates them in the YouTube space. The prepotency of YouTube is also attributed to its ease of accessibility (Lancet, 2013). In fact, users are already living within the space of YouTube. The advent of smartphones and tablets opens up countless of entry-points into the space of YouTube. It is pre-installed on every electronic device running on the Android operating system and can be shared on various social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Users are exposed to YouTube as long as they share their videos on the other platforms. The ubiquity of YouTube in every device and social platform allows users to enter and get sucked into the space of YouTube. The fundamental structure of YouTube influences users to be confined within the demarcation of YouTube. Consequently, this dominance of YouTube further imposes its ideologies into users lives. Popularity The system YouTube has constructed to dictate our behaviour becomes pervasive in society as it controls and imposes ideologies on users. Antonio Gramsci posits that hegemony is the process of ideological domination, in which the dominant group gains consent from the dominated through the thought, the common sense, the life-ways and everyday assumptions (Gitlin, 1973). Hegemony can hence be perpetuated through mythologies, by working on the routine level of thought and life. This can be seen in the YouTube community. Many times we watch videos and seem to derive enjoyment and entertainment. What is it that accounts for the large number of views for this person Sittin On Tha Toilet or Nyan Cat, a video of a cartoon cat with a pop-tart body flying through space? (Figure 3 and 4)

Figure 3

Figure 4

YouTube categorises videos according to number of views and indicates how many people have viewed and liked the video. Although this seems to be a minor part of the entire set up of the page, it inadvertently shapes the way we perceive each video. A large number of views on a video undoubtedly intrigue users to play it. The number on the bottom of each video is a signifier of the popularity of the video. This connotes that the majority of the YouTube community is in absolute favor of the video, alluding to the users that the video is popular. The viewer would be more

inclined to see the video in a biased way due to the influence by the number of views. The sheer popularity implied by the number of views defines what we view as popular and shapes the way we seem to enjoy the videos, dictating the way we personally feel about the video. Hence, the enjoyment of the viewer becomes questionable. Do we truly enjoy the videos we consume? Or are we merely part of the production in the entire YouTube community to 'like' what other people in the YouTube community 'like' and to keep up with the hype? The idea of popularity is constructed on YouTube, which acts as a medium. Users allow this idea of popularity to govern how the videos are viewed and this infiltrates how we view the world. What users perceive as cool and fun are shaped by what we can relate to in the videos. For instance, covers on YouTube feature mostly instruments and good vocals in high-definition (Figure 5 and 6). Various YouTube artists all have such elements in their videos, which once again feature a great number of views.

Figure 5

Figure 6

What is interesting is that through time, due to the influence of such videos, we relate this to our real lives. We view aesthetic talent or those dressed in a manner that emulates the YouTubers as a benchmark of cool, young and trendy. Hence, we can conclusively point out at someone and think hey, thats cool. Therefore, YouTube constructs our perceptions and shapes them into "common sense", as in hegemony. It is obvious that YouTube mixes the virtual world with the real world. In fact, YouTube is not only a video sharing platform but also a place for social networking. Users communicate through profiles, which are supposed to encapsulate their personality, through YouTube's interface (Kinder, 2012). This can be done in two ways. It could either be in the form of a video or in the form of a comment. In this manner, YouTube becomes a platform for group interaction and socialisation. People voluntarily join and take part in the YouTube community by interacting with other users, some of whom they have never met or spoken to in real life. To them, they are in a social interaction similar to that of the real experience of social interaction. Likewise, users each bring their experiences in the virtual world to the real world, or vice versa. In terms of Baudrillards simulacrum, when there is no longer any distinction between reality and its interpretation, the YouTube profile is a users interpretation of who he believes he is presented within the confines of YouTubes own parameters. The image that the individual has of himself is virtualised. This image in real life is strikingly different from the image on screen (Baudrillard, 1996). Users of YouTube can manipulate how their videos are perceived and what appears within the confines of that tiny box. Therefore, the channels that a user subscribes to appear to represent his personality and vlogs may be seen as personal recounts of one's daily life. However, in actuality users only see an edited version of someones life. Yet, the connection established in the virtual community can have very strong ties to the interest of the real social world. How people view specific users in real life are implicated from the personas they have demonstrated on the YouTube platform. In their exposure to the virtual world, their identities are transformed as well and such transformations are

brought back to the real world. In this way, the hyperreality of YouTube influences the user in both the virtual world and the real world, illustrating the control YouTube has over the lives of its users. YouTube not only has the power to dictate users outlook on others but is selfreflexive as well. Vlogging commonly involves interacting with a webcam on the top of the computer. It is asynchronous so you dont know when viewers are watching. Every time you talk on a webcam, you are talking to some place that is unknown, you actually dont know who is going to be talking back to you and there is an invisible audience phenomenon, talking as if to an audience, but in truth to yourself (Wesch, 2008). This thus provides an avenue for people to form new identities for themselves, by knowing ourselves by understanding how peop le understand us. The users image of self is produced by the viewers and their comments, and these may not correspond to who one truly is as a person in reality, away from the webcam. In this way, the webcam, the video, and the viewers are the ones that have dominance and control over the person. Hence, users conform to the ideals of the YouTube community and fit their personalities to external expectations. Conclusion In conclusion, though YouTube appears to bring viewers the freedom of experiencing new adventures on the platform, it actually does the reverse by dictating users way of life and controlling their perceptions. This is possible because the accessibility and structure of the space of YouTube manipulates viewers and detains them within the boundaries. In addition, number of views creates and perpetuates hegemony in what is perceived to be popular and what is not. The use of YouTube as a platform for social interaction with others via a representation of oneself also creates a hyperreal. Thus, as mere chess pieces to be manipulated in this social control mechanism, viewers conform to YouTube's norm unquestioningly. YouTube restricts rather than frees its users. 2000 words

Appendix Baudrillard, J. (1996, March 6) Baudrillard on the New Technologies: An Interview with Claude Thibaut, Translated by Suzanne Falcon (Interviewer: Thibaut, C.) [Interview Transcript] Retrieved from http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jeanbaudrillard/articles/baudrillard-on-the-new-technologies-an-interview-withclaude-thibaut/ Kinder, J (2012) The Spectres of Simulacra Hyperreality Consumption as Ideology and the Impossible Future of Radical Politics Retrieved 2013, November 11 from http://www.academia.edu/1595967/The_Spectres_of_Simulacra_Hyperreality_Con sumption_as_Ideology_and_the_Im_Possible_Future_of_Radical_Politics Lancet, L. (2013, February 22) 6 Ways to Watch YouTube Without Going to YouTube Retrieved 2013, November 9 from http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-ways-towatch-youtube-without-going-to-youtube/ Monica R. (2012, December 12) Is Video a Part of Your School Admissions Marketing? Retrieved 2013, November 9 from http://www.imrcorp.com/innovative-marketing-blog/bid/61825/Is-Video-a-Partof-Your-School-Admissions-Marketing Silva, P. A. & Dix, A. (2007, November 25) Usability And YouTube - What Makes YouTube so Successful in spite of its Bad Usability? Retrieved 2013, November 9 from http://www.masternewmedia.org/interface_design_and_navigation/usability/You tube-usability-and-user-experience-evaluation-key-success-factors20071125.htm#ixzz2kaxBHoD1 Wesch, M. (2008, June 23) An Anthropological Guide to YouTube [video file] Retrieved 2013, November 13 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F_EOquQtZg