Reinventing the Tube Lev Manovich defines new media to be “the shift of all culture to computermediated forms of production, distribution, and communication” (Manovich 19). But it is important to understand the properties of new media on a deeper, more elaborate level, as Manovich outlines in his five criteria for new media: numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding. A prime example of new media that exhibits Manovich’s principles on multiple levels is the video-hosting destination YouTube.com. YouTube represents new media in its truest sense by amassing an enormous collection of digital video clips, posted solely by members, and making them readily available to millions of users online, garnering wild popularity to the point that it has achieved brand name status. YouTube proves to be consistent with Manovich’s criteria for new media, most notably through its innovative implementation of Manovich’s principles of automation and variability, resulting in both an international video hub and a revolutionary communication network through which Internet users can be the creators of information as well as the consumers. YouTube’s success hinges on its consolidation of much of the web’s video content to a single destination, and organizing it efficiently so it is easily accessible to the average user. As Manovich points out in his explanation of automation, “the problem was no longer how to create a new media object such as an image; the problem was how to find an object that already exists somewhere” (Manovich 35). What YouTube has managed to do so effectively is “find more efficient ways to classify and

search media objects” (Manovich 34). The YouTube homepage is a visual interface in which videos are organized into different content categories such as sports, comedy, and music. This level of organization is most helpful for users who are interested in browsing different categories of content and not looking for any video in particular. The search function, on the other hand, is the primary tool for locating specific video files on the YouTube network. Users simply type in keywords relevant to the video they are seeking, and results are organized based on their relevance and popularity. There is also a ratings system composed on one to five stars that indicates to users which content is ranked highly and lowly by other users. YouTube’s refined user experience is the result of its successful implementation of Manovich’s principle of automation. But YouTube is not solely a video hub; it has evolved into a social network through which people communicate with one another in the form of video. This is made possible by the fact that YouTube is consistent with Manovich’s principle of variability, which states that new media can exist in “different, potentially infinite versions” (Manovich 36). On YouTube, many different versions of the exact same video clip often exist, perhaps varying slightly in length of time or picture quality. The countless versions of media that exist are made possible by the fact that YouTube is updated virtually around the clock. This is consistent with the criteria for new media outlined by Manovich, who notes that “periodic updates” are an integral aspect of new media (Manovich 38). YouTube goes a step beyond being periodically updated, reaching a point where “continuously updated” would be a more appropriate term. YouTube users upload thousands of new videos each and every day, and the amount of content being added only continues to rise, as do the number of users who access the site regularly. In

addition, there are a plethora of videos that are imitations or parodies of previously existing videos, representing a form of digital and social commentary on the content created by of others users. It is important to note that much of the YouTube library is composed of videos by amateur filmmakers using their camcorders from home. This is significant because it allows for regular people to become creators of media content, not merely spectators. YouTube expands beyond the form of television and movies, in which users are simply viewers, to a point where viewers can respond to what they see by creating and posting their own videos for others to view, which Manovich envisions in his discussion of transcoding. YouTube also proves to be consistent with Manovich’s idea of transcoding because it consists of both a “cultural layer” and a “computer layer” (Manovich 46). The cultural layer in this case is represented by the content and subject matter of the videos on YouTube. The computer layer, on the other hand, corresponds to data structure and computer language of the file that exists on the computer’s hard drive. Much of YouTube’s success can be credited to its close concurrence with Manovich’s concepts of variability and transcoding. YouTube is in accordance with Manovich’s criteria of numerical representation and modulation based on the fact that it combines the realm of video with that of the Internet. The digital media found on YouTube can be “described using a mathematical function,” as Manovich outlines in his description of numerical representation (Manovich 27). Digital video is a form of data that can be broken down to its mathematical components, just like an image. The process of digitizing the film so it can be uploaded onto YouTube is a prime example of numerical representation as described by Manovich. In addition to numerical representation, modularity is another

important factor that defines a form of new media. YouTube satisfies this criteria based on the fact the videos uploaded onto YouTube “maintain [their] independence and can always be edited with the program originally used to create [them]” (Manovich 30). Uploading videos onto YouTube does not change their fundamental structure and one can go back and edit the same video file even after it has been posted on YouTube. The World Wide Web is, by definition, completely modular because each media element that exists on the Web can be accessed on its own, outside the realm of the Internet. YouTube meets nearly every criteria for new media laid out by Manovich, the result being a new form of video content that is more individualized, personalized, and customizable than ever before. YouTube has ingeniously integrated the realms of video and the World Wide Web to create a digital video epicenter that is seamless, global, and growing at an astounding rate. According to recent estimates, there are 70,000 new videos posted on YouTube each day, which equates to over 25 million videos in the course of a year. It appears that the only way in which YouTube may fall short of Manovich’s criteria for new media is its potential inability to manage the sheer volume of videos that will be posted in the coming years and organize them in such a way that they are easily accessible to the average user. Even on YouTube today, searches often return hundreds of thousands of results, which leave some users feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content. While YouTube certainly faces challenges when it comes to handling and organizing the surge in content that the future will bring, it has done more than enough established itself as one of the most prominent forms of new media to emerge in the digital age.

Bibliography Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. 1848, 123-145, 218-228.