Saturday, November 24, 2018

YouTube Live 2008/ 10 Years Later

Remember the first time big YouTubers got together and mixed with mainstream celebrities, such as Katy Perry and Will I Am, for a live variety show? No? That's probably because it was a flop that people were quick to forget. However, forgettable-flop or not, it was in fact an event which altered the face of YouTube. It signified the end of the first era, and the beginning of a new era; an era of fans and celebrities, networks and contracts.

Today, an event such as YouTube Live would be business as usual. But in it's time, it was something new. This was a time when YouTubers existed within a box on your computer screen. They were ordinary people broadcasting from grainy webcams in their bedrooms. They did not have networks, and professional equipment. YouTube "celebrity status" existed within a niche. Many people hadn't even heard of YouTube yet. YouTube Live, in November of 2008, signified a major shift.

I remember, 10 years ago, sitting in front of my computer desk, in the chair I got on clearance at Office Depot. I had a pad of paper, and took notes for my report I would write, because that's what I did. YouTube events were my domain. This was the first live YouTube event, and I loved watching YouTubers step out of their microcosms and collaborate. But, as I watched Katy Perry and her crew work her way through a line-up of YouTubers, I began to experience a sinking feeling. Something about the event just didn't sit right with me. I stopped taking notes, and never wrote about the event (until now). I don't remember if I even watched the whole thing. Later on, as vlogs began to pour out on the subject of YouTube Live, I saw that I wasn't the only YouTuber who experienced this.

For those of us who joined YouTube in the beginning years, YouTube was essentially seen as the messiah of media. It was the next evolution of media, superior to television and movies. Traditional media realized this, but never quite grasped what made it what it was. YouTube wasn't revolutionary because it took place on the Internet, instead of cable and air-waves. It wasn't the fact that we watched it on a different box that made it what it was. It was revolutionary, because everybody was a participant. Corporations wanted to capitalize on this, but it wasn't a thing that could be duplicated or controlled by a board of directors.

Traditional media is passive. You watch TV, and you live vicariously through characters. You don't exist. The actors who depict these characters are heralded and fan-fared through award shows. Pictures of them are sold for a high price to sleazy magazines. They live cushy and luxurious lifestyles. Meanwhile, you are nobody. Your meaningless life is paused, to observe the much more interesting lives of these great characters. Then, you get up early and return to your 9-5, where your life is treated almost as meaninglessly as it was while you were watching TV.

YouTube, or more accurately, the YouTube Community, was not passive. Everybody was a part of it. You watch somebody's video, and upload your own in response, which is viewed in return. Even if you don't want to upload videos, you comment on videos, and the uploaders reply. YouTube was revolutionary, because it was media that we all participated in. We were both the viewer and viewed. We interacted with the people we were watching. We could simultaneously enjoy the show, and be one of the characters.

As we watched YouTube Live, however, a glaring feeling began to smack us in the face. We weren't a part of it. This was an exclusive event that only the top YouTubers were invited to. We watched these "YouTube celebrities" intermix with mainstream celebrities. We watched these elite YouTubers upload videos of their backstage parties they were having...  that the rest of us weren't invited to. We were watching our "new media" hijacked from under us by people who didn't understand what made it "new media", and relegating us back to our old traditional media roles of meaningless observers.

This was the sentiment we had, at the time, as first era YouTubers. There had been a buildup to this. As the YouTube Community developed, sort of an accidental byproduct of the video sharing site, a hierarchy began to develop, as happens within a community. Before YouTube became a household word, people began to experience a pseudo-celebrity status within this niche online community. News stations began to pick up on this, and would report on "the new celebrities."

After Google took over, they introduced the partnership program in mid 2007. I always supported the idea of the partnership program, but regarded its execution as being poorly handled. The greater community saw the elites being hand-picked and given special privileges. This exacerbated a rift between the "YouTube stars" and the "regular YouTubers".

YouTube began to market itself as a reach for stardom, rather than a community. It misappropriated the terms "YouTuber" and "YouTube Community" to refer to the totality of uploaders, rather than the community of people who participated in interacting with each other, who had coined those terms in the first place. A new wave of people began to join YouTube with the aspirations of online celebrity status, and YouTube partnership, and being like their online celebrity heroes.

By 2008, there was a well-established rift. At one point, YouTube came up with a feature called "premium most viewed" in which partner's videos would show up first in search results, and be identified by a red triangle in the corner of the thumbnail, making them stand out from other videos. This was met with much resentment from the community.

A lot of people in the old community saw YouTube Live as the death-nell of the community, and of our new media revolution. Well, actually, a lot of things have been met with claims of being the death-nell of the YouTube Community. But YouTube Live, in a lot of ways, did in fact signify the end of the first era. At that time, a lot of my associates disappeared from YouTube. I would have to rebuild my network of associates, later. Renetto, once YouTube's strongest evangelist, became YouTube's biggest critic.

YouTube Live was intended to "mainstreamize" YouTube's content. Despite being a flop, I'd say it was successful. In the same way, the Apple Newton is seen as a flop, but it lead to the marketing of PDA devices, which lead to the marketing of the iPhone. Ultimately, the Newton was a success. While YouTube Live was a flop, it opened the door to the mainstream public, changing the face of YouTube.

While this change was a disappointment to the first era YouTubers, the new star-driven approach fueled the success of YouTube. We had our fun for a while, but it's the nature of things to change. This is an inevitability, and it's in one's own best interest to keep moving forward. We can't stop change any more than a corporation can reproduce the old YouTube Community. What if Google hadn't bought YouTube? What if there never was an exacerbation of the the rift between YouTubers? Do you think the YouTube community would still be the same in 2018 as it was in the old days? My guess is, we'd be saying, "remember when YouTube was popular in the 2000s?" We'd have all moved on to other things in our own time. But, we'll always have the memories of YouTube's golden age.

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