YouTube as a website of participatory culture

How does YouTube function as a site of participatory culture? How do YouTubers participate in culture? What does it mean to understand YouTube as a “redactional system?”

-Based upon chapters from YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green

YouTube functions a website of participatory culture in that its viewers create its content, dictating the “most viewed, most favorite, most responded [and] most discussed videos.” An operational definition of each of these four categories as outlined in “YouTube’s Popular Culture” by Jean Burgess and Joshua Green elucidates YouTube’s dependence upon its viewers to function and flourish.

As described in “YouTube’s Popular Culture” the most favorite category includes videos that are popular enough to be put onto a user’s profile. Most discussed videos are those that foster the most comments, while most responded are those videos that viewers “were most frequently prompted to post a video response to, either by filming their own material or linking to another video in the system.”  From these definitions it becomes clear that YouTube’s functioning is completely dependent on the perpetuated creativity and interest of its millions of users around the world.

The content survey detailed in “YouTube’s Popular Culture” explains that YouTube involves two types of content, including “user-created” and “traditional media.” Overall, the majority of the videos on YouTube are user-created, “comprising the largest group of people contributing to the system.” Additionally, videoblogging is a “dominant form of user-created content and is fundamental to YouTube’s sense of community.”  Importantly, not all four YouTube categories are ruled by user-created material. For example, traditional media content accounts for a large portion of the most viewed and most favorited videos.

Importantly, YouTube can be understood through the concept of “redactional system.” As explained in the article, this term coins YouTube as a web site that involves the “production of new material by the process of editing existing content.” In other words, a redaction system involves not the simple reduction of text, but a particular form of production (Hartley, 2008). More specifically, meaning of text is no longer limited in the high-held hands of cultural industries and authors, but it has traveled to be shared in the hands of the “citizen consumer.” In this way, the citizen-consumer, too can be a “source of value creation, and not only its destination.” Under the redactional system model, culture has begun to stray from ‘read-only’ to a ‘read-write.’

As described in “YouTube’s Popular Culture,” YouTube has played a significant and revolutionary role in cultural events. For example, YouTube was utilized in the 2008 presidential election. As explained in the article, YouTube has played “a significant role…as a site for both top-down and grass-roots political campaigning.” On another note, videos centering upon celebrities have also been widely popular, as have been music videos.

Another way that YouTubers participate in culture is through “YouTube Poop” videos, as they are termed. These videos are a sort of individual interpretation and are a “genre of their own.” These videos consist of “pieced together found television footage into irreverent, often nonsensical works.” Through these works, people are able to comment on culture and society in nontraditional ways, sharing their work and perpetuating it through the four categories.

YouTube flourishes chiefly because of its extreme simplicity, “remov[ing] the technical barriers to the widespread sharing of video online.”Just the name itself mirrors its function-YouTube. Because of the simplistic “integrated interface within which users [can] upload, publish and view streaming videos” a wider population is drawn and encouraged to participate in this phenomenon. YouTube offers no limits on the amount of videos one person can upload. Moreover, YouTube also operates as a sort of social network, allowing people to link videos to one another and even post video links on Facebook.

Many “Big Content Players” have voiced their uncomfortableness that they exercise so little control over the content on YouTube. In rebuttal, others interject that that the element of user control is exactly what makes YouTube so unique. YouTube truly puts creative power into the hands of individuals, allowing for them to create, share and watch videos. In this way, users take part in a digitized YouTube culture which operates by simplifying user involvement and user sharing.

To understand how YouTube works as a web page of participatory culture, one must take into account specificity and scale. As outlined, it is difficult to attribute YouTube with a particular cultural theory, as it “tests the limits of explanatory power.” Most current attempts to understand YouTube have been grounded in the “hard end of social science” involving informatics and computer science. Social network analysis has also been helpful in beginning to understand YouTube’s unique function.

Other crucial benefits of YouTube include content availability, simplicity, the ability to skip ahead to particular segments of a video and quick download (depending on internet connection). Furthermore, the uploading process is very simple, and it allows users to broadcast to an infinite audience. Lastly, YouTube can be beneficial as a free marketing tool, appealing equally to the business world.

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2 Responses to YouTube as a website of participatory culture

  1. Francis says:

    I found the information on this blog handy.

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