Collins Essay 1

Katie Collins
Knowledge and Information Management
Essay 1

YouTube: Managing Knowledge and Entertainment

YouTube is a video sharing website on which registered users can upload and share videos. Most of the content on YouTube has been uploaded by individuals, although media corporations offer some of their material via the site, as well ( YouTube can be freely accessed from most countries around the world, and in 2006, more than 65,000 videos were being uploaded daily to YouTube (

YouTube hosts over 40 million videos—enough content to keep one occupied for more than 200 years (Crane). Obviously, methods have been established by YouTube’s users in order to maximize their usage of YouTube while minimizing the amount of time wasted on the site. Since it has become such an abundant repository of video knowledge, YouTube itself also necessarily manages people’s viewing practices and, by extension, the knowledge they glean from the site.

Public Access to Knowledge
According to’s study based on Nielson/NetRatings, the age breakdown of YouTube users is almost evenly distributed, with adults spending even more time on the site than their teenage counterparts. Because accounts are free, it is possible for anyone with internet access and some sort of video recording medium to upload content to the site. As such, YouTube encourages and supports the creation and dissemination of knowledge (as long as it is in video form) from people of all ages and all walks of life. Users can post their videos and identify them with tags, a title, and optional extended info. Immediately upon being uploaded, the video becomes freely accessible to all other users of the site (with the exception of very few that do not pass YouTube’s broad initial copyright screening).

YouTube has become a resource for people worldwide who seek audio or visual assistance in understanding a topic. According to Dr. Joyce Valenza, a teacher-librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania, “This year [2009] YouTube became the new research starting point. It has also become my students’ go to independent learning portal.” She credits the site’s role as a provider of tacit knowledge to students: “I noticed my students learning lots of things using YouTube. A large group is planning to perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the prom. One specific clip of step-by-step instructions plays over and over on our workstations. I’ve noticed our guitarists studying clips to improve their technique” (

The tacit knowledge contained in these dance and guitar instructional videos contains know-how that YouTube users could not glean from simply reading about it in a book. The tacit skills shared in these kinds of YouTube videos are provided by amateur experts, and are learned by users through observation and application. YouTube, LLC occupies a unique position as both moderator and distributor of user-created knowledge on the internet.

Knowledge vs. Entertainment
In their 2009 book, Youtube: Online Video and Participatory Culture, Jean Burgess and Joshua Green assert that “content is circulated and used in YouTube without much regard to its source—it is valued and engaged with in specific ways according to its genre and its uses within the website as well as its relevance to the everyday lives of other users, rather than according to whether or not it was uploaded by a Hollywood studio, a web TV company, or an amateur videoblogger” (Burgess and Green, 57). This assertion highlights YouTube’s slogan: “Broadcast Yourself,” and the implications of this mantra. YouTube was created as a place to feature user-generated content, and as such, many of its users do not give much thought to the original source or credibility of the information they obtain from the site. In fact, YouTube has become increasingly well-known for its hosting of what have become known as ‘viral videos.’

Riley Crane, a researcher at MIT, has statistically measured the spread of over five million videos on YouTube. Through his findings, he classifies videos posted on YouTube as either viral, quality, or junk. These classifications are based on the ways that the videos are spread among users: “viral videos are those with precursory word-of-mouth growth resulting from epidemic-like propagation through a social network…Quality videos experience a sudden burst of activity rather than a bottom-up growth, and because of the “quality” of their content, subsequently trigger an epidemic cascade through the social network…Lastly, junk videos are those that experience a burst of activity for some reason (spam, chance, etc) but do not spread through the social network. Therefore their activity is determined largely by the first-generation of viewers…” (

The viewing of viral videos is one way in which users display their preferred usage of YouTube: for entertainment. Humor is sometimes considered to be a vital component and characteristic of a viral video. But humor is not, in fact, the defining characteristic; a viral video is any video that is passed electronically from person to person, regardless of its content ( Video games, movies and music or music-related videos all inspire viral fever, and as such they appeal to a wide viewing audience, which leads to their high number of viewings ( Through the spreading of videos (whether viral or not), YouTube users are able to contribute to the spread of knowledge contained on the site.

YouTube and Knowledge Management
YouTube, LLC, as a for-profit subsidiary of Google, has had to adopt a knowledge management strategy in order to identify, distribute, and organize the pieces of knowledge uploaded to the website. According to Steven Wittens, Senior Web Architect at, “to help its users sift through [YouTube’s] massive video database, sophisticated algorithms produce real time charts, generate content suggestions and map video relations. And just like Google PageRank, the algorithms behind all this have become a valuable trade secret.”

The front page of YouTube for a registered user features sections titled ‘Subscriptions,’ ‘Recommended for You,’ ‘Featured Videos,’ and ‘Videos Being Watched Now.’ According to Riley Crane, “videos appearing on the front-page are chosen by the [site’s] editors, whereas those on the ‘most-viewed today’ page are ‘chosen’ in a collaborative sense by the collective actions of the community (by making a video the ‘most-viewed’).” YouTube selects their Featured Videos based on present popularity, and as such attempts to manage the usage of the site’s incoming visitors.

It is impossible to view a video without YouTube’s algorithm noting your usage and calculating which video you might enjoy viewing next. However, the view count of each video on the site is recalculated so often that the Featured Videos are updated every few seconds. As such, there is a two-sided process of knowledge management occurring constantly on YouTube: as users interact with the site content, the content is changed in attempt to both reflect and manage this usage.

YouTube controls the videos viewed by each user through the implementation of the ‘Related Videos’ feature. According to Steven Wittens’ research on YouTube’s Related Videos, “the first (predictable) factor [in determining video relatedness] is traditional keyword relevance between videos: using the title, summary and tags, other videos are found that relate to the same topics. The second deciding factor is more surprising though and comes from observing an easily missed fact: the view count of related videos tends to match the view count of the video they relate to.” In this way, YouTube attempts to maintain the number of viewings of videos on related subjects, in attempt to maintain a general hierarchy of what is popular and what is not. Obviously, this strategy will be ineffective when a user has arrived at the site via a direct link to a video of interest and immediately leaves, but for viewers who spend extended periods of time on the site, this policing of video access becomes effective.

YouTube further restricts the ability of users to watch videos through requiring accounts at the site. Registered users are permitted to upload and view an unlimited number of videos, whereas unregistered viewers and registered viewers under the age of 18 are restricted from watching videos that contain content deemed potentially inappropriate. Also, YouTube’s terms of service prohibit the uploading of videos that contain defamation, pornography, copyright violations, and the encouragement of criminal conduct (

A goal of YouTube as an online sanctuary for any user who wishes to ‘Broadcast Him/Herself’ is the potential for free sharing of knowledge. A goal of YouTube as a company is to control the usage of viewers in attempt to regularize advertising sales. These two goals are in conflict every time a user accesses the site, but they continue to balance one another out.

YouTube’s constant recalculation of what is popular orders the user’s exposure to knowledge, while the user’s determination of what to watch simultaneously reorders the site’s calculation of what will be learned next. The development of YouTube’s algorithms for video viewing paired with the video viewing tendencies of actual users has led to the creation of a more unstructured, self-correcting system of knowledge management that is uniquely effective for the site.

Works Cited
Burgess, Jean, and Green, Joshua. Youtube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009.

Crane, Riley. YouTube Research. Riley Crane. MIT. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

Hartley, John. "Uses of YouTube: Digital Literacy and the Growth of Knowledge." Youtube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2009. 126-43.

"The history of viral video." The Tuscaloosa News 06 July 2007. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

Riley Crane. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

Valenza, Joyce. “Research shift: YouTube as starting point” School Library Journal. School Library Journal. 19 Apr. 2009. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

"Viral video." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

Weblog post. 14 May 2009. 2 Mar. 2010 <>.

Wittens, Steven. "Six Degrees of YouTube." Web log post. Strutta. 08 Jan. 2009. Strutta HQ. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

"YouTube." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 27 Feb. 2010 <>.

"YouTube serves up 100 million videos a day online." USA Today 16 July 2006. 1 Mar. 2010 <>.

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