Collins Essay 2

Katie Collins
Knowledge and Information Management
Essay 2
5/5/10

YouTube: Managing Knowledge and Entertainment

Introduction
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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtube). YouTube hosts over 40 million videos—enough content to keep one occupied for more than 200 years (Crane). Obviously, various 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.

A goal of YouTube as an online sanctuary for any user who wishes to follow the site’s mantra of ‘Broadcast Yourself’ is the continuation of the established trend of freely shared knowledge. But a competing goal—that 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 thanks to YouTube’s unique system of knowledge management.

Public Access to Knowledge
According to talance.com’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” (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1340000334/post/1200043520.html).

The tacit knowledge contained in these dance and guitar instructional videos contains know-how that YouTube users could not glean from simply reading 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.

Transforming Tacit to Explicit
According to the wikipedia entry for tacit knowledge, there are three major approaches to the capture of tacit knowledge from groups and individuals. They are: interviewing experts, learning by being told, and learning by observation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacit_knowledge). The medium of video lends itself to the transformation of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge through these three methods, while a site such as YouTube makes the produced knowledge available to a worldwide audience.

A YouTube search for “how to play guitar” on April 30, 2010 results in about 701,000 results. The first generated result, “How to play Guitar for Newbies,” posted by mahalodotcom two years ago, can be studied as an example of a video that allows for the transmission of tacit knowledge that utilizes each of wikipedia’s three approaches.

  • First, Mahalo Daily host Veronica Belmont explains to viewers that “before you get started, you want to learn some of the basic terms that describe the different parts of the guitar,” thus utilizing the ‘learning by being told’ approach to capturing tacit knowledge. She points out the parts of the guitar she is holding, and then teaches viewers about the different notes produced by strumming each string.
  • Next, she brings in “classically trained guitar expert” Bob Cuadra, to instruct the viewers in playing chords, thereby checking off the ‘interviewing experts’ approach to capturing tacit knowledge.
  • Finally, because the entire explanation is conveyed to the audience through video, the ‘learning by observation’ approach is inherent. However, there are other learning cues couched within this instructional video that are inherent to the ‘learning by observation’ approach but are not immediately apparent. For instance, a viewer with absolutely no prior knowledge of playing the guitar will visually cue in to the position in which Veronica and Bob are holding their guitars, as well as the way that they strum the strings, even though no explanation of these processes is offered.

The video surpasses the three approaches listed by wikipedia by also including textual advice and information along the bottom of the screen so that viewers can gain even more from the viewing process. Hints such as “Your fingers will start to hurt as you begin to play. This is normal. Eventually, with time and practice, your fingertips will develop calluses and the pain will go away” convey experiential knowledge to the viewer that they might not be able to learn through simply watching this instructional video. All in all, a viewer who selects this video as his or her source of instruction for playing the guitar is guaranteed a far more in-depth introduction to guitar playing than a person who picks up a book of sheet music or attempts to glean this information through reading a book on guitar playing.

YouTube, as a repository of video knowledge, even hosts channels dedicated purely to educational how-to videos. The Expert Village channel, subtitled ‘Watch and Learn,’ provides video content concerning anything from “Football Agents & Scouting: How to Become a Football Agent” to “How to Buy & Care for Chinchillas.” With such an array of informative videos, YouTube truly offers something to fit the needs of just about any user anywhere.

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…” (http://drrileycrane.googlepages.com/youtube.html).

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_video). 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 (http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20070706/TUSK04/70706001/-1/NEWS09).

In June of 2008, anthropologist Michael Wesch gave a lecture titled “The Anthropology of YouTube,” as part of the Library of Congress’s “Digital Native” lecture series. Sydney Jones summarizes his lecture as follows:

“He kicked off his talk by showing the video that sparked what he called the first worldwide participatory movement in the YouTube phenomenon, “Numa Numa.” While the audience laughed at the silly dancing in the video, Wesch pointed out the deeper implications of the video and the over 58,000 responses it provoked: it was the beginning of a new, user-driven community in which everyone is invited to participate. Respondents to and viewers of “Numa Numa” were “celebrating” a new sense of empowerment, community, and global connection.” (Jones, http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2008/June/Anthropology-of-YouTube.aspx)

Wesch highlights an important quality of YouTube: that of a social medium. Jones, in summarizing Wesch’s research, points out that “Beyond the statistics that prove the ever-growing YouTube population… is the expanding and deepening sense of an actual community among YouTube users.” YouTube began when its creators needed a place to post videos of a dinner party, and has since evolved into a place where users can gather to spread their ideas, connect with one another, and maintain a culture that is entirely their own. Through the user-to-user spreading of videos (whether viral or not), YouTube users are able to control the spread of knowledge contained on the site.

Alan Lastufka and Michael W. Dean, in their 2009 book YouTube: an Insider's Guide to Climbing the Charts, examine the culture and evolution of viral videos and their propensity to widely spread a message. They tell their readers that “These days… the majority of viral videos are well-produced, scripted, and sometimes even funded productions. Larger comedy groups and corporations saw the power in numbers of early viral videos and have spent a lot of time, and money, trying to reproduce those organic viewing frenzies time and time again” (http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/9780596155049). The successful creation and distribution of a viral video can lead to massive exposure of a product, service, or idea among the citizens of YouTube, who can be expected to do their part to proliferate the spread of the video and the content it contains or to reject its content and thus the efforts of the producers.

The Google aspect of YouTube Governance
Until 2006, YouTube had no means of generating revenue, and relied on the funding of investors to remain viable. Although unconfirmed, estimates indicated that YouTube was streaming up to 200 terabytes of content per day, which would have resulted in monthly payments of $1 million or more for bandwidth alone (http://money.howstuffworks.com/youtube8.htm). YouTube needed monetary support in order to survive.

Lastufka and Dean categorize the process of Google’s purchase of YouTube as an obvious marriage of talents. “Quickly taking note of YouTube’s unique user base and functionality, Google, the search engine giant, purchased YouTube for more than $1.6 billion dollars in 2006. Google could offer YouTube users more server bandwidth (faster service) and better promotional tools (the integration of AdSense for YouTube Partners), along with Google’s patented, powerful search engine” (http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/9780596155049). Google quickly began to look for ways to incorporate advertising on YouTube without alienating the YouTube community, and in August 2007, Google began to introduce advertising in a few YouTube videos (http://money.howstuffworks.com/youtube8.htm).

Immediately, YouTube users were worried that Google’s advertising strategy would earn money off the private videos of average members. Google, predicting this unease, announced that it would share advertising revenue with video creators. However, not all videos feature advertising—only videos with a lot of views or creators with a large subscription base get to participate in profiting from their content (http://money.howstuffworks.com/youtube8.htm). This advertising system simultaneously keeps YouTube afloat while also manipulating the viewing patterns of select videos uploaded to the site. Users who draw high numbers of viewers to their content benefit from the placement of overlay or sidebar ads being paired with their content. Thus YouTube has devised a system for profit that benefits not only the corporation, but their most active users, as well.

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 Strutta.com, “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.

YouTube can monitor what content is uploaded and shared with friends, how much time users spend watching it, or what they click on (Auletta, 256). It is impossible to view a video without YouTube’s algorithm noting your usage and suggesting a video that 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 control this usage.

A crucial method of sorting videos on YouTube is through the use of tags. Tagging, the process of creating labels for online content, “advances and personalizes online searching. Traditionally, search on the web (or within websites) is done by using keywords. Tagging is a kind of next-stage search phenomenon – a way to mark, store, and then retrieve the web content that users already found valuable and of which they want to keep track” (Rainie, http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Tagging.aspx). The YouTube Help Forum suggests to users that “Tags help you label videos you upload so that other people can find them more easily” (http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/answer.py?answer=55769&query=tagging&topic=&type). In this way, YouTube relies on users’ desire to get their content viewed to help in categorizing the massive amount of videos uploaded to their site. Both users and YouTube, LLC benefit from the use of tags to organize and access video content.

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 browsing videos on the site, this policing of video access becomes effective.

YouTube, as the provider of searchable video content, restricts the ability of users to watch some videos by 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. In this sense, YouTube determines the appropriateness of certain content for particular users, and manages those viewers’ abilities to access it.

Through embedded Google AdSense ads, YouTube even attempts to control which outside sites users will visit through linking ads to relevant videos. For example, the mahalodotcom video “How to play Guitar for Newbies” discussed above was paired with an ad that asked “Learning guitar?” with a link to the external site www.guitartricks.com. YouTube also manages the size of content being uploaded by registered users by limiting videos to ten minutes in length and an overall file size of 2 GB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtube). Finally, YouTube’s terms of service prohibit the uploading of videos that contain defamation, pornography, copyright violations, and the encouragement of criminal conduct, which considerably constricts the content that amateur users can post and interested viewers can access (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtube).

Conclusion
Michael Miller, in his book titled YouTube for Business: Online Video Marketing for Any Business, poses the question of advertising sense. With close to 80 million visitors per month viewing more than three billion videos total, YouTube is certainly a knowledge-distributing force to be reckoned with. He asserts that “YouTube is replacing traditional television viewing for many users. According to Google, an average YouTube viewer spends 164 minutes online everyday; in contrast, viewers spend just 130 minutes per day watching traditional television” (http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/9780768686180). With these facts in mind, and knowing the power of YouTube users to absorb and distribute content, it only makes sense for businesses (as well as individuals) to utilize the online arena to advertise their products or ideas.

This leaves it up to YouTube to maintain a carefully guarded system for distributing access to video content. In order to remain a viable company, YouTube must constantly innovate, and thus far in their history, they have been successful in doing so. As recently as March 31, 2010, YouTube launched a new design, with the aim of simplifying the interface and increasing the time users spend on the site, in order to drive up ad viewings and thus increase revenue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtube).

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 viewed—or learned—next. The development of YouTube’s algorithms for video viewing paired with the natural video viewing tendencies of actual users has led to the creation of a more unstructured, self-correcting, constantly evolving system of knowledge management that is uniquely effective for this site that wields tremendous power over the citizens of the world.

Works Cited
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