Author Archives: Rachel

Final project: You vs Us vs Them: A HuluTube Postmortem


On April 15th, YouTube channel therealweeklynews posted a sensational video claiming that YouTube would launch a major redesign of its front page “in the next couple of days” as part of a plan to highlight content from its corporate partners and (allegedly) phase out user-generated content to make the site more like the network-only web-syndication site Hulu. The video was inspired by a March 30th report on business blog Silicon Alley Insider (by way of ClickZ) announcing that YouTube would be redesigned to “make the site more attractive to the content creators who make the kind of stuff Google could actually sell ads against.” Supposedly, the new site would feature three tabs for content from its corporate partners (“Movies,” “Music,” and “Shows”) and only one (“Videos”) for user-generated content.

While the details of these reports turned out not to be entirely accurate, something did change on April 16th. YouTube launched a redesign which, among other things, features a “Shows” tab as “a new destination” for corporate content. The YouTube team emphasized that this would not impact user-generated content on the site, stating: “This addition is one of many efforts underway to ensure that we’re offering you all the different kinds of video you want to see, from bedroom vlogs and citizen journalism reports to music videos and full-length films and TV shows.” On the same day, CNET News reported that YouTube had struck new deals to host content by a variety of entertainment companies, including Sony Pictures, CBS, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Starz, and the BBC.

Even though the “changes” did not emerge as expected, the “HuluTube” video nevertheless sparked a controversy among YouTube video bloggers, partners (users who earn money by placing ads on their videos), and community members. In “You vs Us vs Them: A HuluTube Postmortem,” we collected voices from the YouTube community with the following questions in mind:

  • What defines “community” on YouTube?
  • How can corporate content and business interests coexist with a community of user-generated content creators?
  • What do “you” actually mean to YouTube?

Three weeks later, the debate rages on. therealweeklynews recently responded to his responders, accusing the YouTube partners speaking up in defense of YouTube, several of whom are featured in our video, of being “corporate shills.” YouTube partner TheArchfiend responded again, speculating that therealweeklynews might himself be a “shill” for YouTube. But setting aside the name-calling for a moment, we ask you to step back and consider the larger issues at stake.

The HuluTube controversy points to a growing tension between YouTube’s user community and its shareholders. On Friday, April 3rd, financial services company Credit Suisse estimated that while the site’s revenue is up overall, YouTube will lose $470 million in 2009, largely due to the bandwidth costs of hosting user-generated content. While the Web 2.0 revolution, exemplified by sites like YouTube, has changed the way we navigate and communicate online, it has yet to present a sustainable business model. Farhad Manjoo writes for Slate:

“User-generated content” is proving to be a financial albatross. Two years ago, Time magazine named “you” its Person of the Year for doing your small part in fueling the Web 2.0 revolution. The magazine argued that by collecting and distributing the creations of millions of individuals, the Web is upending the way we learn about what’s going on in the world around us. There’s no doubt this is true…. Yet even though they’ve changed the way we live, sites that collect and share content produced by all of us haven’t done the one thing many tech evangelists said they’d do–make a ton of money. Or, in many cases, any money. There’s a simple reason for this: Advertisers don’t like paying very much to support homemade photos and videos.

Daryl Horner inadvertently put it best when he said, “This is a machine…and you are the most important part of this machine.” In the context of his video, this comment was part of an argument that viewers aren’t clicking on ads often enough to support the site (and, by extension, partners who personally benefit from ad revenue). While this may be true, users aren’t the only factor in the equation. The content of user-generated content is also at issue for advertisers. As Manjoo (and vlogger John Green in our video) point out, YouTube’s most popular content doesn’t always sit well with advertisers–they don’t want their products associated with a water-skiing squirrel. As long as YouTube continues to depend on ad revenue, it appears that some form of compromise is in order.

Yet the question of who YouTube’s most valuable users really are, and of who is selling what to whom, is not easy to answer. No matter who “you” are–an independent video-maker, a corporate content provider, a partner, a troll, a commenter, or simply a passive viewer–you have something at stake in YouTube.

We encourage you to add your voice to the debate.

Interactive music video!

If you’re taking a study break and feel like having your mind completely blown, I suggest you check out the new interactive music video for “Dark Bubbles” by Black Moth Super Rainbow.

Using a webcam, viewers can shift the position of the heavenly bodies by slowly moving their own heads or hands left and right in front of the camera’s lens. Moving the cursor will have the same effect if users choose that option.

My friend Chris worked on the matte painting and animation!

You can find out more information about the video on Stereogum. And if you like the concept behind it, you should also check out the interactive video for “Neon Bible” by the Arcade Fire.

#hubbardfail: The Real Problem With Twitter

Eric Etheridge of New York Times blog The Opinionator observed yesterday that Twitter users are experiencing rapid burnout. After only a week and a half, Oprah is already bored with Twitter, and she’s not alone. The Neilson media ratings company estimates that more than 60% of Twitter users quit tweeting in under a month. After the first wave of full-blown Twittermania, it’s beginning to seem like people just don’t know what to do with the ability to constantly express themselves in 140 characters or less.

Twitter’s apparent pointlessness has emerged as a major rile-factor for Twitter haters. Case in point: Pomona’s own Nick Hubbard, whose opinion piece “The Problem With Twitter” appeared in last week’s issue of The Student Life:

You send text messages–in Twitter lingo, these are called “tweets”–constantly updating your “followers” about what you are doing. That is it, just mindless texting and following. Absolutely nothing of practical value. This is so… awful. Twitter is making America dumber, up to 140 characters at a time.

Hubbard’s piece is problematic in a variety of ways: He’s prone to sweeping generalizations (Twitter users are “boring, talentless idiots”–that’s right, even the senators!) and facile insults: for example, targeting “teenage girls” on the Internet as a “waste of space,” or the fact that the piece originally appeared with the title “Twitter: the Jersey Shore of the Internet,” an utterly pointless low blow which TSL editors apparently saw fit to omit in the online version.

Hubbard resorts to these tactics because–despite the grand sentiment of the new, Jersey-friendly title–he can’t find a real “problem” with Twitter beyond a generic and oft-voiced critique that social networking technologies are lowering our cultural discourse. Which begs the question: are hastily-written screeds in college newspapers raising it?

There are plenty of perfectly well-reasoned arguments against Twitter out there: for instance, Nicholas Carr’s “Twitter dot dash,” which he published way back in 2007, well before the Oprahs of the world turned Twitter into the latest mainstream techno-fad. But Hubbard seems to be responding more to the fad status of Twitter than anything of substance about the service itself. Herein lies the problem with “The Problem With Twitter”: kneejerk hatred of new technology is no more productive or enlightened than kneejerk adoption. Hubbard’s heavy-handed, reactionary rhetoric only obfuscates the real issues around emerging Web technologies.

Update: My response to Hubbard’s article is also up on the Student Life website!

Web Trend Map

web trend map

International design firm Information Architects has released their fourth annual Web Trend Map.

The Web Trend Map is a yearly publication by Information Architects (iA). It maps the 333 leading web domains and the 111 most influential people onto the Tokyo Metro map.

Twitter is in Shibuya this year, while Google is in Shinjuku. Take a look at the forces that shape our world in an aesthetically pleasing and statistically inventive (yet inscrutable) form!

An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube

Sorry for posting this kinda late, but I have another suggested “reading.” If you have some free time before class tomorrow check this out (it’s about an hour long):


“An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube” is a lecture KSU professor Dr. Michael Wesch (creator of “The Machine is Us/ing Us”) presented to the Library of Congress in June 2008. It’s a great overview of the relationship between Youtube and a variety of emerging trends in today’s network culture.

The Pirate Google

If you’re reeling in the aftermath of the recent guilty verdict against the Pirate Bay, why not try The Pirate Google for your torrent-downloading and ‘net-democratizing needs?

This site is not affiliated with Google, it simply makes use of Google Custom Search to restrict your searches to Torrent files. You can do this with any regular Google search by appending your query with filetype:torrent. This technique can be used for any type of file supported by Google.

The intention of this site is to demonstrate the double standard that was exemplified in the recent Pirate Bay Trial. Sites such as Google offer much the same functionality as The Pirate Bay and other Bit Torrent sites but are not targeted by media conglomerates such as the IFPI as they have the political and legal clout to defend themselves unlike these small independent sites.

This site is created in support of an open, neutral internet accessible and equitable to all regardless of political or financial standing.

Link via BoingBoing, which also has great ongoing coverage of Internet copyright issues.

Suggested reading: “My Crowd,” by Bill Wasik

Perhaps you’ve heard of the flash mob, a phenomenon that became vogue in the early/mid 00’s, generally defined as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.” Flash mobs are organized anonymously, through e-mail, text messaging, or social networking sites.

In the 2006 article “My Crowd, or Phase 5: A report from the inventor of the flash mob,” Harper’s editor Bill Wasik revealed that he created the first flash mob in May 2003. Wasik conceived of the flash mob as a social experiment to comment on the conformist behavior and “scenesterism” of urban hipsters, but soon found that his experiment had become a media sensation: a flash mob murder was a major plot point in a 2004 episode of “CSI: Miami”, and Wasik describes attending a “flash concert” organized by Ford and Sony to promote the Ford Fusion.

Wasik’s article is also an insightful (and frequently funny) commentary on a weird paradox inherent in today’s digital media culture: while it gives us the tools to create new and interesting forms of expression (the flash mob, for instance), it also enables the “mob mentality” on a massive scale.

I think this would be a great reading for either Monday or Wednesday, but I can’t decide which–maybe we should put it to a vote?

Machinima, Art, and Brody Condon

In “The Xbox Auteurs”, after posing the question of whether machinima can be “art,” Clive Thompson mentions a piece by Brody Condon composed entirely of footage of player characters committing suicide in various game scenarios. The piece is “Suicide Solution” (2004), which Condon describes as an “in-game performance.” You can find an excerpt from “Suicide Solution” and documentation of a lot of other really interesting work with gaming, machinima, and digital imaging on his website, tmpspace.

In “The Xbox Auteurs,” Thompson is trying to create an analogy between independent, “auteur” filmmaking practices and machinima. The analogy falls flat, however, when you realize how beholden machinima filmmakers are to the prefabricated and limited game scenario. Even the most low-budget filmmaker has a huge variety of options in terms of crafting a film narrative compared to the machinima “auteur.” As Thompson observes, until the character-based, dialogue-heavy machinima project “Red vs. Blue” became popular, Halo characters couldn’t even lower their weapons.

The question of whether machinima can be “art” is a loaded one, and Thompson doesn’t do a particularly good job of framing it in the article–“serious emotional depth” is not the sole qualification for artistic merit. Nevertheless, it’s a question worth asking. I would argue that machinima is art, to the extent that any use of any technology can be art. But as an artform, machinima is distincly different from cinema. It’s not just showing us a mediated “reality,” it’s showing us a doubly mediated vision of an already mediated game world.

Getting back to Brody Condon, I think his characterization of his work as “in-game performance” is more accurate than Thompson’s comparison of machinima to indie filmmaking. No matter what kind of story one tries to tell, machinima can’t help but at some point become a commentary on “world” it represents–and, consequentially, the world outside that one. To me, the most interesting thing about machinima is its ability to represent a counter-narrative to the imposed narrative of the game–for instance, Thompson’s jokey example of the innocent Canadian tourist wandering around Grand Theft Auto, or Condon’s  intentional “suicides.” Machinima is not simply telling a story, it’s telling us what it means to be “in-game.”

Sophie – “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”

Here is my Sophie version of Alan Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Enjoy!

Famous for Fifteen People

Since I’m on a total Momus kick tonight (see previous), here’s an article he wrote way back in 1992 entitled “Pop Stars? Nein Danke!” which predicted the commercial viability of cult media and “unpopular pop” over a decade before Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, but well before Internet retail was even a possibility. Fascinating!

In the article’s subtitle, he coins the excellent Andy Warhol paraphrase, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people.”

How many more performers must be sacrificed on the altar of our nostalgic wish to see 'one nation under a groove'? To stay sane, to stay plausible, pop artists must drop their claims to universal stardom. Let's abandon the nostalgia, let's drop the rhetoric, let's restructure the music industry. We now have a democratic technology, a technology which can help us all to produce and consume the new, 'unpopular' pop musics, each perfectly customised to our elective cults.