Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A footnote I wrote. I was looking back over the paper on hipsterism and 'the street' that I wrote for CSAA 2006, and I was intrigued that I had felt the need to write a fairly lengthy footnote about YouTube. This is what it said. was launched in February 2005 and in October 2006 the three co-founders sold the site to internet behemoth Google. Unlike previous online video formats, it doesn’t require users to download any software. Instead it uses Flash technology to allow users with little technical experience to upload video files in various formats for online viewing, sending to others and pasting into blogs or other websites. In a footnote, I can’t do justice to YouTube’s immense cultural significance; but its most important functions are threefold: it archives a ‘long tail’ of previously ephemeral pop-cultural moments from film, television and music to enable nostalgic mining later; it largely removes the gatekeeper function of traditional media, enabling people to see unedited footage of notorious media moments; and it enables certain performances to become floating signifiers which attain cult status among internet users.
These days, I wouldn't feel the need to write so much about what the site 'does'; I would assume a certain basic knowledge on the part of my readers. But (and I'm aware I'm blowing my own horn here), I'm impressed by the succinct way I nailed the things that continue to be YouTube's key functions: its ability to facilitate nostalgia; the way it shifts cultural authority from big content producers to viewers (which came to attract legal trouble I didn't anticipate back in 2006); and its memeyness.

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