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Redefining Social Reality – The Age of YouTube Celebrity

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Redefining Social Reality –
The age of YouTube Celebrity

So it finally happened.  Social networking on the Internet is more popular than pornography. 

Certain segments of the population are so busy with social networking that they don’t have time to search for adult web sites. 

Imagine that.  The culture is changing and perhaps we are seeing a change in values of the Internet community as expressed in this new preference in linking up with people rather than linking up with yourself.


 This all according to Bill Tancer, Hitwise’s general manager of global research and author of a new book called Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters. In his book, Tancer says that web searches for social networking sites have finally surpassed searches for pornography.

YouTube as Social Networking

When folks talk about Internet social networking they usually don’t think about YouTube.  They usually think about MySpace and FaceBook.  But, YouTube is a social network of sorts with the distinguishing feature that it is exclusively video-based.

YouTube can be addicting as any Internet activity but with a difference – it has a social context. The real benefit of Internet use is that you discover things that you don’t expect.  A long time ago, before the Internet was public – only available to government research institutions and to universities, I told someone how great it would be if I could get the books and magazines I wanted without going to the brick and mortar library.  The library being a physical inconvenience that I just had no time for.  There was no benefit of going to a physical building.  I did not want the physical building.  All I wanted was the book which was held hostage by this physical edifice which was a geographic distance away.  How inconvenient.

In response, this individual told me that the real benefit of going to the library and searching the stacks for the book I wanted was that I might discover books that I was not looking for.  Of course, looking for the book you want on the shelf you can’t help looking at books next to it.  Perhaps that book catches your interest more than what you sought originally.  It’s an act of discovery.  Expect the unexpected.

The Road not Taken

In a sense, the reward is the road not taken; the reward is what you did not expect.  There is a lot on the Internet that one does not expect.  If you know exactly what you want on YouTube – someone gives you the exact name of the video – then YouTube will find if for you.  But it will also show you related videos that you were not exactly looking for.  Just like the library.  It encourages you to look beyond what you specifically seek – an act of discovery just like the related books in the stacks of the library.  The roads not taken.

YouTube Celebrity

There is celebrity on YouTube.  You can find them by an act of accidental discovery.  They are not Hollywood celebrities, they are just ordinary people.  Or this is what you might think.  But that is not the case.  Many of these folks are anything but ordinary – they are extraordinary.  They provide a valuable link in the nexus of YouTube social networking.

YouTube has a sort of celebrity index.  YouTube collects statistics on how many times a video has been viewed, how many individuals subscribe to a particular video blogger, and a few more statistics that you can find on the users home page.

A low to mid-level YouTube celebrity would have about 3,000 channel subscribers and perhaps 200 videos, and maybe 100,000 views on popular individual videos. Think about that.  Three thousand people have become so interested in this persons videos that they have subscribed to the channel so they can be informed of any new videos that get posted. 

There is no official metric for YouTube celebrity status – but we’d say having 3,000 subscribers and typically 100,000 views on individual videos that they posted – that makes the cut.

Who are YouTube Celebrities and what’s their game

Who are these people?  We know who they are – you can see them – kinda hard to hide from a video blog – but who are they?

Listening closely to language it seems that for some of these folks their “on line life” is merging with their “off-line” life.  For one 38 yr old woman video blogger in particular, this is becoming more and more the case.  It seems that she can made a seamless transition from off-line life to on-line life.  Her blogs are filled with the most personal aspects of her life – typically those subjects that you share only with your close friends.  She, and individuals like her, move between their on-line life and off-line life as any of us would walk from one room to another in our home.

The off-liners- those who have an occasional brush with the Internet – sometimes see people who participate heavily in social communities on the Internet as suffering from some sort of social maladjustment.  That is, the off-liners perceive that the Internet is not Reality.  For these folks, the Real World is the physical world and the world of proximity.  For these people, the world of the Internet is some sort of chimera having the reality of a fantasy.

YouTube celebrities demonstrate a corrective to the off-liners.  YouTube celebrities who so easily merge their on-line life with their off-line life and communicate on-line with such personal matters act like magnets and facilitate the form of YouTube social networking.

One can not dispute that a YouTube celebrity video blogger with 3,000 subscribers has something going.  Why else would 3,000 people subscribe?  These 3,000 subscribers have a chance to meet each other – they were brought together by the celebrity and so they must have something in common.  The home page of the YouTube celebrity will show you their favorites videos.  Going further, if you become a “friend” of the celebrity then you see more links to more people.  And so it goes into links and relationships ad infinitum.

YouTube celebrities – even mid level with 3,000 subscribers – are the sort of gravity that attracts other people.  This constellation of people move through YouTube as subscribers, friends, video responses, and related videos attracting other constellations.  There is no limit to the possible social linkage among people on YouTube. 

YouTube celebrity facilitates this process of social networing.  The fact that YouTube is visual adds to the legitimacy that these are social relationship with all the social cues easily discernible in face-to-face encouters.  How are they not face-to-face – or at least half of that?  In video responses – they are face-to-face but only separated in time but not in kind.

(Social) Reality Test

Maybe the physical world and the realm of your personal physical locality – your neighborhood, your city, is really a diminished form of social existence.

We soon forget the past.  Just a little more than a decade ago the Internet was not public.  To have a friend at that time, typically, you would have to come in some sort of close physical proximity to meet that person or be introduced by a third person.  In this sense, social interaction was hindered by geography and the burden of physical proximity.

But skip ahead to when the Internet became public.  Now geography did not matter.  Skip ahead to 2008 with mature social networks on the Internet.  Now how big is your World?  Your World is no longer limited by geography and proximity.  You can “meet people” in any modern country on the face of the earth.  Imagine that!

The Underground

Lets take a look at some definitions.

Underground: secret; hidden; undercover; in or into secrecy or hiding; so as to be undercover; surreptitiously.
Maladjusted: poorly adjusted, esp. to the environment;Poorly adjusted to cope with social situations

Are the off-liners some sort of underground community – outside the Real social community at large?  Are they hiding from us?  The irony may be that those who call the people who engage in Internet social networking maladjusted are really the ones that are socially maladjusted and not comprehending the extent of the social world that actually exists and can be engaged.

Losing touch with (Social) Reality

The off liners may be losing touch with Reality.  Recently in response to a question I told someone to “go to”.  He though that this was someplace he has to drive in his car and asked me for directions. No, this person was not from a different planet – he was just an off-liner – out of touch with Reality and with an obviously diminished and impoverished set of social relationships.

Resources Social Network Overlap Stats

With a little deeper analysis an interesting picture is revealed. According to the most recent statistics, here are the estimated user bases of the top 5 social networks:

  • Myspace – 200+ million
  • Orkut – 67 million
  • Facebook – 52 million
  • Friendster – 50 million
  • Bebo – 40 million has calculated the following number of active users in October for each of the same social networks:

  • MySpace – 65.21 million
  • Facebook – 24.26 million
  • Bebo – 2.83 million
  • Friendster -1.346 million
  • Orkut – .481 million



Written by frrl

October 19, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

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