I spent some time recently playing around on the post-acquisition YouTube. It seems that Google’s legal department has really cracked down on copyrighted material; about one in six links I surfed from within YouTube were broken (removed due to terms of service violations or such).
But in surfing the remaining stuff — most all amateur productions like guitar showoffs or beatboxing flautists — a realization came over me that has renewed my hope for humanity. This is an odd thing to say about grainy, jerky videos filmed in peoples’ garages and living rooms, I realize.
What it was in particular, though, that gave me this sense of hope, is understanding that people — non-professional people, amateurs in the both the “lover” and in the “unpaid” senses — have an incredible desire to express themselves through random-ass creativity, which they will do if only they have an excuse. YouTube is the excuse and the motivation.
Kids who have a crazy idea, say, to play Pachelbel on the electric guitar at breakneck speed, or to lay down a beatbox while blowing a jazz flute tune — a crazy idea that begs to be shared with other people just for the sheer joy of sharing — now have an outlet, a stage big or small upon which to showcase the finished product. Since a lot of this stuff is just too wacky and micro-scale to find outlets in traditional performance or social venues (you could never sell a ticket to see some guy spit and raspberry into his flute for 4 minutes, and it would take quite the rude host to foist such a display on one’s party guests, for example), in a pre-YouTube world one can imagine some number of would-be beatboxing flautists who simply never would bother to practice and innovate, since they’d have nobody with whom to share their micro-triumph.
Now, with YouTube available, one has a real, credible (if nonremunerative) way to get some social props for honing any weird, nonsaleable, but potentially interesting or amusing skill. This, I hope, will spur all sorts of creative activity, the practice of which I hold inherently to be better than mere consumption or participation in externally-created pastimes.
I realize that this is sort of a reformulation of “Long Tail.” But what I want to focus on is not on the existing producers of the long end of the tail, but rather on the incentive this provides for converting mere consumers into long tail producers, and the moral improvement this results in for those ex-consumers. And this is how YouTube has renewed my hopes for our race.