Home > Uncategorized > YouTube: Free interaction or calculated community?

YouTube: Free interaction or calculated community?


While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites. How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

Yesterday, my friend emailed me a YouTube clip of a song she thought I’d like. After listening to the wonder that was Sparkadia’s “Talking Like I’m Falling Down Stairs”, I noticed the horizontal bar down the right side of my browser, suggesting various other popular Sparkadia music videos to watch. Keen to discover more great tunes, I clicked on these links, and soon uncovered tens of songs, covers and live performances, thanks to the encoding of YouTube’s web software. Before too long, I found myself immersed in the vast online community of Sparkadia and Sparkadia enthusiasts worldwide.

As normal as this practice of clicking a suggested link after watching a popular video may now seem to us whilst surfing popular Web 2.0 websites, ultimately these actions are ones of great paradox. As Jose van Dijck asserts (2009:44), whilst digital networks enhance ‘cultural citizenship’ by encouraging societal engagement and interconnection, the steering of YouTube users towards particularly promoted or highly ranked videos singles out certain clips as more favorable than others. In this way, YouTube’s influence over the promotion of videos minimizes the opportunity for true democratization within the site and questions its participatory foundations by essentially advertising certain videos as better, or at least more popular, than others, rather than allowing for users to search entirely independently.

But this practice is a double-edged sword. Despite the promotion of certain clips, YouTube’s grouping of similar videos and henceforth, consumer interests, assists in the formation of online communities. Indeed, ranking tactics hugely impact on these online networks. On a positive level, the grouping of similar videos or certain ‘favourited’ videos ranked by YouTube users simplifies the participatory process of interconnected networking by giving participants the ability to interact and share information with a few simple clicks. As outlined in its Terms of Use, YouTube “may record … when you use YouTube, the channels, groups, and favorites you subscribe to, the contacts you communicate with, and the frequency and size of data transfers, as well as information you display or click on.” Data collection allows the personalization of online experiences and in this way encourages the formation of online communities and networking with the suggestion of new and popular videos matching their own personal preferences (Van Dijck, 2009:48). Furthermore, viewers’ ability to rank videos according to their own personal opinions assists in the formation of online communities by encouraging discussion and interaction through ‘likes’, comments, subscriptions and entertainment ‘channels’.

 Yet equally, YouTube is driven by user-generated content and interaction. The website’s control over the formation of online communities through video suggestions and subject groupings can be seen as somewhat detrimental as it influences the popularity of videos and steers viewers towards some videos, therefore naturally moving them away from others. As Schultz (2000) asserts, this new distribution of power between users and within online communities in turn renders new technologies as ‘far from interactive’ (qtd Gane and Beer, 2008:95) Whilst social networking is undoubtedly encouraged through YouTube’s groupings and suggestions of similar videos, it does raise a crucial question. How much control does the website’s software have over user participation and interaction, and hence, the formation of online communities?

Be it detrimental or beneficial to the participatory foundations of YouTube, it cannot be denied that ranking tactics and data manipulation assist in the formation of online communities. Whether these networking cultures are truly interactive, democratic and participatory can be debated, but essentially, the display of popular or ‘favourited’ clips encourage discussions and exchanges between users. Either way, my once starved iPod is now bursting with new Sparkadia beats I would have ignored were it not for that little link on my browser gently suggesting what I might like.


van Dijck, Jose. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society V.31

Gane, Nicolas, and Beer, David. (2008) ‘Interactivity’ in New Media: The key Concepts. Oxford: Berg.

Youtube Terms of Use (2010)  http://youtube.com/t/terms [accessed May 17,2011]

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,
  1. May 25, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Love this!

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