Interactivity & YouTube: Why We’ve Gone to the Internet for Entertainment
To the casual observer, YouTube is nothing more than a website hosting videos of cats, crazy Russian drivers, pranks, and the occasional birth of a meme (remember the Harlem Shake?). However, to a YouTuber, whether a content creator or consumer (sometimes both), this website and its endless supply of videos is a community like no other, with its foundation firmly set in interactivity. This is where movies and TV shows fall short: a story is being told to you, but you have no ability to provide feedback or help to shape the story. Furthermore, as much as you love these characters and obsess over them, you only know them from a distance, from what the plot lets you know. Sure, there’s fan fiction, and if it’s transmedia, then there is content elsewhere for you to engage with to get even more of the story. Still, it’s all happening at a distance and much of your interactivity and effect on the events is just helping to move the pre-determined plot along.
While there is transmedia on YouTube such as the Pronunciation Book, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and more recently, Emma Approved, the community spans far past just the expansion of fictions. Vlogging (video blogging) has become one of the biggest fads on the site, becoming a lucrative career for a bunch of average people who thought it would be fun to pick up a camera and talk about their lives to a bunch of people on the internet that they didn’t know. The more successful YouTubers usually post a new video each week, with some doing so several times.
A few have championed “daily vlogging,” which is the posting of one vlog composed of footage from their day, each day. Two channels, SHAYTARDS and CTFxC have been doing this for five years now with Charles and Alli Trippy of CTFxC recently winning a Guinness World Record for daily vlogging consecutively for the most days. Over the years of watching this charismatic personalities live their lives talking into a camera, their fans have grown to feel like distance cousins of the vloggers rather than strangers on the internet.
CTFxC have taken their viewers on a similarly personal journey: Charles and Alli’s relationship from dating to engaged to married (seriously, the wedding video will make you cry); Charles becoming the permanent bassist of We The Kings; Charles’s two brain surgeries and chemotherapy. In some ways, their turning to the camera in the hardest of times harkens back to The Blair Witch Project, where the camera serves as their only defense mechanism; it is how they’ve learned to cope with life’s struggles.
Although the majority of YouTubers don’t take you along with them through their daily lives, the experiences and emotions they talk about in front of a camera and then share with the internet are just as personal. Sharing embarrassing stories, frustrations with people, what they geek out about, and their pursuits for more knowledge on topics that interest them are the common topics of videos. Some vlogs include skits or several people trying out a popular challenge or quiz being passed around YouTube.
Sure, this seems like a one-sided performance until you realize the role of the comments section and how the interactivity between fans or between a fan and the YouTuber continues on other sites such as Twitter, Facebook fan pages, and Tumblr. Much like transmedia, fans are able to engage through this people and get to know them and their story through multiple facets as the story of their lives continues.
Some YouTubers have made videos that further the interactivity between video creator and consumer. Through the annotations feature on YouTube and the ability to upload unlisted videos, some creators have made a series of linked videos that work much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books and movies.
Another type of video are Mad Libs like videos where the YouTuber guides you making a list of the needed nouns, verbs, adjective, and nouns before reading the story out to you and pausing for you fill in the missing word. While this experience can feel like an adult version of an episode of Dora the Explorer, once again the comment section provides a place for viewers to share the stories they have created. Similarly, Q&A videos allow fans to submit questions–some personal, others silly–for the YouTuber to answer in a video.
While much of the creator-viewer interactions occur on the internet, over the years meet ups have been a growing trend. In YouTube’s infancy these could occur in local parks with less than hundred people showing up to talk and laugh with their favorite people from the internet. These early meet ups also provided the ability for other YouTubers to meet with each other and talk about the creator-side of YouTube. Over the years, these meet ups have turned into conventions such as VidCon, which takes place annually in Los Angeles, California, and Playlist Live, which also occurs annually in Orlando, Florida. These conventions not only serve as a means for YouTubers and fans to convene, but also include panels of YouTubers talking about various facets of the world of YouTube, some business related while others focused on content or personal experiences. Best of all, this events allow YouTubers to take the stage and entertain and engage with their fans in person.
YouTube, and its original purpose of being a website to share and view videos, may not seem like anything close to a transmedia campaign, but when you consider the high levels of fan interactivity, community building, and investment in the lives of strangers (real or not) as they experience their lives and the challenges that come with it, it is hard not to see why more and more people are moving away from television and movies and giving more of their time and money to ARGs and vloggers.
If you’re interesting in learning more about the world of vloggers on YouTube, I suggest watching the series of YouTube videos called Becoming YouTube. Also, there is a documentary in the works titled Vlogumentary.