I’ve said before that YouTube has meant a lot to me in a personal sense and a creative sense, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I return once more with another post about it. The first article I wrote on the subject titled “YouTube: The Cultural Benefits of an Underestimated Platform” spoke of the perks and wonders of the platform. Today’s post focuses more on the uncertainties it now presents over it’s own future.
2016 brought a lot of different problems and dramas for YouTube, as admittedly, each year always does and always will but it presented something new. It happened very slowly and gradually and has now culminated into a platform of creators unsure of what exactly is going on. In order to discuss it further let me talk very briefly of the context and timeline of YouTube for anyone who doesn’t know about it or at least its history. Its history being something that is actually rather interesting to look at.
11 years ago in 2005 PayPal staff Steve Chen, Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley created the website we all now know as YouTube. It started as a venture to simply share videos others might find interesting, to share ones own life or the life of others through an online platform. The first video uploaded in fact came from Karim and at 19 seconds long was titled “Me at the Zoo” and pretty much was what it said it was. As simple as it all sounds and as skeptical as certain people were of the creation YouTube grew fast. Before long videos were pouring in onto the site from people excited to share their videos and life, with that came extra functions: video responses, longer video limits, profile personalisation etc. The site then became, arguably, one of the greatest surprise creations of the naughties era, a site even some of my generation did not believe would succeed. While, with several issues of copyright infringement and confusions over the culpability of someone who was caught posting copyrighted material, there were strong problems, it did succeed. I expect even more so than the original creators could ever have imagined. Google took over the company, films and programmes began to be uploaded with a cost, views soured and most significantly the content began to evolve.
Here we come to the present issue: content and the treatment of its creators. For me some of the best content appeared between 2009 – 2013, where people had gotten used to YouTube and people began to understand its potential. Myself and others spent hours on YouTube watching creators who made music videos, short films and vlogs that came from a place of sincerity. Creators were primarily creating out of a need to create and inspire, and although there were plenty of channels with bad content it seemed the general consensus was made up of good quality videos. Between 2013 and now, however, there was a change, a perhaps predictable one at that. It switched ever so slightly, some creators stopped putting out such good material and replaced it with more frequent material because, understandably, it was better for money. They would earn more money from more views and more reception and with that came an ever-growing selection of overwhelmingly corporate videos. More deals, more copy-pasted content, and in general more videos that, at the core of it all, didn’t feel genuine anymore.
There are still a lot of creators new and old that create fantastic quality content and that you can see take it seriously, earning money while also rewarding their contributors and audience with great content. Yet many have seen the success of others and have created channels off of it, not out of inspiration, but out of an ‘easier’ way to make money (a perception of YouTube careers that is constantly proven wrong). On top of this it is not only creators that have realised the increased monetary benefits of the platform but of course YouTube themselves.
This is where we get to the question of “What Will 2017 Mean For YouTube?”. One that, don’t mistake me, I cannot answer. One that comes out of a curiosity, looking back at the history of the site and how significant each of its phases has been for both its creators and its audiences. With YouTube changing their algorithms and in simple terms becoming that little more corporate and affording their creators less agency and input, it is a future that deserves discussion. This year has seen possibly the biggest combined outcry from creators over the changes YouTube have made, and it is not just the changes that bothers people, but the fact their voices are not being considered. YouTube started as a platform for people, by the people, then morphed into a business as it always would do. It inspired and it fascinated, but now it is evolving into something that can go down one road or the other. I still hold a great positivity towards its benefits, and believe if there is a better contribution between its audiences, creators and business heads that it can carry on growing. But with miscommunication, and a growing feeling of corporate micro-management it is a site that also has the potential to lose everything it once set out to achieve.
What do you reckon?