My Bedroom Wall is Famous: YouTube as the New Form of Communication

The phrase “social networking” brings to mind MySpace and Facebook, but few think of YouTube. Caitlin Boersma takes a look at YouTube’s future potential as a way to keep in touch and make new friends. She interviews Alex Day and Tom McLean, two of the site’s most popular personalities.

I once thought YouTube was only good for watching free television episodes in three-minute segments or for the occasional off-the-wall video like “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” and “Shoes.” Over the last month, I began exploring YouTube further as a result of excruciating boredom. I soon discovered that the site was more than just an outlet for pirated television and those desperate for their 15 minutes on late night talk shows. YouTube is actually a community.

Some of the most popular channels on YouTube are the homemade celebrity gossip and fashion shows such as What the Buck? and William Sledd, but the channels that really stood out were the ones made up of teenagers and twenty-somethings from across the English-speaking globe. Many of these youtubers post vlogs (a.k.a. video blog), but they also create scripted and carefully edited sketch and comedy shows.

I thought the YouTube universe offered an isolated experience for users to post their visual diaries and others to comment on how much they sucked or how “hawt” they were. YouTube is full of hateful and funny comments, but it also has many participants who befriend and encourage one another through video responses, challenges, tag games, and collaborations.

I asked Tom “frezned” McLean and Alex “nerimon” Day, members since August 2006, what being a part of YouTube was like and how they would describe their relationships with other youtubers. Both agreed that they were part of a community and the people on the site are what initially drew them in. Day was sure to emphasize that he had real friends and was perfectly capable of meeting people offline, but he added that a community “isn’t just shaped by location, but by interests or shared ideas.”

The frezned and nerimon channels have subscribers rounding out at 10,000 and 6,400, respectively, and their numbers are steadily growing. McLean has videos that largely follow a sketch comedy format, and Day’s videos include comedy, music, and the occasional rant. Neither would like to be pegged as a fame whore, but they love getting subscribers and the attention and feedback that viewers offer.

Day, who works as a Mac specialist in a London Apple Store, has received offers for television and internet work because of his exposure on YouTube. While having one’s face and bedroom broadcast for strangers to view all over the world might be intimidating to some, Day takes it in stride. He had been making comedy videos before he created a YouTube account and enjoys the honest, anonymous responses that he gets from his viewers.

Similarly, McLean is not unnerved by the too-close attention that some viewers pay to his videos. He simply plays along and puts different things–unique items on his bookshelf or brief flashes of subliminal messages–on the screen to see who takes notice.

If you’d like to make a video of your own, McLean says, “Do it. Just do it, and don’t worry whether they’re good or not. Every video is practice, and making videos is just as much a skill as anything else.”

Currently, McLean’s recording equipment includes a Canon mv600i when he is at his desk and a Casio Exilim EX-Z60 when elsewhere. He uses Sony Vegas 7 to edit. Day stays true to his employer and uses his Mac for both the recording and editing process.

While social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are all the rage, YouTube is commonly overlooked as belonging to the same category. Although it operates much differently than other social networking sites, it serves the same function for those who not only watch videos, but who create profiles and begin a conversation with one another.

Nerimon recently ranted about how much he disliked social networking sites in a video titled “Nerimon HATES Facebook”. I found this ironic because he is such an avid participant in the YouTube community. Granted, YouTube is less confining and stagnant than the aforementioned sites, but it seems likely that as equipment becomes more affordable and accessible that vlogging will soon be the standard way in which high school and college students communicate.

Email is an efficient and private way of converse through the internet, but sites like MySpace and Facebook have proven that Generation Y wants to communicate informally and in a public setting. Wall-posting is slow and offers limited space, but it is commonplace to post a message to a friend rather than write him an email. While both sites offer a place to share drunk photos and personal conversations, YouTube presents the opportunity for communication to become even more public and less formal. (Facebook now offers a video application along with loads of other useless features, but it does not allow members to quickly reply to one another.) YouTube allows for completely text-free communication (see Brotherhood 2.0), and in addition to broadcasting their conversations to everyone in the world, users can share their faces as well.

Once every sixteen-year-old has a webcam, it will be much simpler to turn on the camera and upload their message rather than go through the trouble of writing a wall-post and figuring out creative ways to misspell it.


Bygone Bureau: What compelled you to join YouTube?

Alex Day: Before I was making little comedy videos to amuse myself and a couple of my friends, but I wanted feedback on them. The site has an active and plentiful presence of people who were willing to do just that for me, so I signed up and put my videos on there.

Tom McLean: I originally joined to subscribe to vloggers I was watching. (drewtoothpaste and oldnataliedee were the first two; they write comics that I read). I started putting my videos up on YouTube because I wanted to be part of the community. I started seeing videos that people had made of the gatherings and I thought, “Wow, I want to be part of that!”

Do you feel like you are part of a community?

AD: It sounds strange to say I’m part of a community. The interpretation is I’ve just made all my friends online and haven’t got real ones, which isn’t true, but, yes, I am close to a lot of people on the site and we have met up a lot of times. A community isn’t just shaped by location, but by interests or shared ideas, so, yes, I definitely think it’s an apt word to describe us. There are loads of gatherings all the time–since Melbourne there’s already been one in London, last December 15th.

TM: Yes, I definitely feel I’m part of the community now. My “youtubers” section on MSN has more people on it than any other. I’ve made some good friends through the site too, though mostly overseas. I do hope to visit them one day when I have the money. There’s a gathering in Toronto in August that I hope to be able to attend (fingers crossed).

Every youtuber seems to be vying for subscribers. What does it mean to you to get a large number of subscribers?

AD: I think it’s important to note that we’re not all fame-cravers. I’m sure people are on the site for purposes of exposure, but for the majority it serves as a useful creative outlet or in my case a chance to improve myself by getting feedback on my work. The reason we like subscribers is because it means more people are watching and appreciating what we do, which is of course always nice. I personally have 6,000 at the moment, but I got a thousand of those over the last week. The growth rate is constantly fluctuating.

TM: I’ve got about 9,500 at the moment, and the rate of new subscribers varies pretty much based on my latest video. Sometimes I’ll get over a hundred in a day, but usually it’s about twenty to thirty. Getting a video featured on the front page is ridiculous. You just get a flood of them–sometimes over a hundred an hour–for the duration of the feature. Having a large number of subs is great. It’s really, um, validating for lack of a better word. I guess any artist wants to have his work appreciated.

Does it make you nervous that thousands of people watch your videos and you have no idea who they are?

AD: It doesn’t weird me out at all. Because I was looking for constructive criticism, it’s easier to get that objectively from strangers and faceless users online. So similarly, when people say they’re entertained by you, they’re not just saying it because they know you, but because they felt compelled to tell you how they felt about the video.

TM: It makes me feel pretty awesome, yeah. It’s really weird when people take too much notice, though. Like noticing what’s on my bookshelf in the background. Although I’ve got to admit I love that too, and I’ll often put in little gags or references that only the truly attentive will get.

How do you feel “haters” affect the site?

AD: Haters are a bizarre breed. They are a small minority who actively just slate videos and insult the people who made them for no purpose other than to cause havoc. But most haters are just people who didn’t like what you did and are, albeit bluntly, telling you so. Anyone can be a hater if they’re not constructive about their negativity. But in the same way I welcome positive feedback, if people don’t like it I don’t want to censor them because that wouldn’t be fair.

TM: Most of the comments I get are pretty positive, which is pretty cool. Haters, I think, used to be really annoying, but now there have been so many videos based around haters and so many gags, that they’ve just become sort of a site in-joke. Like, they’re still annoying, but also a tiny bit endearing, like a hyperactive five-year-old at a party. You see a comment that says “u suck fag” and you think, “Aww, they really think they’re hurting my feelings.”

What do you think about the personal vlog style versus your own? What elements make a good vlog or a good video in general?

AD: I don’t think there’s a defined style that can be identified. Everyone likes to do things differently. There are, of course, common conventions, but some people prefer lightning-fast pace and editing, while others thrive on the awkwardness of a long scene with a static shot which can feel raw and open. People find their own style. Mine is usually fairly chaotic. I mess around and get the point across, and I’ll leave some of those moments in where I’m just bewildered or I forget a line or my hair falls in my face because I think it adds character.

TM: I don’t usually watch the personal vlogs unless it’s someone I already know, whether from real life or over YouTube. I think that without them, though, YouTube wouldn’t be anything like it is now. There are other sites out there that are solely sketches and scripted monologues and the sites end up feeling like they’re just owned by a big company. Of course, YouTube is owned by a big company too, but it doesn’t feel that way. The presence of all the little people is what makes the community so strong.

What’s your advice to anyone who’d like to start posting videos?

AD: My advice, I guess, would be just to try and make an effort. Don’t make videos because you can just press record and press it again three minutes later and you’ve got a video, but aim for a purpose whether it be a project or entertainment. Add something to the world, no matter how small. And don’t be dismayed if you don’t get thousands of people flocking to your videos straight away because it works the same as in the real world. To get ahead you need to know the right people and get very lucky.

TM: I’ve been doing acting classes for years and have representation here in Australia. I’ve been pursuing real-life fame well before I hit YouTube! Not so much as an end in itself, though. I’m a huge movie buff, and I just want to be in film and fame as a means to achieve that. It’s still pretty much a pipe dream, though. People finding fame beyond YouTube is pretty darn rare. Still, any exposure is good exposure!

What kind of equipment and software do you use? How often do you post, and how much time does one video generally take?

AD: If you watch any of my videos you’ll quickly discover I’m a big nerd for Apple Inc., so I use their computers both to record and edit my videos. I like to post roughly every five to seven days, and I’ll often make a few videos at a time so I don’t miss my schedule. It only takes a couple hours for me to put something together. There’s nothing fancy involved.

TM: Do it. Just do it and don’t worry about whether they’re good or not. Every video you make is practice, and making videos is just as much a skill as anything else.

What do you do when you’re not on YouTube?

AD: Off YouTube, I work part-time as a Mac specialist in the Apple Store on Regent Street, London. Like I said, I’m a big nerd for Apple. I also record a podcast every two weeks called Vaguely Live Radio. Incidentally, I do that with a guy called Jimmy, who I met off YouTube.

TM: I’m doing a Bachelor of IT, majoring in game development at Deakin University. And to pay the rent I’m a computer technician. Sometimes I work at a bookshop, and sometimes my agent will get me a job as an extra on a local TV show. I’m currently editing a novel that I wrote last year too. Hopefully in the future that’ll get published, but it’s got a long way to go before that happens.

What’s your favorite thing about YouTube, and who’s your favorite person or type of video?

AD: My favorite thing about YouTube is the people. Cliché I know, but the people make the site.

TM: I would say my favorite thing about YouTube is how it allows people to “make it big” without having to break into the pretty much impenetrable entertainment industry. It’s hard proof that there are thousands of people with real talent out there beyond the TV.

Caitlin Boersma is studying political science and English, but spends most of her time analyzing pop culture. Her premise for a new reality TV show, Killing Andy Milonakis, has yet to be picked up by VH1. She is notorious for spending a week’s wages on a ticket to see Morrissey live.