NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This article was first published on paper by Cinema Journal and then was redesigned for publication on the Internet by IJLM, in part, because Cinema Journal was not yet technically ready to move online except in the most rudimentary ways (posting the article as a pdf). The writing was developed in 2008 as I attempted to pen concise, systematic lessons from the output and experiences of LFYT 2007.
Organization, scholars, and activists work towards a democratic media, where access and distribution are open, and where all interested constituents create and receive media, through a variety of channels including: media advocacy and literacy, law and policy, and alternative media practices. This is media that are meant for personal or artistic expression, community building, political intervention, or education. YouTube at once is and is not alternative media.

"YouTube is as participatory as market research, and as democratic as public opinion polls," according to Jens Schroter.[cit]

In her work on the unpopular, Jutta Trviranus explains: "Theoretical proofs and empirical evidence show that diverse perspectives benefit groups, society and individuals. Current Web applications, by artificially emphasizing popularity, discourage this diversity."[cit]

"PageRank can be thought of as a model of user behavior. We assume there is a 'random surfer' who is given a web page at random and keeps clicking on links, never hitting back' but eventually gets bored and starts on another random page. The probability that the random surfer visits a page is its PageRank."[cit] If a video is about an obscure, radical, strange, private, or "unimportant" topic, it will sit idle and largely unseen in NicheTube.

One of my ten founding terms for this project is access. A greater number of individuals from more diverse cross-sections of society need to make, see, and understand radical or expressive media.
(This article was first published at IJLM and Cinema Journal.)

YouTube is not democratic. Its architecture supports the popular. Critical and original expression is easily lost to or censored by its busy users, who not only make YouTube's content but sift and rate it, all the while generating its business.

The word "democratic" (free and equal participation), like DIY, is often repeated in celebration of the new possibilities enabled by Web 2.0 technology. Certainly, more people than ever can access and use tools that allow for the easy production, distribution, and networking of media. Cindy enjoys this new freedom. She shoots and uploads her daughter Sissy's trip to American Girl. However, once there, Sissy's poorly shot and unedited adventure in consumerism languishes unseen except by Gramps and maybe a few hundred pals, never to equal the movement, attention, or possibilities afforded to the hottest ripped clips of other girls.

That which we already know and already like enjoys the special treatment offered to the "most viewed": videos that are easily found, and always visible, whether you search for them or not.

Hey, the most viewed deserve such attention! These special videos, well, they look like television, featuring the faces, formats, and feelings we're already familiar with, or at least aspiring to the ready popularity associated with these easily recognizable forms.

As is true in high school, popularity gauges something. It lets the talented, even if unoriginal and uncritical, rise to the top (think high-kicking blond-babes of the pom-squad). Interchangeable and indistinguishable, entertaining but not threatening, popular YouTube videos speak to a middle-of-the-road sensibility in and about the forms of mainstream culture and media, pushing social-underliers into the weird cliques and hidden halls of high school—what I call NicheTube—where a video immediately falls off the radar, underserved and unobserved by YouTube's systems of ranking. Yes it's great to be doing your own weird thing for your wacky friends, but any one else who might be interested will never be able to join in because they will never be able to find you given YouTube's size and poor search systems.

While we can all personally attest to whether popularity (or its reverse) worked for us in high school, I'll suggest the obvious: It is not the best or most "democratic" way to run our culture's most-visited archive of moving images. As we learned through my students' research project on race on YouTube, the most popular videos about black people reflect and reinforce the standard views of our society (about black hypersexuality, low intelligence, and gonzo violence), while only in NicheTube can you find videos that support black self-love or analysis. Meanwhile, the most wacky (or ideological) outliers are quickly flagged, flamed, tamed, and absented from YouTube's pages (my students' video mentioned above, "Blacks on YouTube Final," has been flagged for "inappropriate content," which I assume refers to the students' careful if ideological analysis and not the black booty they feature, which itself is shown all over YouTube).

The more controversial your ideas or methods, the quicker your demise. Free and easy to get on, the mob-rule system by which you get pulled off YouTube is user-initiated but corporate-ruled. Democracies maintain protections for minority positions and ours has labor laws, too, that compensate workers for hours worked.