Home / Tech News / Kevin Allocca: ‘Early YouTube was defined by the unintentional viral video. That’s changed a lot’

Kevin Allocca: ‘Early YouTube was defined by the unintentional viral video. That’s changed a lot’




YouTube’s head of culture and trends on the evolution of viral videos, fake news – and the old-school joys of writing a book



kevin allocca speaking at a conference






Kevin Allocca: ‘These platforms reflect humanity in a more honest way than any other medium.’
Photograph: FilmMagic

Your YouTube colleague Robert Kyncl published Streampunks last year and now you have a book of your own. Why is everyone at YouTube writing books?
I’ve been thinking about this: why now? I guess it takes time and distance to reflect on the why of things. We have had almost 13 years of YouTube history; so much has changed in those years. There’s been enough time to say what the larger picture is.

What’s it been like taking an excursion from the overnight successes of viral video to the snail’s pace of nonfiction publishing?
That’s what I’ve really enjoyed about it actually, putting something in a physical format adds a level of deliberateness. Books are some of the oldest technology that we have, yet are thriving and still a major part of life.

In the book you tell story after story of someone from nowhere filming something they’re often not thinking about that much and it being viewed hundreds of millions of times. But isn’t the era of that kind of viral video over? I was having a look at the top videos of 2017 and most of them were by huge entertainment conglomerates or semi-professional outfits: things like Carpool Karaoke and Ed Sheeran choreography. Apart from the ones that have been on telly, few of them would be well known to your average person.
I am one of the people who compiles that list every year, and I’ve been watching it change. YouTube – at least the “top layer” of YouTube – has moved from the unintentional to the purposeful. Early YouTube was defined by the accidental, someone who creates a single video and it becomes something else. That’s changed a lot. Part of the reason that you’re seeing so much mainstream content being consumed is just the volume of people who are comfortable with how the technology works, with more audience to reach. There’s more professionalism that comes into it and more traditional content.

Watch Psy’s Gangnam Style.

Does that mean YouTube is getting a bit bland, with everyone watching the same big videos?
Well actually the diversity is increasing. It’s also growing to new places. The biggest video in the world this past year was from Thailand, and it was mostly popular in Thailand. And while the top trending videos are becoming more professional, the diversity overall is growing. I use the expression “niche is the new mainstream” because consuming content that is very specific, has become a more mainstream activity. I tell the story in the book of Andrew Reams, who runs a video channel where he just reviews different elevators around the world. That is such a bizarre-seeming thing, you could never pitch that to someone at a TV company, but he’s doing something that no other media entity is doing.

So it’s still niche, but there is a perception that it’s largely a teen platform. All the big YouTube stars have huge young fanbases.
You’re right, the viral phenomena are often made by people who are most comfortable with the technology, which is those under 34. But actually, the user base roughly reflects the internet-using population as a whole. My parents use YouTube all the time, but they don’t think that they’re using it. I go to an Italian sandwich shop in Queens, and one time I was wearing my YouTube jacket and the guy, who was in his 60s, was telling me about the best whittling channel on YouTube – he’s a huge fan.

Watch Ed Sheeran carpooling with James Corden.

To what extent is people sharing videos on closed, private networks – private Instagrams, Snapchat, WhatsApp groups and other places – a threat to the virality of YouTube videos? If your stories are about videos getting hundreds of millions of views, doesn’t closed sharing go against that?
It really does, I think about this all the time. YouTube is really about public video. These other services have grown in parallel. Unfortunately, I believe that if [the viral video] Charlie Bit My Finger was produced in 2018, we might never have seen it, because it would have been shared via a more closed distribution network. It’s hard to say that’s a bad thing, because that’s what the person who created it wants, but I think it’s a net negative for culture and the world, because it’s brought joy to so many people.

I guess it’s become more and more of a conversation related to YouTube, particularly in the wake of the Logan Paul scandal. There’s other content-related things too: extremism, white supremacy, issues around children being protected from predators. Do you need to redress the balance between going viral and moderation?
A lot of these things are pretty complicated. My perspective – not related to my job, but as someone who has spent time writing this book – is that I really believe these digital platforms are a reflection of humanity in a more honest and real way than any other medium. When you have something that so broadly reflects a people and a time, and you think about how complex the world is, those platforms inherit that complexity.

Ouch! Watch Charlie Bit My Finger.

But it’s a complexity that needs to be addressed?
Well obviously it’s being dealt with by these platforms. You hear the announcements being put out. It’s something individuals are dealing with as well. But it’s kind of a collective problem that needs to be addressed by many different groups. We’re dealing with something, and when I say “we” I mean humanity: humanity is dealing with something we’ve never quite had before.

These guys like Logan Paul, though, weren’t raised on broadcast television with its rules and regulations. They were raised on viral YouTube videos and vloggers in a more lawless world. It’s very different from a childhood watching kids’ TV that was extremely sanitised. So maybe video platforms do have to carry some of that responsibility?
I think one of the things that defines web video as a distinct medium from these things that we compare it to, such as children’s television, is its openness and accessibility; that goes in multiple directions, as we’ve seen. It’s critical that platforms that host this content have guidelines that are enforced. I don’t believe it is lawless. Some people may be under that mistaken impression, but there are rules and they do need to be enforced.

logan paul looking intot the camera in aviator and a a fleeced denim jacket



Vlogger Logan Paul, who posted a video last year (since deleted) in which he made fun of a Japanese man who had hanged himself. Photograph: Sara Jaye Weiss/Rex/Shutterstock

Part of the joy of YouTube, how easy it has become to make a professional-looking video, has also become a danger with the rise of fake news that often appears to be reputable. What has it been like working there during the 2016 election and the Trump presidency?
A lot of this stuff crystallised after I finished writing the book. In some ways I’m still wrapping my head around what the implications are of all these things, and we may not know what the actual impact is for some time. But in the immediate sense it’s something that every informed person is thinking about right now and trying to grapple with, because there are these opportunities to access points of views we’ve never had access to before, but that also creates challenges that need to be met. It’s something we’re grappling with both as a society and at these platforms.

Is it ever something you’ve had to make a call on personally – watching a video of falsehoods climb up the charts perhaps?
Not necessarily, it’s a bit outside my responsibilities. But certainly, I see candidates and politicians being able to reach people in a more direct way. The president is tweeting constantly, obviously, and that plays out in video too – we’re definitely able to see the viewership that individual people running for office are able to have, and able to see their ability to reach voters.

Videocracy by Kevin Allocca is published by Bloomsbury (£12.99). To order a copy for £9.74 go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99



Check Also

MWC 2018: LG V30S ThinQ with AI features and 6GB RAM announced

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | Updated: February 25, 2018 9:54 am MWC 2018: …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *