While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?
Van Dijck’s argument is certainly very valid, it is very evident that YouTube can heavily influence what we view, and steer our attention towards particular videos, thus manufacturing the popularity of certain videos. YouTube as an interface is of course only a functioning site with it’s user-generated content, and it is important not to underestimate the power of the user. However, YouTube employs several ranking tactics to create a hierachy amongst the video community
There is a feature to ‘like’ or ‘dislike a video, and the ability to share feedback on videos which in turn helps YouTube promote the ‘top favourited’ and, subsequently, ‘most viewed’ videos when you first enter the site. Of course, a natural reflex is to click on these videos if only out of mere curiosity, and to be involved in possibly the next big internet sensation. This is what Van Dijck is referring to when he states ‘when looking at user-generated content, we also need to take account of a site’s coded abilities to steer and direct users’. Whilst YouTube does install ranking tactics, and promotes certain videos, what it comes back to is the users. His assertion that ‘rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners’ is certainly true, but it is important to look at the varying levels of participation within the YouTube community to fully comprehend the extent to which ranking is controlled.
Van Dijck points out that ‘it’s a great leap to presume that the availability of digital networked technologies turns everyone into participants’. This is very true, whilst there are millions of YouTube users (More video content is uploaded to YouTube in a 60 day period than the three major U.S. television networks created in 60 years), there are also a huge portion of ‘passive participants’ in this online community. According to Van Dijck, ‘the majority of users consist of ‘passive spectators'(33%) and ‘inactives'(52%)’. So an extremely high percentage of the YouTue community are infact merely intaking content rather than actively participating. However, regardless, they are part of the online community. Community is a large part of the site’s interface, as it welcomes with open arms. Anyone is free to start creating and sharing videos, providing feedback, and of course viewing the videos which helps determine what is popular. Whilst there are ranking tactics that affect the popularity of videos, i don’t believe it significantly affects the participatory culture of YouTube.
Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content’ Media, Culture & Society, 31(1): 41-58