Join the YouTube generation

It’s an old tune that has been playing in South Africa for years—unless we get viable and cheap broadband the country will be left behind.

The digital divide may separate those with a computer or internet access from those without but the broadband divide carves what few million internet users South Africa has from the rest of the online world.

Internationally broadband is so fast and cheap that it is seen as a utility, not a commodity.

This lack of broadband has another side effect: it keeps South Africans from taking part in what is being termed the culture of participation. Instead of consuming content created by media houses and TV channels, millions of users are reading blogs and viewing videos taken by others and uploaded to sites such as YouTube.com.

The video-sharing site has proved so popular that earlier this month Google paid $1,65-billion for it in a move widely seen as a way for Google to integrate its advertising software with YouTube’s offerings, which serve 100-million videos a day.

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, YouTube had 34-million visitors in August, which makes it one of the hottest pieces of online real estate since the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. Like those sites, YouTube may have no discernible revenue stream but it has clearly captured the public imagination because it allows you to share your videos with the world—and if you have none to share, then to watch the musing of others.

Many of these can be very amateurish home movies, but some can be fantastic short works of humour or art.
For instance, like MySpace, the social networking site bought earlier this year by News Corporation, YouTube has proved the perfect, low-budget platform for unknown bands to gain publicity.

The excellent “treadmill dance” video by Chicago alternative rock band OK Go was viewed more times on YouTube than MTV, the music video channel that now seems so last century when viewers can truly choose their own requested songs online.

The treadmill video for their song Here It Goes Again is remarkably simple (see it at //youtube.com/watch?v=jWCSGGrU9MA) and was actually posted by fans from the band’s own website.

YouTube helpfully arranges its millions of videos by categories, such as the obvious “most viewed”, as well as its top-tier categories that include the obvious: most recent, most viewed, top rated, most discussed, top favourites, most linked, and recently featured.

Because each video is “tagged” with keywords, it is relatively easy to find what you are interested in. Interestingly, the first entry for South Africa is footage of a great white shark, shot by MTV’s Wildboyz, an often childish I-dare-you show that came here and did sometimes humorous, sometimes ghoulish travel episodes. Go figure.

A secret to watching a video without interruptions while it streams using South Africa’s slow access is to hit the pause button and wait for the full video to download. Then press play and watch it uninterrupted.

It takes a surprisingly short time to upload a clip. The one I shot of a blue-painted Blue Bulls fan at Loftus performing his own form of victory dance was just over six megabytes (MB) and took under 10 minutes. (//www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xEwDTRUm4s)

YouTube estimates it takes a minute per megabyte, and limits the upload size to 100MB and a number of formats, which are the types used by most webcams or digital cameras and cellphones with video functionality.

Setting up your own account is relatively simple and gives you much more usability. It specifically allows you to organise your experience, saving your favourite videos and building up your online television home, as it were.

Each posted video allows you to rate it, save it to favourites, share it with friends or flag it as inappropriate. The latter can be used for copyrighted content or anything unsavoury, although the definitions of this are broad and the source of much controversy over censorship.

A large majority of what’s available are confessional types of self-filmed short videos that seem to dominate the site. Indeed, in this, YouTube is America’s online confessional. If you can sit through enough of them, it gives an eerie insight into the YouTube class. These are people with internet access who seem to lack the ability to express these disclosures in person but are happy to share their intimate secrets with the world. Sometimes you wish they hadn’t.

The most famous of them, Bree whose screen name is Lonelygirl15, poured out her heart in a series of videos that had the internet buzzing over their authenticity. Some citizen investigative journalism recently revealed Bree to be a young actress, Jessica Rose, a New Zealander living in Los Angeles.

Apart from an elaborate, emotional hoax as Rose’s Bree character reveals how she is home schooled by religious parents and has fights with her boyfriend Daniel, these videos shot in a real bedroom were the work of filmmakers Ramesh Flinders and Miles Beckett.

Only in LA. Then again, only on YouTube.

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