Everyday: Noah for 6 years, YouTube forever

September 7, 2006

I’ve been researching the business behind and more interestingly, in-front of YouTube.com for a while now. Amid all the speculation of who may acquire this estate, very little is written about it role as an ‘meaning’ generator.

For me, the primary interest is the ability to navigate using video. This is far more attractive activity than looking at Digg or Slashdot and though it may not be so agile – it’s just more fun.

The secondary interest is it’s ability to collect metadata about the submissions and the users. First there is the tags users use, but more valuable is the pathways the users take through the site, joining up the dots so that meaning can be made between the media clips. This is a massive advantage for index services such as Google and Yahoo!, as the ability to extract metadata from within the media is still really tough.

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At present, American photographer Noah Kalina is receiving a wave of attention with his photographic project ‘Everyday’ on YouTube and I think this is self referential of the YouTube project as a whole. He’s taken a picture of himself, everyday, for 6 years. Once you get over the madness of this, the video that is generated by playing back the sequence of images is really seductive and as a timelapse movie this is pretty unique. Watching the movie, you’ll fixate on the face, though you’ll start to notice the change in locations. He’s captured it as a diary a record of where he was, not just what he looked like. Building this up over time, gives the viewer a linear pathway of navigation of time, though the context of each shot brings forth meaning about his life. You don’t get enough information about him to make a judgement on his character, and the facial expression is pretty much the same every shot (check out his site for the stills – or you the Way Back Machine if his site is still being hammered by traffic).

Why I see this as comparable to what YouTube are achieving is that the subject is not the person, but the journey the user makes and their passing through the tagged media clips. The juxtaposition of context (as defined by the tags) sets the meaning to each piece of media – just as with the portrait within each space that each image is taken by Noah. Though pathways through YouTube are unique to the user, the collective picture can tell the owners of the system an awful lot about meaning, meaning that is from a human perspective, not a computer based conclusion.

Noahs movie has a constant pace, and is mapped with the music produced by Carly Comando, in a Serialism ‘style’, ‘specifically defined as the structural principle according to which a recurring series of ordered elements.’ (Quoted from Wikipedia)

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Again, quoting from the Wikipedia entry, “The serial composer aims to create musical meaning directly out the variation of parameters.” Youtube is treating every video clip as a note (Noah’s note is 6B26asyGKDo), and this structuring meaning from the sequence of plays a user makes. Serialism moved away from chords, again, with YouTube, you only play one clip at a time. Serialism and technology are not strangers to each other, many of the composers involved with this mode of production went on to utilise musical synthesizers – and so we see again – YouTube, as it aggregates and brings to the weekly charts the most popular videos, it is also synthesizing meaning for the media industry what the audience wants. The report generating that isn’t being presented to the public is possibly what the value of the YouTube service is to it’s future owner…

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I maybe over speculating the thinking behind YouTube, but it would seem that the site is more than a collection of video clips. If Youtube is sold – it wont be for it’s content, because youtube don’t own the content. What they do own is the ‘performance of the site’ – and that should deserve a round of applause.

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