Why do You Tube? – Video Response Analysis

Later this week, we will be immersing ourselves in the world of YouTube, creating our own vlogs and joining in the various discussions going on throughout the community. Thus far we have just been relatively silent observers, waiting for our IRB proposal to be approved and thinking through exactly what we want to do a bit more carefully. We are a bit nervous about doing such public fieldwork, but we feel it is essential to gaining the kind of experiential data that can only come from fully participating in the community we are studying.

In the meantime, our observations have been fruitful and I thought I would report on some of our tentative findings here.

Our first activity was an analysis of the video responses to Boh3m3′s question, “Why do You Tube?” As of February 18th 2007, when we completed this analysis, there were 370 video responses to this question. There are 10 of us on this project, so we each took 37 and put the answers into a spreadsheet to see what the most common answers were. Here is Boh3m3′s original video, and the results follow:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/vPl6QeK87sM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Here is a basic breakdown of the 10 most common responses:

  1. 61% said they tube to connect with others or to be social
  2. 43% said they tube for fun or entertainment
  3. 41% said they simply like watching YouTube
  4. 33% said they tube to express their opinions
  5. 25% said they tube to be creative
  6. 19% said they tube because they are bored (“nothing better to do”)
  7. 17% said they tube because it is more “real” or authentic than commercial productions
  8. 16% said they tube hoping they might become famous
  9. 15% said they tube to see what other people think of them
  10. 12% said they tube because they are addicted

We shouldn’t draw any final conclusions from this about why people Tube. These were voluntary responses to a very open-ended question. A survey with these ten options would likely produce very different (and interesting) results.

Nonetheless these results are valuable in breaking down some common assumptions. First of all, most people encounter YouTube through viral videos of the ridiculous and spectactular. Unless you have explored YouTube in depth it might be surprising to find the #1 answer is to connect with others and be social. (Of course, there is a strong selection bias here, as those who responded to the question are likely going to be those trying to connect and be social with others. Certainly the vast majority of YouTube viewers are not trying to connect or be social. However, our study will probably eventually focus specifically on actively vlogging YouTubers, which this sample might fairly represent.)

There is also an interesting contrast between #7 (because it is more “real” than commercial productions) and #8 (hoping to become famous). These are sometimes conflicting values, as some who stated #7 (authenticity) specifically argued against or even generally degraded the values expressed in #8 (fame). We will be exploring the YouTube value of authenticity in more detail as this project progresses.

Some of the answers are non-answers (for fun / like watching), but others are especially intriguing and show some significant self-reflexivity among Tubers. My favorite answer is #9 – that some people Tube in order to see what other people think of them. Some suggested that they can take the comments they receive on YouTube to better themselves and become more socially adept in their face-to-face encounters. Interestingly, while YouTube would seem to be the most public of spaces imaginable on the entire planet, it seems that some people actually view it as a somewhat private space where few if any of the people they encounter face-to-face will ever find them.

We also recently completed a rough but interesting demographic survey of YouTube and are putting together a fairly thorough History of YouTube. I’ll post more on these soon.


Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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2 Responses

  1. March 7, 2007

    [...] Un estudio de Digital Ethnography ha analizado por qué la gente utiliza YouTube. Para ello han observado 370 vídeo respuestas a la pregunta “Why do You Tube?” colgada por un usuario: [...]

  2. September 19, 2012