Digital Ethnography

As some of you will already know judging by its "viral" status, KSU has amassed "a working group of Kansas State University students and faculty dedicated to exploring and extending the possibilities of digital ethnography." I came across their video - an anthropologists' (Prof Wesch) take on Web 2.0 - on YouTube.

(Incidentally, has there been any anthropological examination of the term "viral" and its application to web-based material? Do non-English speakers use a similar term? What connotations does it carry? I'd be interested in finding out...)

But, back to Wesch, et al. They seem to be chasing some intriguing questions. Here's an interesting post on the responses they received to the question, "Why do 'You Tube'?"

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

What do these kinds of responses tell us? There is plenty to follow up on. I find it interesting that the highest ranked response is to 'be social'. What exactly does this mean for people with regard to web-based and user-generated content? How many of these YouTubers create their own content and how many just view other people's content? In which sense, then, can this be said to be 'social' activity? YouTube is also limited in the extent to which it 'connects' people. It allows people to share a singular type of content and to leave comments, but it is not an extended forum for connectivity as, say, instant messaging, telephoning, or even e-mail. Unless, of course, we consider that YouTube-ing or "tubing" is possibly (probably) used in conjuction with another form of mobile or web-based communication, such as instant messaging, where links to videos are shared in real time and commented upon in an open forum, quite aside from that on the actual YouTube website.

The second and third ranking comments I would expect would be among the highest, as would being "bored". Another area of anthropological interest all together might be what appears to be a popular aspiration among YouTubers: "being famous". To what extent does this desire correlate to that of early web designers, I wonder? I don't know that there's enough material on that to make a viable correlation, but I would be equally interested to find out if they are one and the same population; i.e., if those experienced with personal web building in the late 90s and early 2000s are more likely to engage in YouTube-like activities, or if it is a new population entirely which has shown interest.

There are a variety of demographics involved in YT use, of course, and this will vary by geographic location as well. How does one even define a 'user' of YT? Is it one who watches videos? Posts videos? Leaves comments? Leaves video comments? How regularly must one post/watch/comment to be a 'user'? For that matter, how do we categorize users of any type of internet or mobile technology when the userbase can be so temporary and fleeting?

Comments welcome.

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