Commentary, Film and Media

Navigating the vast wasteland of YouTube

TVHow many videos are available on YouTube? That number isn’t easy to find. But consider this: ten hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. The simile about drinking from a firehose doesn’t do justice to the flood.
How can you find anything worth watching in a collection of content exploding like a super nova? Well, you could rely on the wisdom of the crowd and restrict your YouTube viewing to just those videos that are rated five stars. How many is that? I heard that cited a few weeks ago as seven million, which means it’s probably up to eight million now. Have at it. Five stars has got to be good, right?
Or you could be guided by Dan Colman at Open Culture who has assembled a list of “50+ Smart Video Collections on YouTube.” We are happy to see our YouTube channel among them.
Colman’s list is interesting in a number of ways. A YouTube channel is like a publisher’s imprint—it reflects editorial direction and judgment. Gather quality imprints and you have a quality collection of content. The obvious need to compile such a list exhibits the dysfunctional aspects of YouTube: the system of search and recommendation does not work well enough to find relevant, high-quality content.
That’s reminiscent of the early days of the worldwide web, when many users compiled and posted lists of worthwhile websites, simply because the existing search engines were so bad at finding good content. On the strength of such recommendations the Google search algorithm gained traction and, eventually, dominance.
Maybe a search engine will be invented that can find quality video content or maybe a critical role will need to be played by producers whose imprimatur signifies quality and the collection-building skills of people like Dan Colman. Or to put it another way: the functionality of Web 2.0 can disintermediate content, but it seems apparent that the navigational skills of publishers and librarians are still needed in the vast sea stretching before us.