[MAIN BLOG POST- Week 3] Youtube Ranking Tactics

13 Jun

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?

Van Dijck argues that we must consider the abilities of sites like Youtube to steer, direct and maneuver users, altering the way they participate in their community (2009: 45, 46.) Unlike traditional forms of ‘old media’ that Van Dijck refers to, users aren’t passive consumers of content online. Recent statistics even indicate contrary to Arthurs (Guardian) (cited in Van Dijck 2009: 44) outdated statistics, the level of ‘inactives’ on the web has decreased (Forrestor Research) and thus it cannot be assumed that online communities are being formed according to ranking tactics and not our own participation. Rather, these tactics work to connect people to common interests or what is most popular or gaining a large number of ‘hits’, ‘likes’ or ‘favorites.’ Ultimately, to make the user experience more fluid amongst the huge array of videos uploaded daily (24 hours of Youtube video is uploaded every minute.) Perhaps the first mistake fellow student bloggers have made is to assume Youtube is like what Rhiengold claims is a ‘citizen-designed, citizen controlled world-wide communications network.’ (cited in Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41),  Van Dijck highlights that it is a generalization to presume that new technologies lead to active cultural citizenship (2009: 46.) Every website and every online community there will always be some level of ‘producing’ and ‘steering’ of users towards certain things.

Image courtesy of Forrestor Research.

Youtube’s featuring of certain video’s that pay for higher rankings on the other hand can certainly ‘steer’ people towards watching certain video’s however it cannot be said that communities are forming around what is basically advertising space. Apart from these ‘Featured videos’ and the sponsors Youtube has, the ranking algorithm they use is based on user interaction. Without that, videos would not ‘stick out’ or rank above any other and instead the site would be left as a collection of unsorted content, an alternative that counteracts the need for order in ‘the information age’. This means YouTube can only work with ‘what it’s got’, and thus their ‘steering’ is a reaction to how communities are already being formed. Unaffiliated ranking sites exist to monitor trends and videos users are watching. Sites like Knowyourmeme, ‘Youtube trends’  and even Youtube’s iPhone apps like Richochet handpick some of the best Youtube videos each week. So although communities may form according to the pooling of like-minded people, Youtube’s ranking tactics only reflect what many third party sites already do. Communities would form with or without this algorithm; Youtube simply optimizes this experience and makes it easier for users to connect along lines of similar interests. This value system Burgess and Green argue ‘relies on the existing structures of celebrity’ (2009, 23), however I would attribute it to society’s affixation with popular culture and on a more human level, these ranking tactics are forming communities where people don’t get left out of seeing what millions of others are sharing.


Dijck, J. V. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society, 31: 41-58

Koskinas, K. and C. Tsekeris (2011), ‘General Reflections on Virtual Communities Research’, in China Media Research, vol. 7 no. 1, pp 39-47.

Burgess, J. and Green, J. 2009, ‘Youtube and the Mainstream Media’, in Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge, Polity Press, 15-37.


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