<videovortex> Video Addiction - A confession by Seth Keen

Seth Keen sethkeen at internode.on.net
Wed Jan 2 22:39:14 CET 2008

Video Addiction
A confession by Seth Keen

“I don’t use YouTube much…”

Video Vortex happened for me as a researcher and collaborator through  
my PhD research into online video practice that I started at RMIT  
University in Melbourne at the beginning of 2006. I was interested in  
being part of a project that generated a current critical perspective  
on what is occurring around video on the Internet. In terms of my own  
research, which is project-based the Video Vortex Amsterdam  
conference, the Argos forum in Brussels and the Montevideo exhibition  
program provided a platform to examine online video practice from a  
number of perspectives. The participants across all these events  
include not only theoreticians but also hands-on practitioners  
including artists, activists, hacktivists, media producers and web  

Hooked on video, I have a history of contact with video practice from  
early pioneering single-handed write, shoot, direct and edit TV  
documentaries shot on the Hi8 format, through to previous MA research  
that focused on the influences of the Internet on audiovisual  
narrative structures. Examining online video directly was a natural  
progression from these earlier experiences. Focusing on alternative  
and independent platforms is influenced by my interest in  
documentaries, the democratisation of access to production and  
autonomous methods of distribution made possible by the Internet.  
With the Internet, there is the potential for a diversity of content  
that is not centralised like mass media. I have always remained  
critical of populist genres, favouring instead avant-garde approaches  
that consider both form and content in their realisation. My passion  
is exploring new audiovisual territories as way to critique the  
status quo. I think it is important to continually question the way  
media is articulated and digested.

Craving a new direction, I made the decision as a practising TV  
documentary maker to either consolidate my practice or put myself in  
a position that enabled me to examine change and developments in  
audiovisual practice. Teaching and researching provided a fantastic  
space to pursue a position of reflection and critique. I currently  
teach in a very progressive media department that has been prepared  
to face up to the enormous changes occurring in media, as part of  
negotiating the influences of the Internet and new digital  
technologies. An integral part of the program focuses on the nexus  
between practice and theory. I teach courses that engage directly  
with the production and distribution of online video content.  
Exposure to both the hands-on technical aspects and theoretical  
context of this teaching feeds directly into my research and this topic.

There is a strong emphasis in the department and broader School of  
Applied Communication I teach in towards project-based research. A  
mode of research influenced by developments in this area within the  
School of Architecture and Design. I have been encouraged to think  
about the way that practice can be used to generate research. This  
can be research through practice, research on practice and research  
about practice. The Video Vortex events provide platforms to examine  
and critique existing online video practice. Alongside this event the  
collective videodefunct project that I am working on utilises an  
iterative approach to generate new types of practice. Each prototype  
is used to inform the next experiment. These hybrid vlogs critique  
online video practice by examining the adaptation of video for  
Internet publication and storytelling within this environment.

The research behind this conference spans almost two years through a  
significant period of growth in online video practice. The topic  
itself covers an enormous amount of developments at a pace that only  
occurs on the Internet. A pace that can really only be managed  
through a collective flexible process of inquiry. This is research  
that relies on a network of people working together towards a  
specific focus. Social software tools like social bookmarking and  
mail lists play an integral role in this type of approach, where the  
sharing and transparency of information is paramount.

It is hard to ignore the pivotal role YouTube has played in making  
video the medium of the moment on the Internet. Economic success  
stories like YouTube generate a flurry of copycat activity and  
reappropriation as developers look for the next latest thing that  
will get users flocking to their address. At the same time a website  
like YouTube raises all sorts of other questions around things like  
ethics, copyright and aesthetics to name a few. YouTube represents a  
significant shift in how people are beginning to understand the  
potential of the Internet. But, unfortunately due to the speed of  
these developments and the hype, there are very few critical points  
of view. It is the unnoticed small-scale alternative developments  
that often provide a contradictory viewpoint. With the conference  
interested in both the success and failure of YouTube, the research  
has revealed many projects that respond to YouTube from a questioning  
critical position. It is the close analysis of these projects that  
provides crucial insights into this topic.

I don’t use YouTube much unlike some of my students who are 24-7  
addicts or even a colleague who has given up TV and uses editorial  
services like videosift to do long chill-out sessions after work. I  
tend to work across all of the video archive websites and the  
Internet in search of online video content that I think provides  
useful context in my teaching and research, these I bookmark on  
delicious. I think online video provides great opportunities to  
distribute presentations and interviews as part of the open knowledge  
mandate. These opportunities I think are still yet to be fully  
realised in terms of archiving and the metadata tagging of the video  
timeline as part of accessing information in smaller non-linear units  
rather than in the larger traditional linear form.

What I do notice with teaching in this area is some of the issues  
that students encounter with YouTube. There is very little  
consciousness of the terms and conditions that YouTube imposes and  
other social media websites like MySpace and Facebook. In most cases  
it takes students awhile to realise that just because a website is  
fashionable and seen as being successful due to popularity, that this  
does not necessarily make it bona fide. Over time there is this  
realisation that there are other services that may offer more for the  
user in terms of respecting their rights and aesthetic needs. These  
other options are often located by tuning into online discussions  
that critique and lay out the pros and cons.

Somehow there is also a blindness to the aesthetic restrictions that  
a website like YouTube places on producers of online video content.  
YouTube has frame size, file type and compression quality control  
over the video uploads which leaves no room for individual aesthetic  
input from the producer. I see this as setting publishing standards,  
a referral to old media like TV broadcasting. Also, it seems to early  
in the development of online video to grasp the concept that online  
video could move beyond the YouTube regurgitated TV-cinema model of  
single-channel linear clips. Ironically, to demonstrate this point, I  
heard recently that there was TV program that was broadcasting  
YouTube videos in the funniest home video style. Beyond this direct  
translation, I believe there are types of online video that can be  
more responsive to the materialities of the Internet, exploring  
linking, networked structures and other multi-channel forms of  

Understanding the friction around copyright on YouTube and more  
broadly the Internet is another significant hurdle. Discussions on  
copyright has produced some of the most vocal input from students, it  
is a topic that attracts a lot of interest and passionate debate.  
Initially, the laissez faire attitude of YouTube towards copyright is  
really attractive and offers a lot of freedom. Often the most  
important requirement seems to be having the option to grab a copy  
and get it onto your own website or blog. Exposure to the varying  
approaches towards copyright from copyleft, creative commons through  
to conglomerates like Hollywood aiming for total control, raises all  
sorts of questions for students who are aiming to become media  
professionals. YouTube does not offer the user a choice when it comes  
to being able to choose some of these alternatives, like applying  
creative commons licenses for example.

A more hidden aspect is questioning the way YouTube as a commercial  
enterprise utilises creative labour for economic gain. The huge  
financial success of YouTube and other websites like MySpace for  
example have brought more attention onto this issue. But, from what I  
can tell, for the moment, this is restricted to a minority of  
theorists rather than becoming a significant public debate. It is  
intriguing that all the creative activities from making, uploading to  
favourite lists and beyond are all taking place under one roof, like  
a factory plant. A minority of owners at one centralised address have  
the power to remove users and their content. But, these websites  
offer free storage space, along with the prospect of public exposure  
and possible celebrity status. These attractive qualities for users  
often overshadow the economic inquiry.

sethkeen at internode.on.net

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