In 2005 a company was created called YouTube; a year later the company was bought by Google for $1.6bn and over the last ten years has changed the way be consume, produce and share content online. YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world after Google. The colloquial phrase ‘to Google it’ has gradually changed to ‘YouTube it’ to search for answers on virtually any topic. The democratisation of content presented a huge opportunity to anyone who wanted to share their videos and gradually over time many different types and genres made their way on to the platform. It broke new ground, it developed a new model of consuming and producing content which went hand in hand with the expansion of online social networks. There was content a-plenty, all the time, anywhere and from across the globe.
As time has progressed, it has given people endless ways to produce and distribute content online. YouTube has continued to expand its offering from simply uploading videos. Over time features have been added to the platform such as Google Hangouts and Advertisements - very similar to the concept of a traditional television channel. With a platform as varied, democratic and large in scale as YouTube, it may have seemed as if we had reached a peak? YouTube is paying stars of online videos who achieved a high subscription rate on their channels and in the process had defined a new language of how we produce, share, and communicate online and only in the space of ten years, is still a truly remarkable concept. What's next?
With the increasing availability of Wifi and mobile internet, rising smartphone sales and constant app development, YouTube became a precursor for a new set of applications that took the concepts of universal content production and it made it even more democratic. Apps such as Vine, Instagram and Periscope have allowed us to produce video content on our smartphones without the need to touch a computer or expensive editing software; it is all available in just a few clicks. The artistic nature of what a video is and how it should look has been reimagined: we are now in a world of six second loop videos and selfies that have dispensed with many traditions of film and video making. To define an online video is very difficult; the openness of the medium has produced an artistic outlay possibly never seen before. If you are an artist and want to express yourself there are platforms, tools and an audience ready to give you instant feedback, wherever and whenever you would like it.
The openness of the medium however has also presented issues that have become hard to define. We are all able to produce and share photos of our daily lives, personal lives and work lives; we can become celebrities through a single video but how does this impact on us? Do we need to live our lives online to show that we are interacting with the real world? As a little online taster you can try out Ant Hamlyn’s The Boost Project to explore how the real world and the online world interact. How do we define our status online? Is it through likes, shares or reposts? A giant orb displayed in the FACT foyer inflates and deflates depending on its online popularity to encourage us to ponder this very question. Meanwhile, Constant Dullard’s High Retention, Slow Delivery, displayed in Gallery 1 as part of Follow considers the impact of buying Instagram followers, rather than letting your online fan club develop organically.
The answers to these questions are not clear, and the speed with which technology is evolving also makes it hard to analyse one platform before another emerges. Whatever the outcome may be, it is an exciting time to be living through as it presents opportunities, development, questioning and above all else an examination of who we are and how we interact with the world in the 21st Century at time when we have the most access to information we have ever had.
Follow is open at FACT until 21 February, and entry is free. With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union