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Is this real life?: YouTube turns the personal into public

Teresa Mathew/Daily
LSA freshman David Dolsen does not forget to be awesome. Buy this photo

By Lucy Perkins, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 5, 2012

LSA freshman David Dolsen’s hobby wasn’t something he talked to friends about — not at first.

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“It’s something you do on your own time,” Dolsen said. “It’s not something I’m ashamed of. I just didn’t talk about it.”

Dolsen is a Nerdfighter, on a quest to fight world suck.

“Instead of being made of cells and body stuff, Nerdfighters are made of awesome,” Dolsen said.

Nerdfighters are part of an online community centered on a series of YouTube vlogs — short for video blogs — posted by brothers John and Hank Green, also known as the Vlogbrothers.

Though many people see YouTube as a virtual hub where they can find music videos and watch that one idiot majorly wipe out on a skateboard ramp, the Nerdfighters view YouTube as a community. Channels, schedules and videos are full of inside jokes. Comments come from familiar usernames.

The Vlogbrothers didn’t initially see their channel as something to be shared. They merely vlogged as a way to keep in touch with each other while they lived at opposite ends of the country. Each day, one brother would post a video on YouTube for the other one, telling the other brother about funny things that happened to him, often challenging the other to do things and report back.

Rather inexplicably, the Vlogbrothers developed a following. First appearing on YouTube in 2007, the community surrounding the Vlogbrothers now includes more than 500,000 subscribers and upward of 187 million total upload views.

“YouTube is an incredibly powerful way to connect people,” said Will Luers, a visiting professor in the Creative Media & Digital Culture program at Washington State University. “People can convey ideas through a personalized approach.”

Since the Vlogbrothers’ arrival to YouTube, other vloggers have joined the Nerdfighter community. Some of their videos are about random things that happen to them during the day, while others read “Twilight” or talk about comments they receive from their fans.

With a wide range of videos being posted, Nerdfighters can view new content every day by visiting the channels of the vloggers they follow.

“It’s television on a smaller scale,” Luers said. “But it can reach a wider audience, because everyone is searching for content at any point in time.”

The work is virtual, but the money is real

For the vloggers, becoming a part of this online community has been something of a financial success.

The YouTube Partnership Program, launched in Dec. 2007, works with popular vloggers to generate revenue in a way that is beneficial to YouTube and the YouTuber. According to its website, YouTube now has more than 20,000 partners in 22 countries around the world – some making six-figure salaries just by creating and posting their videos.

Tyler Oakley (username tyleroakley), a Michigan State University alum and a vlogger within the Nerdfighter community, applied to the program in early 2008, and was accepted as a partner.

After joining the Partnership Program, Oakley obtained access to tutorials and tips, courtesy of YouTube, that suggested how to improve the quality of the videos he posted. YouTube is keen on the adoption of these suggestions by big-time YouTubers because the more popularity and success people like Oakley receive, the more successful YouTube is too.

Essentially, when a vlogger becomes a partner, ads are featured on their video. The more views the video gets, the more money YouTube generates and the vlogger gets a bigger cut of the revenue.

Oakley never expected to have a career as a YouTuber, and for the most part, he still sees it as a hobby. He has a full-time job in social media. Though he said YouTube is a great boost to his income, he does acknowledge that it's difficult to just make a living off the website.

“It’s hard because at any time you can go up and down in popularity so quickly,” Oakley said. “You can’t control it.”

Oakley said about 70 percent of his 120,000 subscribers are preteen girls, a percentage that sounds more like Taylor Lautner’s female fanbase from the “Twilight” saga. His top viewed video, "HOW TO: Be A Bad Bitch,” in which he lip syncs and dances wildly in his computer chair to Nicki Minaj’s "Baddest Bitch," has amassed over 1.4 million views.

Oakley began vlogging in an attempt to keep in touch with friends going to school elsewhere.