James Ball

Pandora’s Box

Kevin Allocca tells us everything about the website’s upsides — but nothing about political propaganda or the extremist clips that go viral

On 25 April 2005, Jawed Karim sent an email to his friends announcing the launch of a new video site — intended for dating — called youtube.com. Within 18 months, the site was being used to view 100 million videos a day. Last year it had more than a billion users, watching five billion videos every day, with creators uploading 300 hours of video to YouTube every minute.

Given this almost incomprehensible scale, it’s fitting that the word Videocracy — the title of YouTube Head of Trends Kevin Allocca’s history of the site — evokes the idea of an authoritarian dystopia. Like any approved account from such a regime, its analysis never strays far from the realms of the vapid or tepid.

YouTube, and the democratising wave of social network websites that rose alongside it, has had many positive influences on the world, which Videocracy describes at length, if joylessly: creators could bypass middlemen and gatekeepers; remix culture could flourish as an artform in its own right; and people with niche interests that would never be served through mainstream television could find something to please them.

Videocracy speaks of these millions of flowers blooming, and claims it’s the audience that now decides what becomes popular — but what is always curiously absent is YouTube itself. No mention is made of the slice of revenue it takes for every video it airs, or of the way the site singles out potential stars and partners with them.

Similarly, as the book turgidly lists the upsides of YouTube’s role on the internet, its downsides are glossed over. In 2010, Antoine Dodson gave a furious account to local television news about how an intruder had broken into his family’s home and attempted to rape his sister.

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