YouTube: the good, the bad and the boring

I had a call from our local BBC station earlier today, asking whether I could come on to talk about the weird and wonderful videos on YouTube on their morning show with Toby Foster the following day.  It was prompted by a link on Popbitch to this video of station announcements at Sheffield train stations which they’d dubbed the worlds ‘most boring YouTube video’.

In advance of going in, they asked me to suggest some of the ‘best’ videos on YouTube which given that YouTube (2013) report 72 hours of video are uploaded to their site every minute is no mean feat!  They also report that over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube and there’s just no way that all of that can be cats, so what is out there that may make you laugh or think?

My personal favourites (a.k.a the ones I have shared with every member of my family at some point and on social media at least once)

The Community Channel is one of the most consistently funny Channels I watch, my personal favourites are: Back in my day [a video for her newborn niece], Barbie and Bratz D&M  [a chat between two dolls], and one journalists may sympathise with She was a quiet girl.

Videos like this one of a Vaccuum that sounds like Chewbacca always make me laugh, mainly because it’s a fairly simple joke but it’s also a good example of the trivial things people share online, the way they might share a joke in the pub.

The Circus Cats video (which is one of many) is in keeping with a lot of what is popular on mainstream TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent. And, when I was looking for that video it took me to this (more information than entertainment) video on clicker training cats (so people can train their own circus cat) and from there to how to train your cats to use the toilet (although I wouldn’t actually recommend watching it if you don’t have a cat you want to toilet train!) which just further exemplify the weird and wonderful things people share (and the addictive relationship people with camcorders have with their cats).

The Kids React series has a lot of gems and is also a good tracker of what was popular on YouTube at the time but I especially like it because quite often the kids take the same tone as other people who aren’t driving the trend, they’re just completely mystified as to what is going on and why it’s funny.

The other reason I love YouTube, is being able to catch up on TV shows we remember from when we were kids such as this episode of Roseanne based around tax return day, which remains as relevant and funny today as it was at the time. And videos such as this Game of Thrones/ Maroon 5 Payphone parody are a reflection of the ways many people interact with their favourite shows by parodying, commenting on or gossiping about the storylines.

The sorts of videos that appeal to the older generation

The researcher who called mentioned that their audience demographic are older people who don’t use the internet as confidently as others around them and asked me to think about what might appeal to them specifically on YouTube.

My response to this (perhaps frustratingly for them) is that whilst I do agree with their finding that people aged 60+ are less likely to use the internet that people aged 18-59,  they’re still quite a diverse bunch in that that term covers anyone aged 60 to 100. In terms of what has really engaged people I have worked with in the past it’s always about relevance to them, especially if they are not confident using the internet beforehand.

For example, for some being able to find the music they remember or programmes featuring that music can really motivate them to find out a little more about how to use the internet to find new entertainment options. In the same way that their grandchildren search for the latest Beyonce video, they look for Elvis or Aretha Franklin or another artist who they’d love to see and hear singing live again.

When I did my study of unpaid carers in South Yorkshire (some of whom were over 60), one of the things a number of them asked about was finding videos on the internet that explained the illness, how it progressed or operations that they were helping the person they cared for to prepare for (this request was not limited to over 60s as again it related to what was relevant to the learner).   John Popham (who I think Radio Sheffield will also be speaking to) has collected some really interesting stories about older people wanting to create their own content during his Our Digital Planet project too, I don’t know if they used YouTube for this though.

YouTube is all about the person searching it, if someone over 60 identified themselves as being that in terms of what they were searching for they probably wouldn’t find a great deal that would feel relevant (in the same way that women probably shouldn’t search for ‘funny women’ or ‘funny woman’ because it’s more likely to return videos of bad driving than Josie Long or Ellen DeGeneres). But, if they’re interested in knitting, sewing, baking, cars, interacting with their grandchildren, learn about 3D printing, training their cat to high five guests or even the history of  train announcements, there’ll be something out there for them!


I’ve just finished and we didn’t discuss ANY of the above (le sigh) but we did talk about whether YouTube will replace mainstream entertainment channels, whether it’s a bad influence on children because there are swear words in the comments field, whether the video was boring and a few other things.

The interview will be available here later today:  [starts at around 1:40m in]

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