Blog Post

For Michael Wesch, Video Shows, Tells, Does

For me the highlight so far of the inaugural Web 2.0 Expo, being held this week in San Francisco, was meeting Michael Wesch, creator of the thought-provoking “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” video. Today Wesch presented on the experience of creating the clip and watching it spread online, as part of the no-admission-fee-required Web2Open accompanying the show.

Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, created the video to accompany a yet-to-be-released academic paper about the web 2.0 phenomenon. An earnest fellow who would clearly make a great teacher, Wesch succeeded by virtue of the very tools he was celebrating and discussing in his video: YouTube, Netvibes, Digg, blogs, Technorati.

Today the video has been viewed more than 2 million times. “It’s getting out through these mechanisms which we didn’t have even three years ago,” and originating from someone “in the middle of nowhere,” he marveled.

Here’s how Wesch described it: After finishing and posting the “Web 2.0 Is Us/ing Us” video, he sent the link around to a small group of faculty, including those versed in computer science “to make sure I got XML right.” Then the video snowballed into a mass hit before Wesch ever got around to making any edits.

He described today watching his YouTube stats climb; in the context of academia, he said, where a few hundred people might read his work, seeing his video garner 100 views was a thrill.

But within a couple days, when he cued up his Netvibes account, which he had configured to show videos that get more than 300 Diggs, “Suddenly I’m on my own front page!”

Wesch said he and his wife then started avidly tracking the video’s rank on Technorati, where it was linked to by 6,000 blogs over that week. They hoped the clip would get to number one before Superbowl ads came out and dominated that Sunday. Instead, the video maintained the top spot for the next three weeks. “We got really excited about humanity at that point,” he said.

I wonder what other opportunities for interaction there are between our little online video business world and academia. Wesch said he and his students’ his current project is an ethnography of YouTube — we’ll be sure to let you know when that comes out.

6 Responses to “For Michael Wesch, Video Shows, Tells, Does”

  1. Thanks Liz, it was a major highlight of the expo for me to meet you as well. Your panel was great.

    Om, love your work as well. Our ethnography of YouTube is more specifically about the personal vlogging community of YouTube which makes up about 2% of all uploads. We will be releasing our first draft of a 45 minute documentary in mid-May. It will be made up of 9 segments, each one being the result of an undergraduate student’s semester-long research project.

    As Robin would probably agree, watching your own video go viral is a remarkable opportunity to see the shape of the contemporary mediascape. My students and I tracked the video’s spread carefully not just to bask in my “15 frames of fame” ;-), but to learn more about the structure of the web today and how YouTube fits within that structure. The video also had the wonderful effect of allowing us to make lots of friends on YouTube, which has been essential for our project.

    I hope that satisfies your inquiring mind! Thanks for the questions.

  2. Agreed — seeing that video on the big screens was inspiring.

    I think there’s a clear competency there, Om — this is a guy who took a set of ideas that are often vague & inchoate (even here in SF — forget in the middle of Kansas) and boiled them down into one sharp, seductive articulation. And in video no less. Imagine if every academic with big ideas could do that!

  3. Liz Gannes

    Ha! You are so skeptical. I’m not going to speak on behalf of his students, but I’d guess web 2.0 in action is more interesting than web 2.0 in a classroom. Don’t you think it will be interesting to see the application of time-tested anthropological methods to something that’s culturally relevant like YouTube?

  4. What the hell is ethnography on YouTube mean?

    By the way what did this video add to his core competency – which is teaching his students at Kansas State? DId it bring any new insights to his students, or was it just another example where he got his 15-frames of fame?

    Inquiring minds want to know!