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.