Collective Problem-Solving and Informal Learning in Networked Publics: Reading Vlogging Networks on Youtube as Knowledge Communities

Collective Problem-Solving and Informal Learning in Networked Publics: Reading Vlogging Networks on Youtube as Knowledge Communities

Simon Lindgren (Umeå University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-206-2.ch004
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The overarching question in this chapter has to do with cooperation dynamics in social networks on YouTube. The chapter will focus on community aspects of vlogging (video blogging) and it is suggested that networked publics and participatory cultures offer valuable opportunities to the educational system.
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The Rise Of Smart Mobs

Figure 1.


This chapter will focus on community aspects of vlogging (video blogging) on YouTube (Figure 1). This site, familiar to most, is a popular video sharing platform with built-in social networking functions such as tagging, commenting, favoriting and the possibility to leave video replies. The typical vlog entry consists of a clip that is a few minutes long and features the vlogger looking straight into the camera, addressing the viewers. Vlog entries are generally based on oral narratives that sometimes build on previous entries by the same person, and sometimes serve as video replies to entries posted by other vloggers.

The chapter is based on a qualitative case analysis focusing on vlogging as participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006, 1992). While YouTube started out as a straightforward video sharing platform, it has increasingly come to offer a number of social networking site (SNS) features (Lange, 2008). The meanings of SNS practices vary across sites and individuals (boyd, 2006). This case study will explore how the affordances of the site may be employed by vloggers in order to establish and maintain social networks. My analyses serve to illuminate, from various perspectives, community and social network aspects of YouTube. The overarching question has to do with finding basic dynamics of this cooperation system.

American technology writer Howard Rheingold (2002) predicts that one result of the ongoing development of digital media will be the rise of ever more so called smart mobs. These are communities – much like the vlogger community − which “consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities. Their mobile devices connect them with other information devices in the environment as well as with other people’s telephones” (Rheingold, 2002, p. xii). But similar to what Henry Jenkins writes about convergence culture – we are still “testing the waters and mapping directions” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 246) – there is a need for more practical knowledge of the dynamics of these cooperation systems (Rheingold, 2002, p. 202).

In the early forms of virtual communities (Rheingold, 1994), participation was limited to being present in physical spaces where internet connections were available. Those types of virtual communities transcended space in the sense that the participants were not physically co-present, but they frequently found themselves in similar types of environments (offices, teenage bedrooms, home offices, living rooms, etc.). In the virtual communities of today – where phones, palms, netbooks, laptops, and similar portable devices are increasingly used to access the internet – participation is hardly limited by space and time at all. Today’s mobile phones, smart phones, and digital cameras are pervasive tools. They have become such an important part of the daily life that they are no longer mere technological objects but rather key social objects.

Young people in particular are embracing the emerging participatory cultures. According to American data (Lenhardt & Madden, 2005), 57 percent of teen internet users can be considered media creators. They have created blogs or webpages, posted original content online, or have remixed online content to create new expressions. Swedish data (Findahl & Zimic 2008) show that around 20 percent of 15 to 20-year olds have their own blogs, 60 percent upload photos, and 10 percent post their own videos.

Though some research has been made on YouTube since its launch in 2005, not very much of it has focused on vlogging (see for example the work of Burgess & Green 2009b or Lange 2007 for a couple of examples). Even less has been done on YouTube as a platform for informal learning. Still, several aspects of its participatory potential have been dealt with in books such as The YouTube Reader (Snickars & Vonderau 2009), Video Vortex (Lovink & Niederer 2008) and YouTube (Burgess & Green 2009a).

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