What Happened Before YouTube?

I was intrigued by Henry Jenkin’s work earlier in the semester so when I found this article written by him about YouTube I knew I had to learn more. This article can be found at the end of the book YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. I have summarized some of the key points that I found interesting.

What happened before YouTube?-Henry Jenkins


  • It seems as though people cannot remember what happened before YouTube. Jenkins argues that it was not Web 2.0 technologies that enabled the growth of participatory cultures, rather participatory culture paved the way for many diverse platforms. Participatory culture took the form of people’s radio, video activism, underground newspapers.
  • Remix was happening before YouTube, but people did not want their work to be public for fear of copyright issues. They were also worried about being subject to criticism.
  • YouTube is a community, corporations rarely create communities. YouTube became so popular so quickly because so many groups were ready for something like it. Communities already existed before YouTube.
  • Jenkins argued that people predicted YouTube about 10 years before it happened. Researchers knew there would be a time when anyone would be able to create multimedia broadcasts, referred to as “do-it-yourself newsroom”. However, he states that it was predicted people would be creating this media, nobody considered the scale to which people would be consuming this amateur content.
  • “Youtube does not so much change the conditions of production as it alters the contexts of circulation and reception; Such works now reach a larger public via its channels of distribution; there are systems of criticism which focus attention on interesting and emerging works; there are people willing to seek out and engage with noncommercial content; and consumers are conversing with each other by producing videos.” 
  • Participatory culture is not just allowing people to participate, but it also creates strong social incentives and the ability to share what people produce with others.
  • YouTube does not distribute value equally among amateur content. Jenkins quotes McMurria (2006) “A glance at the top 100 rated, viewed and disused videos, and most subscribed channels reveals far less racial diversity than broadcast network television…Perhaps we might think about the difference between what it means to be a YouTube community and what it would take to use the YouTube video sharing technologies to help expand the movement for racial and economic justice.” This suggests that a participatory culture is not necessarily a diverse culture.


Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture



One thought on “What Happened Before YouTube?

  1. Kirsten Hansen says:

    Very good history lesson on the realities that things like YouTube didn’t appear overnight out of the blue! Sometimes we forget that technology can come out of the society instead of society coming out of the technology. Maybe that’s something that bugs me about Turkle. She likes to give technology all the credit, rather than accepting that technologies are born into societies that have made them possible and desirable.


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