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http://ics.sagepub.com/ Studies International Journal of Cultural http://ics.sagepub.com/content/12/1/43 The online version of this article can be found at:   DOI: 10.1177/1367877908098854 2009 12: 43 International Journal of Cultural Studies Robert Gehl YouTube as archive : Who will curate this digital Wunderkammer?     Published by: http://www.sagepublications.com can be found at: International Journal of Cultural Studies Additional services and information for           http://ics
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    http://ics.sagepub.com/  StudiesInternational Journal of Cultural  http://ics.sagepub.com/content/12/1/43The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/1367877908098854 2009 12: 43 International Journal of Cultural Studies  Robert Gehl YouTube as archive : Who will curate this digital Wunderkammer?  Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com  can be found at: International Journal of Cultural Studies  Additional services and information for http://ics.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:  http://ics.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: http://ics.sagepub.com/content/12/1/43.refs.html Citations: What is This? - Jan 7, 2009Version of Record >> at CAPES on February 4, 2012ics.sagepub.comDownloaded from   YouTube as archive Who will curate this digital  Wunderkammer?    Robert Gehl GeorgeMasonUniversity,USA A B S T R A C T    At first glance, the ease with which individuals can accessand contribute to YouTube sets it in direct opposition to large corporate mediaoutlets with their top-down mode of dissemination. However, I argue that,despite these seemingly democratic features, YouTube is better understood notas opposed to traditional corporate media but in the same genealogy asprevious archival technologies and techniques. In archives, all content isflattened and has equal weight, so it is up to a curatorial authority to presentcontent to audiences. While YouTube promises to democratize media, its lack ofa centralized ‘curator of display’ actually sets the stage for large mediacompanies and entrepreneurs to step into the curatorial role and decide howeach object in YouTube’s archives will be presented to users. The role of thecurator of display is, as of this writing, unresolved. This article thus draws onpolitical economic and historical critiques of collections and archives in order toconnect the emergent technologies in YouTube with earlier attempts to organizeand present information, objects and images.  K E Y W O R D S    archives   blogs   curators   labor   mediators   tagsonomy   YouTube Old tube versus YouTopia MuchofthepresscoverageofGoogle’sindependentsubsidiaryYouTubecar-riesheadlinessuchas‘FriendorFoe?’(Holson,2007)and‘ThreatandaTool’(NoguchiandGoo,2006). PRNewswire reportedthatYouTubeusersareless A R T I C L E INTERNATIONAL  journal  of  CULTURAL  studies Copyright © 2009 SAGE PublicationsLos Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singaporewww.sagepublications.comVolume 12(1): 43–60DOI: 10.1177/1367877908098854 43  at CAPES on February 4, 2012ics.sagepub.comDownloaded from   44  INTERNATIONAL  journal  of   CULTURAL studies  12(1) likelytowatchtelevisionanda16October2006coverstoryin Broadcasting andCable (Beckeretal.,2006)discussed‘fivemajorarenas’whereYouTubewill‘shakeuptheTVindustry’.Writingin TheTimes (London),DominicO’ConnellreferstoYouTubeusersas‘pirates’(2007).Inotherwords,thenewsandtradepresshasoftensimplypresentedYouTube(andstreamingInternetvideoingeneral)asapotentialthreattotraditionalbroadcastmedia,atleastincapitalisteconomies.Broadcastmedia,thenarrativegoes,mustfindawaytoadapttoYouTubeandotherInternetvideosites,oritwilldie.Andofcourse,theoldermediaisseenas‘fightingback’byformingcompetitivenewInternetvideosites,suchasJoost,AOLVideoandYahoo!Video.Thisvisionofnewmediaversusoldisanunderstandableframing.Oftenintheteleologyofnewsreporting,particularlyinAmericanreportingontechnol-ogy,everynewformofmediaandtechnologyispresentedasreplacingpastmedia,perhapsinfluencedbyeconomistJosephSchumpeter’s(1994)theoryof ‘creativedestruction’wherebytheoldfirmsareconstantlyoverwhelmedbytheirnewer,moreagileyoungcompetitors. 1 Inthepopularpress,bothbusi-nessesandtechnologyareportrayedasconstantlyevolving,withthewinnersexpandingandthelosersdrivenoutandmadeobsolete.Thisprocessisoftencelebratedastheinevitableandunequivocallybeneficialprogressofcapitalism.And,ofcourse,someareexcitedbythischallengetobroadcastmedia;manyscholarshavetrumpetedYouTube’sdemocratic,participatorynature.Theseworksoftendraw,indirectlyorexplicitly,onthemoreutopianconceptsinCastells(2000)orBenkler(2006) . Forexample,StephenColeman(2006)arguesthatYouTubeandothersocialnetworkingsitesenablegreaterpartici-pationinthedemocraticprocess.Similarly,JamesTrier(2007)discussesthepedagogicalpowerofYouTubeasadisruptoroftheteacher/studenthierarchy.AxelBruns(2007)hascoinedtheterm‘produsage’fortheopencreativeprocesssoevidentinwebsitessuchasYouTube,WikipediaandFlickr.Allof thesescholarsaredefiningwhat‘Web2.0’lookslikeanddoes.ThepredictionthatYouTube(andcomputer/Internet-basedvideoingen-eral)mightreplaceorirreparablyalterbroadcasttelevisioncouldverywellcometopass.Itmayverywellturnouttobearevolutionary,participatoryanddemocraticformofmedia.However,astrongcasecanalsobemadethatYouTubewillundergoanevolutionmuchlikeprecedingmediatechnologies,especiallyastheyhavedevelopedincapitalism.Thiscaseismadeonanalter-nativewayofthinkingaboutYouTube,andsubsequentlyadifferentpredic-tionorpossibleoutcome,onethatcouldcometopassifaparticularsubsetofactorsshapingthistechnologybehaveinthewayIbelievetheywill.Inotherwords,thisismyattempttotroublethecurrentdiscourseonYouTube. Jenkins(2004:34)hasdescribedthecontradictioninherentinnewmediatechnologies:ontheonesideistheuserwhoisable‘toarchive,annotate,appropriateandrecirculatemediacontentinpowerfulnewways’,andontheotheristhedecreasingnumberofconglomeratedmediacorporationswhichproducemuchofthatpopularcontent.Thiscontradiction,andits‘conver-gence’,readilyapparentinYouTube,isdecidedlyanti-democratic.  at CAPES on February 4, 2012ics.sagepub.comDownloaded from   Gehl   YouTube as archive  45 The approach I take is similar to that of Josh Greenberg (2008), who stud-ied the evolution of VCR technology and found that it is often not the users northe large companies that drive technological change but the intermediaries –the distributors and other entrepreneurial middlemen – whom he calls the‘mediators’ of a technology. These mediators often get lost in the dominantdiscourses of technology, where grand battles are among users and producers,and among competitive media outlets. Instead, it is the mediators, those actorsin the middle between users and corporations, who are shaping YouTube. YouTube as archive My prediction is based on a close examination of the technical structure of YouTube, the legal agreements that enable it, its political economy and theactors who work with it, which includes the people uploading the videos tothe bloggers and television networks that link to them. Given these contin-gencies, I argue that YouTube is an archive awaiting curators. It is, as of now,a sort of digital Wunderkammer (often translated as ‘closet of wonders’), aplace where many of the artifacts of digital empire sit on shelves, waitingeither to overwhelm a visitor or to be utilized by savvy new entrepreneurs.Clearly, YouTube is an archive. YouTube is not a peer-to-peer sharingprogram which links individual computers together in an ad hoc network;there are central servers which hold the video content that users haveuploaded. The users encounter content on these central servers at the sameweb address, www.youtube.com, but can do so from anywhere there is high-speed access to the Internet. As media and communications scholar NickCouldry (2003) might put it, YouTube has a mythical ‘center’, and web users,Couldry’s ‘ordinary people’, go to that center to get content and produce it.However, it is not a broadcaster. YouTube does not produce any content of its own, only the frame in which content appears; all of the content is pro-vided by third parties and is either intended for use on YouTube or is recy-cled from existing media content. In a way, pilgrims to YouTube’s ‘center’ arealso producers at that center, much like those who visit local history muse-ums might have some of their possessions placed in those museums someday.The most adequate way to interrogate this object is as an archive, a sort of digital Wunderkammer . This has several advantages over thinking of YouTube as merely a threat to broadcast media, or even as another node inthe network. Considering YouTube as an archive helps explain the differentterms of space and time in Internet video. Again, instead of contrasting thiswith television or film, we could discuss YouTube in terms of flows of people,much as they flow through any other library or collection. Although these arenot precisely the same as archives, studies of museum exhibitions have shownthat, despite the best efforts of those who build the exhibitions, people rarelyspend much time on each object, and the paths that people take vary wildly(Hein, 1998; Serrell, 1997). The same is true of archives: some people might  at CAPES on February 4, 2012ics.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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