2,526 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Consider the cable TV industry’s long adopted formula: preset TV networks with preset content that’s usually thematically unified. Take a network like Comedy Central, which broadcasts shows whose premises range from small crank-calling sock puppets, to a middle-aged politically savvy comedian who pokes fun at public officials and issues gripping the country, to the scripted travails of an incompetent police squad in an uninteresting Nevadan city. The network’s programs all have one theme in common: comedy. Paid programming aside, you wouldn’t find a show on Comedy Central about how to best prepare a tender Thanksgiving turkey, nor would you find a captivating drama about betrayal and self-discovery that leaves the viewer in tears when the credits roll. Before the advent of the internet, when people wanted to laugh, Comedy Central provided an almost 24-hour answer to that urge. The same obviously can be said about Speed, a network for car enthusiasts, and MTV, a network for those interested in watching music videos — though one could surmise that the content limitations in using a visual medium to broadcast content entirely derivative of audio is what eventually forced MTV to deviate from its original, eponymous purpose. It then spent the latter part of the 90s focusing on delivering alternative, offbeat content relevant to angst-ridden teenagers and young adults.
Another quality that binds these networks is constancy. Cable networks by design broadcast professionally produced content geared toward a certain audience on a round-the-clock basis. True, at odd hours of the day — different for each time zone — many networks revert to paid programming during time slots with negligible viewership ratings and air what are essentially feature-length commercials that directly funnel money into the network’s piggy bank. This goes without saying, but yes, this programming is thematically unrelated to the network minus the spurious correlation between food-related infomercials on Food Network. But reasonably speaking, the networks are continuously running professionally produced, thematically unified content for the hours of the day in which most TV viewers in their region are awake. This constancy has influenced the ways in which the television is used besides the intended function of turning it on to enjoy a favorite program at a preset time.
In conversations with TV viewers, it’s common to hear of people turning on the TV even when they’re not attentively watching it simply because they find the ensuing background noise a pleasant addition to their home’s atmosphere. Or more significantly, consider televisions, often tuned into a 24-hour news network running on low-volume in public spaces like cafes, universities, newsrooms, stores, and even at social gatherings. The constant, unstopping stream of content has allowed the TV to be used in a variety of contexts, whether as a sleep facilitator, a device that makes a room seem more lively than it is, or as a steady IV drip of vital information about one’s surroundings. For the sake of comparison, imagine if programs were not constant and that a three-hour blank screen separated the latest episode of 30 Rock from the 11 o’clock news.
Although we live in an increasingly internet-reliant society, users are still driven to thematically related content that’s provided to them in a constant fashion. This urge has not disappeared since the advent of the internet, and has in fact always been a staple of humanity. We want content of a specific kind that we find pleasing, and if we indeed enjoy it, we’ll take as much of it as possible if the value proposition is sensible. Of course, the advent of the Internet has spoiled media consumers. Instead of waiting for the re-run of last night’s episode of Lost that you missed, why not watch it right this moment on your laptop via ABC’s official website without having to go through trouble of downloading it through a bit-torrent client? Or, if Comedy Central’s current eight-o’clock programming doesn’t suit your particular taste in humor, why not go back to browsing LOLcats, laughing at viral images overlaid with white text, or scrolling down your Facebook wall in hopes of finding laugh-worthy photos, videos, and articles suggested by your friends? Currently, the internet can perfectly satisfy a user’s urge for a particular theme, provide content based in that theme immediately, and allow users to find, to an unlimited degree of specificity, what they’re looking for. But something’s missing.
Barring the cheesy name, (the imaginary) YouTV seeks to satisfy a void in the media industry, but not by aiming to add a new dimension to the criteria being used to assess current media consumption habits — those criteria being theme, immediacy, constancy, and unlimited specificity. Rather, it aims to combine these dimensions. This means media that allows consumers to get a hold of precisely what they want (theme and then further, unlimited specificity), precisely when they want it (immediacy), for as long as they want (constancy) without having to manipulate a device or exert any energy to be fed said content.
As an online video database, YouTube currently satisfies three of the above: providing users with unlimited specificity in that you can find exactly the video you’re looking for given the theme you’re in the mood for, and then immediately receive that content when you motivate yourself to move your fingers to type out your burning inner desires into the search box. But the notion of constancy is ignored. Cable TV, by contrast, satisfies the need for constancy and theme selection but fails to allow for a higher degree of user specificity in selecting the exact content to watch as well as how immediately that content appears. Users are still tied to preset programs and programming schedules. TV thus only satisfies two of the four aforementioned criteria. As a feature added to YouTube, (the hypothetical) YouTV aims to satisfy all four in an effort to address users’ latent desire of attaining their desired content constantly, so that they may deploy it, enjoy it, or ignore it when they so choose. But the aim is to continuously have content provided to them without requiring any action on their behalf.
At its core, YouTV will be a function enabled for all searched terms on YouTube to allow for the constant streaming of videos in the form of a never-ending playlist. Every search term will have a corresponding YouTV channel. Naturally, this will mean an unlimited number of channels because there’s no end to the permutations of search terms users can combine and create. The YouTV channel corresponding to the search term “ice cream crazy chocolate giraffe” will yield a different channel than the search term “ice cream crazy vanilla giraffe,” as will “ice cream giraffe,” and so on.
The content of each YouTV channel — in other words, which videos are shown for the given search term — will be determined by users through a voting mechanism embedded in the YouTube video player. A sidebar embedded in the YouTube player pops up when the user’s cursor scrolls over the player and will list key data such as how many users are currently “watching” the channel in question, a timeline of the channel’s previously “aired” video clips in sequence, and information like the next video in the queue. The primary function of the sidebar is its voting mechanism, allowing users to play their part in selecting the next video in the queue. Bear in mind, however, that users will only be able to vote on the immediately following video clip rather than determining a day’s worth of programming all at once.
For the sake of accountability purposes delineated later in this article, users must register in order vote. The caveat: the selection must be in line with the theme of the search term on which the particular YouTV channel is based. Within the side bar, users can conduct YouTube searches to suggest videos they feel would apply to the YouTV channel they’re currently on — just as they would had they used the traditional search bar that headlines all YouTube pages. Advanced search options will be made to ensure the searching process via the sidebar is as easy and customizable as the traditional YouTube search box. Users will search for their ideal video and click an icon that says “suggest,” at which point the sidebar will collapse off to the right, allowing the video to once again comprise the entire frame of the player. About a dozen small icons for the most highly suggested videos — with a live tally of the number of times they’ve been suggested — will appear in the sidebar, arranged according to their tally. Because the tallies are updated live, certain clip icons will drop off the screen, others will appear for the first time, and still others will change positions with one another to reflect tally-count changes. It seems likely that most users will click to “suggest” one of the dozen or so highly suggested videos out of convenience, unless of course they feel so inclined to perform a manual search to suggest a specific video that is not a part of the dozen.
In line with concepts of electoral systems in political science, there will be two rounds of voting to certify that a majority (meaning 50 percent plus one) of the voters (not total viewers, but rather voters) on a particular channel eventually settle on a single video clip. The first round, in other words, will be a simple plurality election. Users can “suggest” any video they would like. The top two video clips with the highest number of suggestions will move on to the next round, in which only two videos will face off against each other for a majority of the votes. As for when the voting actually takes place, the first round will last from the moment the video begins to the halfway mark, and the second round will last until the end of the video (e.g. if there’s a 10 minute video, the first round will last until the five-minute mark and the second will begin at the five-minute mark and continue right up until the video’s end).
This dual-level election is intended to build consensus: if there were only a single round, the service would run the risk of playing a video that had only the support of a small, organized group of users because, again, a plurality election simply implies that the selection with the “most” votes — not a majority of votes — will win. Theoretically, under such an voting system, a video clip with as little as two percent of the votes, for instance, could proceed to the next round if its competitors only have one percent. In pitting the top two most highly-suggested videos against one another, the second round certifies that one choice will win a majority amongst those that voted simply because the vote will be limited to no more than two candidates. And it will allow those that initially suggested another video to still have a say if their originally suggested video is not among the two frontrunners. Just as a precaution, if by chance a video accidentally wins the second round but viewers seem to not like it, they can vote to “skip” the video. If a majority of people who vote call to skip the video, a 10-second warning will be played, to give a heads up to those who haven’t voted but would like to, before an automatically selected clip replaces the current one (as there is no time to vote since users have agreed to skip the video).
To better illustrate this entire process, let’s consider an example. Assume the same Comedy Central-inclined user is in the mood for watching clips from the Daily Show regarding Herman Cain. Their search request will probably look something like “Daily Show Herman Cain.” As the user is entering the request in the search box, several drop-down suggestions will appear in attempt to “auto-complete” the search term (so, perhaps, these will be “Daily Show Herman comedy,” “Daily Show Herman candid,” and of course, “Daily Show Herman Cain”) and each of these will feature a “Watch YouTV Channel” link next to it. Clicking the YouTV link beside “Daily Show Herman Cain” will direct the user to the corresponding YouTV channel. Once the page loads, the user will begin watching the live stream. Assume this is, say, 75 percent of the way through an episode in early December about rumors that Herman Cain would be suspending his campaign. There is only one live stream per channel, so everyone watches the same feed together. Placing the cursor on the video itself will reveal the information-rich sidebar — which can be expanded to take up the entire frame of the video player — displaying that 150 users are watching this, as well as the dozen most-suggested video clips according to viewers, suggesting the video has not yet reached the halfway mark.
The user then clicks one of the suggested videos — assuming they cannot think of a video that’s not listed there already — and that is then registered as their first-round vote. After the current video is over, it is determined that “John Stewart Vs. Herman Cain (Sexual Harassment)” and “Herman Cain’s Affair w/ John Stewart” (actual names of videos on YouTube) are selected as the two most suggested videos. For the remainder of the video’s duration, the runoff vote will be held between these two. The clip with the higher vote count at the very last second of the currently playing video will immediately start playing following the current video’s end. This will be a continuous cycle with only one stipulation: videos that have played cannot be replayed for another 24-hours. Users who attempt to “suggest” these videos will be denied until 24 hours have passed.
Of course, one of the primary concerns is that the suggested videos will not be reflective of the channel’s title. If anyone can suggest anything they so choose, there will always be those who come in to throw the system off balance, suggesting videos about the rise of teenage pregnancy on a channel based on the search term “SpongeBob funny.”
There are several means to prevent this from happening, some mechanical, others social. For one, if a video is not representative of a channel and that channel has many viewers, the vastness of the voting pool will hopefully prevent a few ill-intentioned viewers from ruining it for everyone else. This is similar to how James Madison claims (in section #10 of the Federalist Papers) that the larger the size of a republic, the lesser the chance that a faction can seize control because there will simply be too many competing interests. On the other hand, as an added mechanic for preventing irrelevant videos, an additional icon will be included next to the “suggest” button for each of the dozen or so highly-suggested videos. The icon will simply read “irrelevant.” Even when the second round of voting is held, the two videos in the running will also feature this “irrelevant” icon. In order to determine the accuracy of irrelevancy claims, a certain threshold will be set; if, for instance, more than 20 percent of the viewers of a channel claim a piece of content is irrelevant, then it will be excluded from the vote and made permanently incapable of being suggested for that particular channel again. And finally, as a method of ratcheting up the social pressures and reputational risks involved with suggesting videos, all users’ suggestion (i.e. “voting”) histories will be made public. Thus, if a user perpetually suggests irrelevant content, it will be made available for all to see. A certain irrelevant-content threshold can also be set for automatically banning users who have a propensity for suggesting irrelevant content across various YouTV channels, or contrastively, users can file complaints, causing a YouTV user’s privileges to be revoked if the complaints mount. These will all hopefully limit users who attempt to misuse the service.
Furthermore, the effectively unlimited number of channels and the notion that the programming is entirely user-selected raises concern over the management of channels that correspond to less popular search terms: what if a particular search term’s YouTV channel has zero users “watching”? This will obviously be a common case because similar to viewer distribution on the internet overall, YouTV channels’ traffic levels will likely assume a parallel distribution, meaning most channels will have few to no viewers while a small number of channels will boast a disproportionately large number of viewers. Thus, for the vast majority of channels that do not have large numbers of viewers to carry out the voting, an algorithm will automatically determine which videos to broadcast on the basis of each video’s independent view-count and the number of “likes” it has received.
This all begs the question: what motivates individuals to sit at their desks and vote away for hours on end so that others can simply enjoy this unique blend of unlimited specificity, immediacy, and constancy mentioned earlier? Aside from devoted contributors who “park” themselves on a particular YouTV page and help manage programming because they are passionate about that channel’s content, most users who do participate in the voting will need an added incentive.
Therefore, users who demonstrate their loyalty, sound judgment, and consistency in starting up a YouTV channel will become permanent moderators of that channel. How does one go about demonstrating those qualities? YouTV will monitor whether a user’s video clip suggestions actually end up being broadcast on a given channel after the voting takes place. But not any old suggestion — the suggestions that actually influence a user’s YouTV user rating will be new ones that are pulled out from the search box embedded in the video player’s sidebar, because simply clicking “suggest” on one of the aforementioned dozen prominently featured "iconized" clips requires little navigational skill or familiarity with the alleyways and annuls of YouTube. In other words, talented content-divers who unearth relevant, previously un-suggested clips will be rewarded for their assistance in floating good but ignored content to the surface. If a user demonstrates a knack for doing this, they will acquire points on the site and once they meet a certain threshold — which will be set rather high to ensure the devotion of the user — they will receive an email from YouTV staff informing them that they’ve graduated to moderator status for the channel they have been working on diligently.
The most significant trump card moderators have is to single-handedly and definitively mark content as irrelevant and ban user’s accounts (this complements the other methods highlighted above in “Potential Issues and Responses”). As moderator — and one channel can have multiple if a multitude of talented content-excavators exist — a user’s name will be enshrined prominently on their channel’s page. But if that isn’t enough internet immortalization, similar to the website Story Corps, YouTube will feature the most active and well-moderated YouTV channels on its front page under the subtitle, “YouTV Channels to Check Out!”
The ability to assign multiple users moderator status for a particular channel also encourages group participation in managing a channel’s programming. But this is distinct from an overbearing group of tightly organized members that aim to distort the content of a channel (in line with the SpongeBob and teenage pregnancy example). As well-managed channels that demonstrate their efficacy in finding the video-gems of the internet and broadcasting them gain notoriety on YouTube’s front page, hyperlinks to said channels might propagate on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Blogs will start pointing out channels that have interesting or quirky content. And again, considering the parallel distribution model, in all likelihood most channels will have only several users voting, and those several users may end up becoming the moderators. As the link to “their” channel is shared on the Internet, YouTV moderators will come to be recognized as the new “DJs” of the 21st century, able to search the web’s largest video database with a fine-toothed comb to find the hidden gems YouTube has to offer. And this is all ignoring how useful YouTV’s voting mechanism could be in refining YouTube’s (and by proxy, Google’s) video search. With every click of “suggest” or “irrelevant,” users are inadvertently helping Google categorize its video library.
As with real politics in the United States, it should be assumed that most people watching YouTV will not vote — and the service does not expect them to. Even though viewer-voters are necessary for each channel to float the best, relevant video content to the top the number of users will drastically outweigh the number of contributors, much like Wikipedia. Indeed, in much a similar sense, viewer-voters on YouTV may find themselves “parked” on particular channels whose programming, they passionately feel, deserves to be managed.
The main purpose of YouTV is to immediately provide stay-at-home parents, house-party guests, and restaurant owners, among others, with the exact video content they want and feed it to them constantly without their having to click, type, or manage. In other words, the main audience, similar to large-scale collaboration projects, is not the contributors, but the viewers or users. Middle-aged, stay-at-home parents may want to watch a channel that’s characterized by the search terms “peaceful countryside,” party-goers will want a constant “Lady Gaga greatest hits” channel that shows the famed artist’s most prominent music videos non-stop as they dance the night away, and restaurant frequenters are looking for something to keep their space lively.
Even more, the potential application of YouTV as a news source for developing stories could prove to be rather breakthrough — a video-Twitter of sorts. Take for example the Virginia Tech shootings of December 8, 2011: for viewers interested in discovering the details behind what happened, whether there’s any footage of it, and how it’s developing, finding the YouTV “Virginia Tech Shootings Today” channel would provide that unique combination of unlimited specificity (Virginia Tech shootings today), immediacy (you are fed the content you want exactly when you want), and finally the most defining feature of YouTV that revives a seemingly ignored quality of traditional broadcast television now that we’ve entered the YouTube age: constancy. Because video news content is constantly being generated for as long as the story is relevant, a YouTV channel could give a user a taste of the same news story from different news outlets and a myriad of citizen journalists.
Yara Elmjouie studies politics, journalism, and the Middle East at New York University. Follow him on Twitter @yelmjouie.