Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An interview with Michael Wesch

Passionate professor of anthropology on January 31st 2007 surprised the Internet community, but mostly himself, by the net effect that his educational video experienced. Even today, after 3 months he is still creating the history of the video Net sphere. So what really happened, why and how? What were the conditions? What is the message what are the consequences?


In 14 days from an excellent anthropology professor to a number one Net 2.0 story.

Just trying to raise the awareness really. I just wanted to show how the web 2.0 looks like. Wanted to get people to innovate on the Net. To make people to see possible challenges. To make people start thinking about the social impacts of the Net, specially Net 2.0

Well, I was really plying with this challenge of effective communication for a while. It took me almost a year to conceptualize the idea. First I was trying to write an academic paper. But it was difficult to express this dynamic and visual medium in writing. So I started thinking about animation that I often use to support my lectures. And one morning the vision came clearly through. And the video was born. I worked 3 days almost with ought any sleep. I was recording a screen after screen, trying to put steps together. Trying to tell a story. I really wanted to show the back “stage”. From a point of view of the code. To point out the new developments.

Day1 (Jan 31st 2007):
The video was posted on YouTube … I did not tell anybody… After a few hours I sent mail to 10 colleagues to get their opinion… in the evening one of them forwarded the mail to one of her colleague and the movement had started…

The next morning it had 100 views. I got very excited. I was telling my students about the progress. I was very trilled thinking that 100 people saw my video. 100 views were really great.

The next morning there were 300 views, in the afternoon 500 views and e-mails from all over the state (it went through the local networks and reached statewide reach)… And after some colleagues around the nation got in touch with me I started sensing that something is happening. The same afternoon the video got 800 views. That was already exceeding all my expectations. At this point my wife and I were hoping to reach 1000 views and that was my goal.


And it happened. The next day – by noon there the 1000 views was reached. But I knew that YouTube is refreshing the number of views only every 12 hours, so I started monitoring the statistics on “favorites” are refreshed immediately …there I saw that 8 thousands users marked my video as their favorite. In the evening it was blogged at over 100 places…This was awesome. From that point on I was monitoring and being constantly surprised. Mails started coming in, phone calls…

Day 5:
Number one video on the Net with 18.000 views… by the next day I was still on the first place in spite of the Superbowl in the afternoon. I reached 63000 hits….
One week after the video was released, it become the No.1video on YouTube… and right after it got 1milion hits… it was at the top and stayed No.1 for 3 weeks. Even today it is among the top video (among top 10 becoming the no 1 several times).

March 16th on YouTube:
Views: 1,845,186 Comments: 4437 Favorited: 18792 times

How much resources have you engaged to achieve that?
Free software, 45USD for the video-editing software, my time (3 operational days), concentration of my thoughts, and dreams… that’s it
Could we say that the passion and the honest drive for what you believe in could be an important driver to make it on the Net?
If I decided to make a popular video I would have probably failed… what I like about it is that I was able to do something that I really wanted to do….

What really sticks out from this experience?
Well, first… this is a really good story for myself… Kansas, where I am coming from, is really isolated place. It is really rural, not well connected with the rest of the world. So, for somebody from Kansas to achieve this, such an attention, to touch so many people, it is a really special feeling. The other special experience is related to the fact, that such a video, educational one sparked so many different conversations, on so many different levels, to be able to do so well against all those popular mainstream “Hollywood” type of videos. That was really great.

Where does the anthropology come into all of this?
On two levels. First, everything is connected. This is really more geared towards how we produce knowledge… I really tried to reach to anthropologist to show how we can produce knowledge, how we can share it. On the other hand “All culture in all societies are made of human relationships. Relationships are really what define us. If you change the medium that relationships are developing at, the base of that relationship, you can change the entire culture. It works in the opposite direction, as well. A good example (outside the Net), are trains. They changed the western culture. They established the concept of synchronized time, for example in the US, over the country; they invoked the need for punctuality.

What are the post-festum effects of this incredible experience?
With me? I am much more visible… interviews all the time… I had to become selective… Which I hate to do…. So if I find the reporter intriguing, from less popular or recognized place I would favor that. I really want to talk to everybody but I can’t. That was (and still is) a good lesson for me. On the other hand, my students think it is really cool what is happening to me. They are proud of me. But what I really like is that my success encouraged and inspired so many people in the Web 2.0 community. People that are in coding. My video gave them recognition. Sense of meaning. The video actually showed them how they are really connected. How many people are following what is going on. Many great discussions have been inspired in bloggosphere. They leaded to new… so net effect has been happening right in front of my eyes. I think my little adventure really woken up people, realizing what a shift in social connectivity the Net really made…

This is a perfect example of the power of collaborative networks and nonhierarchical, distributed environments. Which are those most important elements of net collaboration?
On the ground level it would be the creative commons (vs. copyright). Creative interactions that are happening through comments on the Net, ranking, referring, linking. You could notice a visible growth in that in the last year… and this growth is continuing as we speak and it is going to be exponential in the future… and imagine, all this comments for only 45USD and some of my time. Application and content development has become, with all this freely available tools on the Net, accessible to anybody. Even to the people with ought formal training. It opens up so many possibilities for innovation. It is just so easy to do video-editing today…..
On the upper level I would like to point out the feedback loop. More and more is content has been created; the content is growing beyond any control. I know that we will be seeing more and more creative videos, manifestations of ideas… by unknown individuals and small independed groups…
And the third element would be personal determination, drive, a motive. The results of the recent study that we made shows that there are 2 groups of video authors on the Net (the targeting audience were YouTube participants). One group is doing that because they want to become famous. The brief analysis showed that those by definition never get there. The audience seems to ignore more often that accept those that make a really high quality videos. It is also very critical and sensitive of any commercial or “fame driving” posts. And there is another group of video enthusiasts that make video that is driven by believes in the content, the need to communicate the message, driven by the “Let’s get real” approach. And those usually do really well.

How long will it take by your opinion, if ever, that the Net philosophy will prevail in the (business) world?
Well, any business can use this platform to improve relationships. I look at it through 3 aspects: the doors, the wall and the window. There is a need in business world for opening doors to encourage collaboration, for setting up walls to separate and prevent communications, and opening windows for observations. Opened doors mean fewer secrets, which some businesses really do not like. But on the other hand, more doors you open more collaboration you have, more people get involved, more ideas get shared, and more you gain. It is up to companies to decide which way they want to go. The platform is there and is really effective with large populations being involved.
Saying that, I would like to point out that money on the Net is not in building content but in platforms for shearing the content. New opportunities are rising every day. For example, I think there is a room for a new concept of Web 2.0 engine. The one that will emphasis the social software, e.g., social engine, to facilitate the common interests and needs. For example: locating people (not information) based on their on-line behavior.
What about an issue of property rights for your video. Can anybody copy it, use it, and publish it on their page? Do you care?
Yes… anybody can use it… but not sell it… I do not want to commercialize it… Feel free to distribute, link, and show.
What type of affect will the Viacom charge against Google have on the collaborative networks and content shearing on the Net?
Most of YouTube participants do not want the Viacom stuff anyway. They do not want the commercial videos on the same node, within the same ranging. But on the other hand, having the Viacom videos out could be important, as well because creative people can use it freely under the fair use law which means “as long as I critique it, review it, comment on it… I can use it”. So, I do not think it will have a major effect on the Net.

Any last thought for Slovenian (business) public?
I do not know much about the Slovenian public. But I will encourage you to think about the Net as a tremendous shift of power. In a past you needed enormous investments to penetrate new markets, to get involved in trading. Today you need hardly anything. And you can still get really global. On the Net the financial capital was almost taken out of the equation. Use this opportunity.
The winning video
Interview was conducted at Salzburg Seminars on March 15th

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