Thursday, September 2, 2010


As I've mentioned before on this blog, I have a fascination with child stars. I also have an interest in children's programming -- have maintained that interest since I was a real live child myself. It's a good thing I work in children's publishing so I can call it all research...

Anyway, because I watched a clip from one of the Disney Machine's shows, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody (a show on which it would take me an entire essay to explain my feelings), I was recommended this:

If you're not familiar with videos like these, it was created in a Sims (as in simulated reality) computer game and screen captured. I've never played the Sims, so I don't know how difficult it is to achieve this level of verisimilitude in casting and choreography, but I'm guessing from the five million views and deluge of complimentary comments that it's pretty darn hard.

I love that this is the internet age version of doodling a portrait of your favorite celeb; maybe instead of, maybe in addition to. Fans are "funny" people, and I've been ruminating lately on the myriad ways obsessive fans can both elevate and ruin the object of their fandom.

Not that this Sims music video is doing HSM2 any harm. Au contraire, I think this video actually calls attention (albeit inadvertent attention) to the almost computerized personalities that populated the real movie, and the sickeningly precise hand that went into manufacturing the original product. But as with the original, the fans love the sheen. I know because YouTube said so.

But what did I think of this recommendation? I think I'll take the Disney Robots, humanly and inhumanly weak as they are, over the Sims Virtual Robots, thanks.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Abject Commercialism

It's no coincidence that this blog is stitched together with some very clear common threads. I am one person, after all, and all these videos are recommended for me.

But one pattern that has emerged somewhat unintentionally is a strong emphasis on the marketing and commercial capabilities of YouTube's recommendations. I think that's because it feels safer to analyze those videos than to analyze the extremely personal recommendations that might steer this blog into murkier territories. Then again, maybe they'd be more interesting.

Until then, here is a recommendation that you've all already seen. It's only one of the most successful television commercials in recent memory.

Why was it recommended? Well, according to YouTube, because I watched an extended ad for Rock for Equality, an organization that fought to extend Social Security benefits to LGBT seniors. That commercial was called "What Kind of Planet Are We On?," and it employed a very obvious alien metaphor to show how ludicrous it is for sexuality to have a bearing on sharing Social Security benefits with a partner.

What's darkly funny to me here is the disparity between a commercial that plays to the most stereotypical conceptions of masculinity with that kind of "WTF?" humor I've decried in earlier posts and a commercial that tries so hard to use an eye-opening device that it just comes off as a little strange. The first commercial becomes wildly successful and reaches 17 million views on YouTube. The second commercial remains a rather sad sermon to the choir.

So thanks for the slap in the face, YouTube. Your recommendation, as far as I can tell, was motivated purely by some ploy of Old Spice's to keep this commercial going going going. I only hope you didn't realize how inappropriate was your leap.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Statistically Probable Smile

Tonight's recommendation is pretty straightforward. It's also adorable.

Unsurprisingly, this was suggested because I watched the actual "Sellotape of Love" clip from the Flight of the Conchords show. Multiple times. I love FotC, and this song is one of my favorites. Seeing their concert in Chicago and meeting Brett and Jemaine afterward was a life highlight.

If there's anything notable about YouTube's role in this whole affair, it's that they've actually recommended a different Sellotape fan-vid every night since I watched the original. Most have been nondescript, some of them outright bad, but YouTube is all about the inexorability of large numbers. Surely I have to like at least one of these, it seems to say.

And this eleven second video is just sweet enough to make me smile. To be honest, I started to watch it another time and it was already annoying, but I'll give YouTube points for the first impression. I wonder if it can hear me saying "All right already, this one was cute, OK?"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'd Name My Star Wexler

To recap: YouTube is now telling me what specific videos in my viewing history lead to each of my recommendations on a one for one basis.

Tonight, after being drawn to the "Name a Star Gift Box" video because I've always thought the idea of selling stars is awesomely absurd (it's been done before), the next thing I noticed was that this would apparently be similar to "We Like Sportz" by The Lonely Island, a tour de force in deadpan irony that I've watched at least fifteen times.

I hoped this treatment of a potential ironic gem would live up to its predecessor:

And in parts, it sort of did. For example: "cuatro weeks." But after watching the entire two minute video, I honestly couldn't tell if it was in earnest or not. So I headed over to, and sure enough, the Name A Star Gift Box is totally for serious -- it costs $34.95.

I ask you, is this a brilliant marketing tactic, making me so curious to know whether this was a joke that I actually checked out a new website? Or was this a total marketing fail, in that it points out how utterly ridiculous spending money on a star naming kit actually is?

Maybe I'm being cynical and underestimating the viewers who watch this, take it at face value, and think, Wow! They store my record in The British Library!

Either way, it reminds me of my earlier post about the Family Guy / Wall Street mash-up. By mimicing a popular YouTube trend, this video gets recommended to people like me. And what's certainly true in marketing is, more impressions means more sales. But would I, a guy who loves "We Like Sportz" in part because I hate "Sportz," buy a star naming kit?

Not on your life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back, with Adaptations

Hi There. Long time no text-based communication.

For those of you who keep up with YouTube, you may have noticed that my last post (in January!) coincided with a teeny tiny little change to the YouTube interface. Namely, in the eponymous "Recommended for You" section, each video suddenly came with a new line, titled Because You Watched, followed by a video.

That's right -- all my inquiries were instantly demystified. Remember when I thought Celine Dion's "Beauty and the Beast" was recommended because I'd been watching both Disney and the Diva herself? Well, I was giving YouTube too much credit; each recommendation, I learned in January, is merely a direct result of one other video you watched. Not even one other video you "liked," or "favorited." I'll be honest, I was dramatically disappointed.

Recently, however, I started to notice that the little feature that seemed directly aimed at rendering my blog obsolete actually came with its own interesting quirks. Sometimes, the "transparent" Because You Watched line was even more perplexing than nothing at all.

Take, for example, today's recommendation:

In the blog of the past, I might have noted how many makeup tutorials I have watched over the years. Not because I ever intended to follow one -- especially one as grotesque as this -- but because it's fascinating to watch someone's DIY transformation without any cutaways like you'd see on TV. We get to see every single difficult step. Very cool.

But oh no. That's not why this was recommended. This was recommended, it turns out, because I watched "Get Outta Town," a short comedy sketch by a favorite YouTuber of mine named DisneyKid1. Relation? None that I can tell. Well, take that back -- I think both users are gay, so there is that.

Is YouTube sexual orientation profiling? Recommending a gay user's makeup tutorial because I enjoyed a gay user's comic sketch? Or is the Because You Watched line just an admission of how random the algorithm has always been?

One thing's for sure: I'm back, and I intend to find out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bang bang!



I watch a lot of YouTube sketch comedy. Usually a group of high-school- or college-age kids (what we call Y/A in the book bizz), usually with a home video camera and basic editing software, usually making videos that heighten the drama of random, everyday experiences. Sometimes very funny.

Think Smosh, FND Films, and Derrick Comedy. Or, you might already know JacksFilms, the comedians behind tonight's recommendation, from their "WTF Blanket" Snuggie parody fame.

I think what makes comedy groups like this so popular, besides the obvious fact that they're humorous, is that they seem to be made by the kids next door except ten times cooler. The stars all have that gangly, geeky charm, and they make you think that these videos aren't the products of hours sitting around the writing table, but of a typically random afternoon with a video camera.

And now, it's like you're hanging out with them, holding the camera. You're in on the joke. It's a difficult aesthetic to fake with a higher budget and producers, though I might argue that Andy Samberg has made a career out of just that.

This particular recommendation isn't one of the funniest - or even one of the funnier - examples of this kind of video, but it's cute, and it captures that almost voyeuristic appeal I'm describing. Apart from having watched a few of JacksFilms' other videos a while ago, I have recently been watching some less polished attempts at this kind of humor, which is, I think, why this was recommended now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Old News, New Trends

It should not come as a surprise to you to learn that Brittany Murphy died almost a month ago now. It was a bizarre turn of events for which we still do not quite have closure. Once the final autopsy reports are released, we'll either have the flash-in-the-pan scandal many have been expecting, or else we'll have the quiet reminder of our own fragile mortalities.


I loved Brittany Murphy. Between her endearing portrayal of Tai in Clueless and her downright wacky night on SNL, I saw her as an actress with charm and a slight counterculture edge, and it's easy to gloss over her string of rather nondescript roles now.

So, like many others, on the day that she died I went straight to YouTube to look up the famous "rolling with the homies" clip. Then I looked for but did not find her "Leather Store" skit on SNL. Ah, well.

Since then, I've had at least one recommendation every night in the vein of the following video:

Not much to say here. It takes this girl a whole minute just to say that Brittany Murphy died, but she is one of many vloggers just like her who recorded entire videos just to say that this had happened. As this girl notes in response to negative comments, she was just trying to report the breaking news.

This kind of hive-mind-journalism is an increasingly popular way of disseminating news. I, myself, learned of Brittany Murphy's death from the swarm of facebook status updates it caused. And just look at this video, which received over 16,000 views for a user whose other videos average in the five- to six-hundred range. We want to see what other people are saying, even if we have no idea who they are or what their authorities are. Unlike those boring newscasters on TV, we might even find someone just like us, putting into words what we were feeling but couldn't articulate about the breaking news in question.

On the other hand, we could find lots of false information. I can think of a few Twilight rumors that sent my sister into panic attacks because one false report led to torrents of personal postings on the internet, which made those rumors look like valid news stories. It's easy to assume there is truth in the numbers.


This was a bad recommendation. Personal reporting is dated instantly, especially the kind like this that offers no information or commentary worth listening to even once. But as a kind of lure into this girl's other videos, I'd say she was well served posting *something* about a popular piece of news. I wish her all the best in her future journalism career...