When you think of the ephemeral of the web, YouTube probably wouldn’t come to mind. Since its launch in 2005, the site has become a go-to resource for internet users for a range of video content around the world, but this unmatched position can be part of the problem.
“Anything you can think of [that] can be as a video can be found on YouTube. And I always say YouTube is the video encyclopedia of the world, âsays Louisa Ha, professor in the School of Media and Communications at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
Ha is also the publisher and one of the authors of the book Audience and activity of YouTube and online videos. She credits the streaming site’s success to the backing and backing it receives from Google’s search engine, as well as its versatility as a platform for short and long videos.
She spoke to Sparkhost Nora Young on the enduring global cultural significance of the video streaming site and what that means for online news permanence.
Here is part of their conversation.
I’ve heard that YouTube itself is the second biggest search engine after Google.
YouTube also had the benefit of working with Google as a business, and a big business with financial backing and everything. And it has also developed very quickly internationally, like Google. So due to the large international base, it really attracts audiences from all over the world. And he also has other linguistic abilities, at the moment he has subtitles. You can also have a transcript now and translate some of these videos. So it can be very, very international.
Some of the other video sites are probably limited to their own language, but YouTube is mostly global. There are more international videos than videos produced in the United States. So basically it’s a global site.
As an expert in mass communication, what do you think are the implications of YouTube’s dominance in space?
Well, like I wrote in my book, if YouTube goes out of the world, if it goes bankrupt, all the videos [will be] faded away. This is what happens because so much has been put on YouTube, many institutions put their videos there because it has a good interface. That’s why even my university puts all of its videos on YouTube. So if it’s gone then all that documentation will be lost because sometimes they don’t keep an archive as good as YouTube. That’s why I think it’s really important for international organizations like the United Nations or other organizations to have international cultural power to really oversee these kind of giant global sites.
Not only does YouTube have commercial influence, but it also contains a lot of cultural artifacts and documentation that can disappear overnight if they have no good way to summarize and archive them, and if there is company went bankrupt. So who would take care of it? At present, there is no liability outside the company. So we rely too much on the company.
Overall, what do you think is the role of YouTube in culture and in preserving our cultural history?
I think right now it’s very important, especially [with] today’s generation because they don’t use print. They rely on everything online and most importantly a lot of people are very video based. Whether they’re learning from video or entertaining through videos, they’re doing a lot in the medium now. Video is the primary medium for many people. Video is therefore such an important cultural artefact in our life.
So I would say that in 50 years, if someone wants to research the history of people in the 21st century, they will definitely have to find some kind of video site like YouTube or something else that they can find, like TikTok, and try to grab the thing. This is the documentation, we no longer have the stone engraving. We use this kind of electronic device and these files. That is why it is very important that these files can be recovered and archived, so that in the future, no matter what, someone can always find them.
I worry a lot about it and I don’t know if the people in the library or other specialists do things like that. But I think it’s very important that we don’t wait too long because from time to time things can happen. We do not know. Maybe there will be a disaster or something that will take place that will cause these things to disappear from the face of the earth.
Do you think YouTube should be subject to some kind of government regulation like the FCC in the US?
In my book, I recommended that there be an international organization, like the United Nations or the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which would be able to have some kind of international authority because this medium does not is not limited to the United States. It’s just that the company is based in the United States. But most of the materials are no longer American material. So it’s not an American affair, it’s a global affair.
So I would say that it is very important that international organizations step up and maybe ask for control or management of materials. For example, when banks go bankrupt, the government tries to save them. It is so important. I think YouTube would have the same status as if they really go bankrupt or disappear, the [global community] must come and help.
There is so much on YouTube that covers every country in the world, even China. Even though YouTube is banned in China, [they] also post a lot of videos on YouTube. So it affects everyone in the world. Some countries have more than others. This is why it is a global affair, not the affair of an individual country.
This Q&A has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the entire conversation with Louisa Ha, click on the “listen” link at the top of the page.