“Us” Versus “Them” – Community-driven media, Corporate media and the space between

Like most people over the age of 25 on the Internet, I remember quite vividly the pre-social media internet landscape: the days of Tripod.com , BBS and web rings.

Technically, a lot of this community-powered online interaction is “social media” as well, but for many of us back then it was simply called “goofing off on the Internet.” Connecting with others and sharing  stuff, whether they were rants, reviews,  poems horrible fan-fiction,  whatever,  part of being in an online community.

Now, I make my living doing stuff on the internet, so I look at the online world through  that lens  and as someone who has and still does create online content “for the lulz.”

But as social media because less community-driven and more profit (or outcome) driven, and companies move into spaces that used to be strictly about individual and community-generated creative work, I think about if there is a way to retain the bottom-up culture of those spaces. Can community-driven and corporate online culture can co-exist or will the latter completely drive out or exploit the former?

I was looking at a music video on the VEVO YouTube the other day (for those not aware, VEVO is an online music video website with a highly branded presence on YouTube) I came across a number of anti-VEVO comments that led me to the following Facebook Page:

One of the first comments on the page was the following:

Youtube used to be a place for people to upload and share their videos, but ever since VEVO started taking over, it’s all about Hollywood music videos. Anyone remember “Charlie Bit Me”? He deserves #1 Most Viewed on Youtube, not “Justin Bieber – Baby ft. Ludacris”. So Youtube, please get VEVO off of your website and return it to the website it used to be.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, YouTube hasn’t been that website in quite some time, if ever. It wasn’t a user video, but SNL/Lonely Island’s “Lazy Sunday” that put YouTube on the map. (And of course there’s the irony of using Facebook as the platform to protest this.)  But I understand the sentiment behind it. Some people just want a space online where they can find and share stuff with their friends and peers, stuff  they can’t find anywhere else, even  if its baby videos, or a goofy Tumblr blog or mediocre local grindcore. For some, like the ad-free blog movement, there’s a strong belief that corporations have no place in this space whatsoever, though the current state of blogging seems to indicate that most don’t feel this way.

So I still find myself conflicted at times. I am still of the belief that community-driven content is what has made online culture  and social media as currently ubiquitous as it is. It’s supposed to be different from mainstream mass media, it serves a different purpose. At the same time, I certainly don’t begrudge  those wanting to participate in this space and reach an audiences in a new way. I also understand the motivation to create an infrastructure for creative professional to a living from the work they distribute online. That’s space in-between: creative professionals and small companies and  organizations that  use  social media and the web to build an audience: I don’t begrudge them either.

So what can be done? I think the line between “us” and “them” is always blurred, most social media consumers are social media creators – some just do it for pay or exposure, but are we seeing an erosion of many of the elements that make online culture what it has been for years in favor of  traditional mass  media with a different face?

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