Back in early February I was sent a link to the The Machine is Us/ing Us video on YouTube by Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of anthropology at Kansas State University. This video is among the most recent examples of the viral video phenomenon. It follows in the fine tradition of the Chronicles of Narnia Rap, which exploded on the scene in December of 2005, introducing millions of people to YouTube and viral video for the first time. And of course, who has not seen (or heard about) those Diet Coke and Mentos videos?
On January 31, 2007, Wesch posted his video (about web 2.0 technology) to YouTube and sent the link around to some friends and an anthropology mailing list. Within days, the video became a YouTube “Top Favorite” and as of March 26th it’s been viewed almost two million times and elicited over 4,000 comments. This is viral video at its best, and this time it was not Saturday Night Live comedians or clever performers, but an academic publishing a video about the socio-technical phenomenon of our time.
Just a few years ago, Wesch would have considered himself lucky to reach an audience of several hundred students over a period of years. Things have changed. The trade press is full of examples like this. Your short film could be next. Because one thing is clear: today as a media maker on the web, you have direct access to an audience. You can bypass the traditional gatekeepers. The industry rules have all changed. That said, whether or not you will be appropriately compensated is still up for grabs. It’s still hard work to reach out and connect with an audience.