Notes from What We Learned from Watching Kids with Flamethrowers at SXSWi

What We Learned Watching Kids with Homemade Flamethrowers
#homemadeflamethrowers
#flamethrowr
Mega secret homemade flamethrower music video on YouTube
Hwang (founder ROFLCon, @timhwang, tim at timhwang.com, brosephstalin.com)
Jacobs (@underwaterpeeps, sawyer at underwaterpeoples.com, underwaterpeoples.com)
  • Micro-genres: bodies of content that are specific yet enormous - they just haven’t been seen by anyone
    • A cluster of related work, the majority of which receives less than 50,000 views
      • Examples: slap the bag (drink an entire bag of wine, then slap the bag), dance the whip (2,850 videos), fire in the hole (10,000 videos), kids doing drugs (13,700 of salvia alone)
  • Flamethrowers (1,500 videos: 25.2 hours of video)
    • Kids are building stuff to shoot flames onto other stuff
    • Mostly kids, mostly amateur -- yet the flamerthrowers get huge. Enormous flames.
    • Outside in the backyard, outside on the patio, in a forest, indoors, out the window of a car
    • Team Bonesaw: lighting a cigarette with a flamethrower
    • We’re not seeing a community here (because the same questions get asked over and over again)... just a lot of independent interactions.
  • So What?
    • the flamethrower example is the dark matter of youtube. 
    • 100,000,000 videos on youtube
    • what is actually going on inside the long tail of content? Who really looks at it?
    • micro-genres are the primordial soup of internet culture
    • ambient, historical archive on our time: continually capturing ourselves in a very genuine, amateur way for the foreseeable future. 
      • How valuable would it have been for researchers to have ambient, historical archive of videos of human behavior for the last 200 years?
    • And yet... Under Threat
  • What’s the threat?
    • Who pours the money into support platforms like YouTube?
      • The Platforms themselves. They provide the supply space for micro-genres.
      • Brands and Businesses: they use the platforms to spread their message. This is the demand element that supports the aggregators.
    • Platforms
      • We’re increasingly surrounded by devices to capture, collect, and put online data. It’s easier to transfer it, can be done at a higher rate (2G -> 3G -> 4G). This is causing an exponential growth in content
      • The monetizable content is growing an a linear rate, while all the rest of the content is growing at an exponential rate.
      • It takes a lot of resources and time to generate the monetizable content. It’s easier and easier to get the other content.
    • Brands and Business
      • Internet Celebrities
      • brands and businesses are moving into this long tail content
    • Enter the micro-genre
      • Some of it just can’t be monetized. Some is dangerous (no one wants to sponsor flamethrowers), or illegal (same for drugs), and some of it is just nothing (kids hanging out and eating McDonalds)
      • The stuff that is most culturally interested is the hardest to monetize.
    • But is there a limit?
      • Brands and businesses can sponsor down to a certain point. But somewhere there is a hard stop.
      • And the cost keeps rising.
      • There’s no love for the micro-genre. Business doesn’t sponsor based on cultural value.
    • There are potentially profitable content, and non-profitable material
      • The two live together now in places like YouTube
      • The non-profitable side is going to grow much faster
      • At a certain side, the profitable side is going to stop subsidizing the non-profitable at a certain size
      • We will lose the historical archive, the social enhancement, the primordial soup of internet culture
    • We’ll end up with something like TV
      • The profitable realm will dominate
    • Making This Stuff Culturally Sustainable
      • What is least valuable in the business realm has the most value in the cultural realm
      • So if we’re concerned about depending that space, about keeping that value, we have to do something
    • But what?
      • Create “Flamethrower Studies” - convert from a cultural curiosity to cultural study
      • Infrastructure - create infrastructure specific to it
      • Cultural Sustainability - make the case for the value so that business will accept the additional cost
      • Conservation - users of the web, as users, can make efforts to direct the web where they want it to go, influence for conservation of the resources they care about.
  • Questions
    • What about the questionable nature of the content? Don’t videos about doing drugs promote drugs?
      • The costs of going through and deciding what fits and what doesn’t fit, exceeds the costs of not allowing this content.
      • The cultural value of the open medium exceeds the cultural value of filtering out some content
    • Do we need to retain everything? Is that just an assumption from our imperial past? We need to retain every species, we need to retain every video of eating mcdonalds? Isn’t some of this just useless stuff we should just let it die?
      • It’s an over statement to say that web would die if this content goes away... It’s hard to quantify the value of any one item going away. (Will: it’s especially hard to know the future value.)
      • Sometimes the value is the community that forms: the red headed kid who made a video about being persecuted because of being a redhead, but then he found a community of supporters through followers.
    • What are the specific threats out there? net neutrality? FCC?
      • Specific case recently... chatroulette... mass media said that it was the worst thing ever, full of perverts and predators. We did some studies... Only about 8% had explicit content, which compared to the internet as a whole is really not very much at all.
    • Are there really significant marginal costs to supply and distribution? Is there any evidence to support this?
      • It’s difficult to collect data on it. (Will: no evidence)
      • The real issue may be the human bandwidth to process it... how much is coming in versus how much we process it.
    • As a teenager who did these activities, even without the internet, we still had these kinds of pranks... they just spread person to person. “How did you make that flamethrower?”
      • The main value of these videos is not that they propagate the activity, it’s that they are a snapshot in time of human behavior.
      • These things just happen... at a certain age you want to blow things up. The value is that you can capture. To compile the 25.2 hours of flamethrower video in VHS would take some serious curation. To do the same on YouTube is trivial. 
    • Any thoughts on the future of the infrastructure?
      • Holden camera has a huge community around it, even though it is a weirdly defective product. When you search on Google, you want to get the one thing you want.
      • There are good products that always do you want, bad products that never do what you want, and weird products that sometimes do what you want. 
      • If there was a random way for people to occasional be exposed to flamethrower videos, this might be useful. (Will: And this is what Rebecca Blood has been saying for years... http://www.rebeccablood.net. It’s the newspaper reading experience. You are exposed to articles you didn’t know you were interested in.)
    • Businesses always want niches. Someday “Bob’s Burn Cream” will find out about these flamethrower videos and want to advertise on them.
      • At a certain point, once the behavior is more accepted, then the advertising might be more OK. Things that are Taboo may become less taboo.
      • Why not have some disgusting snack food sponsor videos of kids getting stoned.
      • But at a certain point, do the costs of going even further niche with advertising outweight the benefit you can get. How many niches can McDonalds support or target with advertising?
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