What I wish I knew before beginning YouTube
I uploaded my first YouTube video on June 17th, 2007. Back then the website was more like a social media website, reminiscent of a MySpace page back when that network was hip and happening. Every aspect of the website was enticing, you could shamelessly self-promote yourself through streams and bulletins and create outrageously innovative backgrounds and layouts. The possibilities were limitless and I loved every aspect of it.
I began as an “artist” (now, I’m using that term in the loosest possible sense) and would post slideshows and animations of my drawings. Later, I became courageous enough to put my face on camera. At that point I began posting rants, raves, reviews and fashion videos which were all met with a humble popularity. My friends and subscribers increased by the thousands and it was exhilarating – like injecting virtual heroine. With every video that stopped at 301 views upon its release, I would eagerly await to see just how many views it had augmented to. Seven years later, I now know that not everything about YouTube is pleasant, in fact I’ve compiled a list of things I have learned and wish I knew before beginning.
1. It’s addictive. Plain and simple, even after posting my first measly video I was enraptured by the culture of YouTube. I had posted it before going to bed, and when I woke up in the morning there was a total of 6 views. I showed it to my mom before going to school overwhelmed with pride. SIX complete strangers watched my video. I remember sitting in my seventh grade classroom, brainstorming future video ideas and that summer I proceeded to film one video everyday.
2. Your friends most likely won’t understand. By the time my fourth video was up, and met a positive reception with my 3 subscribers, I decided to share my channel with one of my close friends. When she watched the video she wasn’t very encouraging, according to my memory, she said something along the lines of “The sound quality isn’t great, your introduction was awkward, and when you ask people to comment and subscribe you sound desperate.” It was heartbreaking how my friend could trample on something that gave me so much satisfaction. From that point forward, I decided to keep my YouTube channel as private as possible. That incident was so detrimental to my 12-year-old self-esteem that I even told my mother “I don’t want to go back to school, I just want to make videos” and my mom let me stay home for the remaining week of my seventh-grade year. About 4 and a half years later, when I was in grade 12 and averaging at about 50,000 views per video, one of my friends had seen my video and commented about it. Even all those years later, the attitude of my friends was about the same. She asked me “That recent video you made, about those guys, why do people like it so much? I don’t understand why people are so interested in videos that make zero sense.” By this point, I had become pretty desensitized to any form of criticism. Nonetheless though, this girl was supposed to be one of my friends, and for her to speak so negatively about something I cherished so much made me lose a lot of respect for her.
3. It will follow you. I stopped producing videos altogether in the fall of 2012, shortly after beginning university. However, to this day, I am still reminded of my experience. For example, today I received a friend request from a stranger on my personal Facebook account accompanied by a message asking if I was okay and if I wanted to be his friend. This fellow became a regular viewer of mine in 2010 and just recently found a series of my personal social media accounts which prompted him to pester me to make videos. Another example of how this follows me is that one of my current classmates used to frequent my “meet-ups”. He is a 4th year computer science student, and I am a 2nd year English student – the odds of our paths crossing was small, yet it happened. On the first day of classes we went around the circle introducing ourselves, and the look of sheer confusion he flashed at me when I revealed myself under a different name was both awkward and amusing. I still get weird looks from him, probably because he does recognize me and just can’t figure out from where. Nonetheless, there was a point when we did sing songs together during a karaoke session at one of my meetups. Now, instead of watching me in front of a camera, he watches me get all flustered when I nervously try to answer questions in front of my classmates, unable to edit myself with the luxuries of flattering camera angles and script reading.
4. Your following will absolutely blow your mind. It is amazing just how much people will learn about you. While many people will just casually enjoy your videos, there are two types of extremities. The first of which being the strangers who want nothing more than to see you fail. They will plaster as many rumours, unflattering screencaps and tidbits of personal information as humanly possible on forums such as 4chan and tumblrs dedicated to the downfall of Youtubers. Not only will they target you, but your friends and family will also be fair game. Any relationships you share on the internet are subject to hate. On the other side, you will have some die-hard supporters. While they may seem endearing at first, receiving obsessive photo-collages of your face can be a little creepy. Sometimes you might also get entire videos dedicated to you. Even though a mere shout-out is usually more than sufficient, people would often create video reviews of my videos, or slideshows containing a staggering amount of personal pictures.
5. People just won’t see you the same once they know. It was in grade 12 when my creative writing course was discussing the influence of bloggers, and to my surprise my teacher mentioned me and complimented my Youtube-found success. I remember her stopping mid-dialogue, as though she had an epiphany, and pointed to me saying “you have had a lot of success on Youtube, right? It’s pretty impressive, I watched your video on _______ which had a lot of views.” I didn’t even know what to say. Sure, some people had stumbled upon my videos in passing, but it was never something that I publicly advertised, so to know that a teacher watched one (or more) or my publications was odd. At that point, I knew that my little secret hobby wasn’t really so secret. People dubbed me as “that Youtube girl” and would say that I only had “Internet friends.” In that sense, it was pretty awful. The only people who ever really understood were other Youtubers.
6. People will think you’re stacking mad cash. I was lucky in the sense that, for a while, I was able to financially profit from my videos. While I never made any outrageous earnings, word of me actually making money from filming awkward videos of myself in my bedroom sparked quite a bit of curiosity from the people who knew me personally. People would ask me how much money I was making, if I was making as much as Smosh or Michelle Phan, and whether or not I could loan them money. Suddenly, classmates who never paid me any notice wanted to make plans and spend time with me – for all the wrong reasons. Honestly, I wasn’t allowed to publicly disclose how much I was making, not that I was even making that much. It wasn’t enough to sustain a living, but it was enough to make some indulgent, pricy purchases to satiate my self-serving materialism. All that aside, it wasn’t enough to reasonably become envious about, but it was enough to give some people incentive to use me to their advantage.
That being said, I’ve decided to return to YouTube. The video-sharing goliath has enraptured me once – and that was all it took. It’s a tumultuous journey, very few people understand the appeal, but I love and miss the experience more than anything. While Youtube has changed TREMENDOUSLY over the course of the past 7 years and I greatly miss its earlier designs, producing videos is something I love to do, so regardless of how many subscribers I lost during my hiatus and how distant I have become from the process, I just keep wanting to go back and do it again.