Nakedness of YouTube

When you have a project you visualize who you think your target audience is and then you build your product around assumptions based on who you’re targeting.  When I started the video project in 2009 my target audience was technology professionals. The idea was to show Sys Admins how to deal with Phone Systems, and Digital PBX Administrators how to deal with VoIP.  As someone who has spent countless hours, days, weeks, and even months in rigorous training I had personally never had deep connections with my instructors.  They were good people, but I would have never imagined to believe I knew them in anymore than the most superficial of ways.

As a 41 year old I realize I may have come to view YouTube in a way that younger folks do not.  Although I have watched countless hours of Vlog Brothers, Ze Frank, Phillip DeFranco and Drama Alert I would in no way believe that I had a relationship with these creators, nor would I care much about anything they do off screen.  I watch their content because I am entertained, or educated.  Who they are as people is relatively insignificant.

After 8 years on YouTube I have been forced to realize that this is not how many viewers perceive their relationship with content creators.  I fear in this ever more isolated world that too many viewers have come to the dysfunctional belief that they  have a relationship with the person on the screen.

When I envisioned my viewers I thought of people watching a few hours a week or month, the reality is that many people watch for hours upon hours day in and day out.  I figured I was talking to adults who would take my words with a grain of salt and that they would know to go and verify information on their own.  The thought that viewer were looking for “truth” even now seems bizarre.

When you create one, ten or a hundred videos this disconnect doesn’t become much of a problem.  When you create thousands of videos spanning years this difference between who you think you are creating content for vs who is actually watching becomes an ever larger issue. Light hearted off hand comments that should be forgotten a minute after said are diligently catalogued. Good days and bad days that have more to do with whether its sunny or cold outside are analyzed for meaning. The little remarks made about off screen life are noted and stored away.

Beyond this if a picture says a thousand words than a video must say a million.  So many of those million words are not necessarily even meant.  In text you have the ability to communicate in a specificity that does not exist in video. The inflection of your voice.  Your mannerisms, and specific speech habits have something to say about you that goes beyond anything that you’d want to discuss. On YouTube this is compounded by the inability to edit old videos.  You can upload new versions, but cannot deal with what already exists other than to pull it down.  Laugh at the wrong moment?  Do you delete an entire video over one misspeak..?

As a YouTube creator there is a nakedness. People create one sided relationships with a person showing only one color out of their prism of a personality.  So many desperately seek in these avatars what they are missing in their real lives, and so read far more into what is said on a video than was ever planned by the creators. They then reach out in email, messaging, Skype and even the real world to create a connection with a person they have no right to think cares about them.  If they are offended in this upside down world doxing, hacking and harassment is considered an appropriate response.

The monkeys on the screen need to dance to please the viewers, but how do you dance for hundreds of thousands of viewers…?

This is a real problem for content creators that YouTube as an organization barely notices.  The daily onslaught from viewers demanding that they be recognized. The pervasive inappropriate communications. The subtle threats. What can you do as a creator? YouTube offers no adequate support.  If you modify what you say you risk either turning away viewers, or making matters worse with viewers jumping in to attack. You’re left staring into a camera.  Trying to convey what you find valuable without handing over a piece of your soul.  You’re just an idiot with a webcam, why does anyone demand anything else?

This nakedness is a large reason for taking a step back not just from YouTube, but from video creation in general.  Creators are not protected by anything other than the locks on our doors, and whatever we have the permits to carry.  In the #RESIST world being concerned about the crazies watching the videos is not an irrational reaction.  How long until the pepper spray at the the protests finds it way to creator’s homes?

There is an imagined barrier between the creator and the viewer that is melting away in too many people’s minds. As creators we have to think if this is really the situation we though we were getting into.  I want to share information and wisdom, but our connection ends with the final sentence. This new and increasing push for emotional support and connection is something that I can’t see how it ends well.  If .001% of your viewers are bat crap crazy then that means for 10,000 subscribers you have at least one compete nut, and at 1 million subscribers you have 100 certifiable lunatics following you. When you realize to YouTube you’re just yet another disposable dancing monkey is this comforting?

For me going back to hiding behind a keyboard seems like the best way to go…


  1. It’s been a pleasure following you on youtube I wish you all the happiness in the world.
    I do realize were not anything other than what we are,but you have helped me an countless other people and saved them financial distress by giving solid advice.and thank you for all you have done.

  2. Eli, Thank you!!! Three weeks ago I got a new position in my company as an IT Systems & Support Administrator (was fixing phones before)and I have to say that listening to your videos made a big difference in how I started to treat people and communicate and also how I treat tech. I followed your advice when it comes to schmoozing and after several months of relentless knocking on IT dept’s door,some internship and an MCSA 2012 that I finished also thanks to your videos and several other cert’s they offered me a position. There is a ton of stuff that I need to learn now to keep the place but the most important thing is done. And I want to send my best regards to you, your wife and the dogs cause believe it or not you have been a big part of this. I will sorely miss daily blobs and all other videos (family friendly ones not that much..)I want to wish you all the best in your future endeavors.I really wish that silicon discourse took off and that you got the 5000 real techs instead of 800K+ 13 year old’s on youtube.If you ever decide to come back into the spotlight again am pretty sure that all silicon discourse members will be happy to support you. So don’t delete all them email addresses 🙂

    • Good to hear my videos have helped. I figure I’ll be plugging along here and try to distill ideas and concepts into text. Personally I just need to shut down the imagined “relationship” too many followers feel they have with me. I LITERALLY had a viewer email me for a free laptop today… WTF…?

      The good part about FN will be is the concepts will be in more bite sized pieces. I think overall this should go well, but who knows… My biggest problem for the past year has simply been trying to figure out what YouTube wants, now that I’ve jumped ship I can focus on what I want to provide.

  3. The thing about YouTube is that it is definitely not a real discussion platform. When you are talking into the camera you are talking to or talking at people. The only thing is that I used to do so much reading that I used to find a darn video of someone talking to be a little refreshing. Of course the illusion is that there is something more personal to a video than just reading a comment. But the thing I liked about your videos on Youtube is that it gives my reading brain a rest without having to stare at something lacking in intellectual content. So I suppose I should ask how much of your content will still be videos? How often can we expect you to do an informative video on Failed Normal?

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