Music to movies, products to propagandas, YouTube is going viral. Samvitha Ram takes a closer look at what makes this virtual medium click, especially among youngsters.

In a year of apocalypse predictions, earthquakes and hurricanes, and of course, Lady Gaga’s India tour, the most talked about event remains the crossing of the ‘billion’ mark by PSY’s popular song (and video), ‘Gangnam Style’. The video hit a billion views on YouTube sometime in late December, and since then, many other videos, including Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ and ‘One Pound Fish’ are soon catching up.

But it seems like since then, a lot of other popular videos have reached the hundred million mark. Most are songs by popular artists like Adele, Carly Rae Jepsen and so forth, but the remaining few seem to be by internet nobodies, who just happened to get very popular.

Why YouTube

Often, we take a phenomenon like YouTube for granted, and don’t fully appreciate the value it brings to our society and every day lives. It is not just the musically talented that have found fame due to the site’s popularity and wide-spread reach, and entertainment is no longer the sole purpose of the videos.

For the economy: YouTube has the ability to work in conjunction with online commerce and auction sites like eBay and Marketplace. With videos of products and services posted, sellers gain the ability to reach out to a large audience, and are also able to make quicker deals, as people are more willing to buy items they have seen and confirmed to be of high quality. Similarly, buyers may find it useful to ‘inspect’ the item via video, and can weed out scams and other such obstacles that may pose a threat to the transaction.

For society: YouTube recently released a ‘Playbook for Good’, a guide that helps organisations share their support for various causes by partnering with YouTube. Members of the YouTube ‘Playbook for Good’ team talked about the impact that a good story, brought about by a video, could have on not just individuals but groups. YouTube has also partnered with several non-profit private organisations that are in need of donations. These videos have a direct link to a ‘checkout’ site, where viewers can make monetary contributions to the campaign shown in the video. Initiatives such as “The Gift of Clean Water”, where a video showed the fight for clean water for children in Bangladesh, was able to achieve success thanks to this video-sharing platform.

For the individual: The news has been abuzz recently with the use of social media in promoting activism and helping people rally to the cause. When one person sees a problem in his/her society, he/she is no longer just restricted to the community to share the problem. They can take the injustice they feel to a world-wide platform. Ever watched Kony 2012? At 30 minutes, it’s perhaps one of the longer videos up on the site, but its impact was felt globally, as people of all cultures participated in ‘Covering the Night’ campaign in mid-April of last year.

A Closer Look

What exactly is it that makes some videos go ‘viral’, as they call it, while others remain forever in the oblivion of the public eye? Kevin Allocca, YouTube executive (he watches videos for a living!), explains through a TED talk. Says Allocca, “A few main things make some videos more popular than others — tastemakers and unexpectedness.”

Tastemakers are celebrities and influential people who can use social media to promote the videos they like. Public figures like these can be the difference between one ‘funny’ video going viral and another not. Unexpectedness is exactly what it sounds like. People prefer to see things out of the ordinary.

Heard of Nyan Cat? Though it is probably one of the most annoying videos to be posted on the Internet, its randomness has taken people by surprise, making it instantaneously popular. The fact that it’s very easy to make parodies of it doesn’t hurt either.

Have a video that you would like to be viral? Here’s our advice to you — be fun, be quirky, be ‘cool’… oh, and don’t forget to ask one of the Khan’s to retweet it!

Here are the most watched videos of all time on YouTube … not including our favorite artists/singers/bands!

Charlie Bit My Finger – Again!

Inexpicably, people have been entertained (508,322,310 times, it seems) by the video of a younger brother biting the finger of his older brother. At 58 seconds long, the video is the most-watched, non-musical YouTube phenomenon.

Ultimate Dog Tease

A 1 minute 21 second video of a man talking about food, while a ‘talking’ dog responds in kind. It has inspired many parodies and spoofs such as ‘Ultimate Cat Tease’ and ‘What Was The Dog Thinking?

Susan Boyle – First Audition

Though Boyle is now one of our favourite female singers, this video of her first audition for Britain’s Got Talent has gone viral… and for a great reason! In just under five minutes, Boyle is shown to completely transform the judges’ and audience’s opinion of her, as she belts out a marvellous tune.