I had the opportunity to interview my good friend and YouTube sensation Rohan Salmond a.k.a Robofillet, the Australian video blogger behind hit web show The Poultry Press. We talked about his VidCon 2011 experience. VidCon is the world’s largest online video conference, organized by John and Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel.
For a full transcript of the interview, please read below.
As you know, I’m gutted I couldn’t attend VidCon this year, but you can tell from videos like this one, and this one, and this one, that it was incredible, almost surreal, but how would you describe your VidCon experience?
VidCon is always an overwhelming experience. If you’re not careful you can stretch yourself way too thin and end up not getting the most out of it. While at VidCon you meet old friends, make new contacts, learn more about the general state of online video and have a whole lot of fun. The best thing about VidCon and gatherings like it is that it’s very easy to ‘work the room’. Everyone has the same interest in online video, so if you see someone interesting it’s generally pretty easy to strike up a conversation with them. A common observation is that “The internet becomes real at VidCon”; people feel free to be themselves in ‘real life’ just like they normally do on the internet. It creates a hypercharged creative atmosphere that is extremely motivating, but also really exhausting. Just like at any Con, managing your energy over the weekend is super important.
As a content creator, what is the benefit of attending (and traveling all the way from Australia) to attend VidCon two years in a row? If you had to justify the travel expenses, what is the return on investment?
This is an interesting question because although VidCon itself is quite cheap (I got in on the super early-bird rate) all the associated expenses of airfares, hotel stays, food and transport really add up. It doesn’t help that VidCon takes place during the peak of America’s tourist season, so flights are at their most expensive. It might sound like it’s all too much bother, especially since many of the programmes are shared for free on the VidCon YouTube channel, but the tangible sense of community makes it all worth it. One of the strengths of social media is that it makes geography much less important, but since attending VidCon I have made many new friendships and cemented many old ones too. This kind of face-to-face networking really is priceless and fosters a sense of trust amongst the community that would otherwise be difficult to build.
YouTube do not officially organize VidCon, they are however a sponsor, and openly support the vlogbrothers by donating ‘a pile of money’, how else did YouTube make it’s presence felt this year?
YouTube’s presence was much greater this year than in 2010. There was a ‘Play Room’ where they gave out free food and merchandise, had a green screen for photos and video and a video upload station for those who did not bring their laptops. The whole room was really special – nearly outdoing the whole rest of the conference in terms of shine. YouTube also had a keynote to open the conference and recap the year that was, and also give a glimpse as to the future of the site. A very interesting session I attended was run by Google employees who talked about Google+ and its future integration with YouTube. VidCon events that weekend were also featured and live-streamed from the front page of YouTube. You can really tell that YouTube loves VidCon.
With its emphasis on playlists, and enhanced ad experience, Cosmic Panda, YouTube’s new design, launched at VidCon, is seen as mutually beneficial for YouTube and its users, how would you describe the response to the new design?
YouTube talked quite a bit about Cosmic Panda in their opening keynote, and I thought it was a solid start to making the site a ‘lean back’ experience of watching from a couch rather than a ‘lean forward’ experience watching on a PC. I think it also helps video creators diversify the output without having to register multiple channels. However, it is early days and I have not yet switched my channel over. The response from the community at large is mixed, but I hear there are some massive improvements to Cosmic Panda on the horizon in terms of branding and customisation, so I am enthusiastic.
According to Tubefilter, ‘Supernetworks’ like Break, Revision3 and Machinima are trying to sign YouTube stars, but Philip DeFranco, seen as the last truly independent star, has grown anxious over the impact ‘supernetworks’ will have on the community at large, what is your view?
The presence of these Supernetworks was quite apparent at VidCon this year. There were exclusive parties that were open to their members only, and I felt it interfered with the community ethos that makes YouTube such a powerful medium. On one hand, these networks produce and sponsor content that is commercially attractive, which helps keep the site going. On the other, truly fun, viral content rarely comes from these networks, so we need to be careful that the ‘little guys’ don’t get squeezed out, because that is where the life of the community comes from. On some level this means the Supernetworks and the wider community need each other, but I’m glad that Phil shows us that it’s still possible to make a go of YouTube without also getting a boss.