Forming Virtual Communities with DIY YouTube Videos

woman using laptop for home repair

Howard Rheingold writes about collective intelligence, why social networks matter, and how using the web can make you smarter in the last three chapters of Net Smart. The ideas and information discussed in these chapters apply well to First Monday’s 2016 special issue that focused on critical perspectives of a decade of Web 2.0.

The Meaning of Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 was invented around the turn of the century as the dot-com bubble burst, and it was popularized in an article by Tim O’Reilly in 2005, What is Web 2.0. O’Reilly and his colleagues realized that even after the dot-crash in 2001, the web was more important and useful than ever. New applications and websites were being developed and deployed with increasing frequency and having far-reaching implications on the integration of technology in our everyday lives.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 4.51.28 PM

As the chart shows, instead of creating personal websites in Web 1.0, people were blogging in Web 2.0. Instead of only consuming published content that transmitted information in one direction in Web 1.0, people were participating in Web 2.0 by developing and contributing content themselves creating two-way, interactive information transmission.

Do-It-Yourself YouTube Videos
For First Monday’s special issue on Web 2.0, Christine T. Wolf writes about “DIY Videos on YouTube.” Do-it-yourself videos on YouTube are good examples of user-generated content that illustrate the ideas outlined by Rheingold including collective intelligence, social networks, and how using the web can make you smarter. Wolf describes how YouTube has blurred the line between expert and lay person. Knowledge is shared among peers, and social groups are formed. In fact, YouTube content creators refer to themselves as YouTubers and as members of a specific community of YouTubers. In Chapter 4 of Net Smart, Rheingold refers to these characteristics of the web as mass collaboration and virtual communities.

In her article, Wolf focuses on the home improvement community. As Rheingold states, members of a virtual community seek to learn from each other as well as teach each other. Do-it-yourself YouTube videos are educational, instructional, and social. As Wolf suggests, they combine “personal, social, and economic realms of everyday life.” She also examines how algorithms shape social networks and in the case of YouTube, they affect the videos that are presented to the user, and in turn, what the user watches affects what additional videos they are shown, and which videos similar users are shown.

Wolf explains that the subject of home repair emerged during the data collection phase of her study. Of the 21 participants in the study, 20 reported using DIY YouTube videos to complete home repairs. I can relate to this because as a woman who lives alone, I have also used DIY YouTube videos for home repair. I have used videos to help me replace the knobs of my bathtub faucet and the seat of my toilet. Recently, I watched a YouTube video to figure out why my home intercom system started to make a nonstop humming sound. I was relieved to be able to fix it myself without having to spend a lot of time and money on it.

Effects of Virtual Communities
During interviews with the study participants, Wolf found that watching DIY YouTube videos affected:

  1. Information practices – subjects questioned the relevance of other media such as books
  2. Self-efficacy – subjects felt empowered and more confident in their abilities
  3. Credibility – subjects used common sense to assess the credibility of the information in a video (Rheingold refers to this as crap detection in Chapter 6 and other chapters.)

In Chapter 5 of Net Smart, Rheingold addresses the impact of a virtual community on users when he discusses social network analysis. He writes about the data that show if your friend’s friends are obese, unhappy smokers you are more likely to be obese, unhappy, and smoke. Likewise, if you are in a DIY home repair YouTube community, you are likely to feel capable and self-reliant. Being in a virtual community also offers social capital that you can use when you have a specific question. You can contact one of the YouTubers in your community to ask for help or advice.

It is important to use the five literacies that Rheingold outlines in Chapter 6 when viewing video content on YouTube: Attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network smarts. Wolf concludes, “Through everyday information practices, people are continually made and remade through their exposure to ideas — these ideas shape identity making by influencing perceptions of what is or might be possible.”

Posted on October 14, 2018, in Digital, Literacy, Social Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Angie,

    I didn’t realize that YouTube communities were a thing! My oldest son wanted badly to learn piano, but he tired quickly with traditional lessons. He wanted to learn whole songs from the second his fingers touched the keys. He is musically talented and actually began playing piano from learning songs via YouTube videos. He would choose the song he wanted to learn, find videos that taught it cord by cord, then fine videos to more fine-tune it with individual notes and before long, he was playing songs that he could sing along with. He may know about the communities but I have never done much on YouTube other than watch music videos. There are so many opportunities at our fingertips these days!

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Hi Rebecca,

      The great thing about video tutorials is that you can learn at your own pace. Asychronous learning allows people like your son to jump ahead and challenge themselves. You can always rewind and play the video again.


  2. Hi Angie,

    Great post — your comment about how virtual communities can impact how we feel about ourselves is true. Growing up, I was highly engaged with many different types of YouTube communities and they often influenced how I thought about myself. In some cases, I wanted to be just like the YouTube personalities that I was watching. I wanted to do what they did and such forth. I didn’t realize how much these communities had an impact on me until I got older.

    My little sister is now highly engaged with Instagram. I see her on her phone all the time doing who knows what. I worry because I was often affected by what people said on the Internet at her age. I hope the communities she is a part of are productive and aren’t toxic. I hope she is applying the five literacies that Rheingold outlines in chapter six: attention, crap detection, participation, collaboration, and network smarts. My mom keeps an eye on her so I know she is keeping her safe, but I still worry. Overall, she seems to be fine, though.

    On another note, I believe we can use Rheingold’s five literacies to determine the quality of DIY videos. For instance – there are many videos on how to build a website using WordPress. When I was first learning how, I had to shift through many communities to find the best videos that explain how to build a WordPress sites for beginners. There is so many videos you have to use your crap detection to find the good DIY videos that have high participation and good feedback from users.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      I’ve tried to get into Instagram, but so far I haven’t. I like that it now allows longer videos, and some of them are entertaining. It’s important to go back and try a social media network like Instagram again. It’s become so popular among teens that it’s an important way to reach them for some of the work I do in STEM outreach. In fact, I didn’t really like YouTube for a long time, but ever since Google bought it, I like it better.


  3. Hi Angie,
    I want to add to your thoughts by bringing up searching for medical information on the web, especially YouTube. This is important because so many people try to diagnose themselves, or even get wrong information that can lead to additional medical problems. In his book Netsmart, Reingold writes, “…along with the latest word on cutting-edge drug trials are unsubstantiated claims, rumors and outright quackery” (p. 90). So, it is important for people to use Reingold’s five literacies when they are doing medical research online.
    As a personal example, my Mom has had many health issues and has been in and out of hospitals and nursing homes. She is diabetic, on dialysis for kidney failure, has a leg amputated, has congestive heart failure and much more. Her doctor told me once that I should be cautious about looking online for information about how my Mom should be treated. Her situation can be best diagnosed and treated through regular visits to the doctor. However, it is also good to read about drugs one is taking and understand the side effects. So, this is definitely a balancing act. If we are careful to use the five literacies, we’ll be better off.

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