Everyone Wants "Old YouTube" Back - But What Made "Old Youtube" So Great?
9 January 2018, 18:55
Vlogging culture has evolved since the early days of YouTube. But how did Old YouTube become new YouTube, and which YouTubers fit into which generation?
Thanks to some extremely poor decision making from Logan Paul, the debate about the direction YouTube is taking - particularly where vloggers are concerned - has spilled over into the mainstream. The battle lines have been drawn between "New YouTube" and "Old YouTube" - but what exactly does that mean?
What makes someone "Old YouTube"?
Old YouTube is both a reference to a hard-to-define period of time (probably between 2005-2009/10) and an even-harder-to-define attitude towards the platform. Vloggers such as Jenna Marbles, Zoella, Kingsley, and Tyler Oakley are obvious examples of "old YouTube," in that they all started their careers well over five years ago.
So what makes this group of YouTubers so special? Simply put, they more or less pioneered the concept of the YouTube star. Back in the early days of Youtube, the idea that vlogging could be a career was laughable. It was, at best, a hobby - and more often than not a hobby for people who didn't necessarily fit in with offline world.
Because of that, for many people YouTube felt a lot more "real" back then. And with a far less saturated vlogging market, these OG YouTubers could depend on their nothing but their personalities to see them through. They were - and still are - the online best buddies to thousands of young people looking to connect with something online. And most importantly, that relationship was genuinely reciprocal.
There is, however, a tendency to look at "old YouTubers" with rose-tinted glasses
Old school YouTubers aren't immune from messing up - just look at PewDiePie and Shane Dawson, both of whom have caught heat for alleged racism over the years. Zoella has also been accused of exploiting her fanbase and overcharging on merchandise, and just last year, Hello World - a YouTube convention headlined by OG YouTubers - was widely panned. Old YouTube isn't perfect, but at least it didn't feel so much like a semi-scripted reality show.
Which YouTubers are "Old YouTube?"
There are way too many YouTubers to create a comprehensive list of "Old YouTubers" - but out of the YouTubers with big profiles today, creators that could be considered "Old YouTube" include: Phil Lester, Jenna Marbles, GloZell, Kingsley, Todrick Hall, Tyler Oakley, Zoella, Tanya Burr, Andrew Huang, PewDiePie, Shane Dawson, Jon Cozart and Gigi Gorgeous.
So what changed YouTube?
Two major technological advancements on the platform gave YouTube the ability to explode. Firstly, in 2010, YouTube announced the introduction of HD format videos, giving vloggers the means to create videos at such high definition was a huge boost.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in 2014 YouTube introduced video playback at 60 frames per second. This allowed gaming YouTubers to create beautiful gaming videos with full, high-end graphics on show.
At the same time, video editing software started to become more affordable, giving more people the ability to create visually-engaging videos. Plus, by this point YouTubing was "A Thing" - and some simply wanted to join in the fun.
All of this meant that a new generation of vloggers appeared. A sort of middle generation, inspired by the pioneers, who could create content more easily than the first generation. This new generation included the likes of JackSepticEye, Markiplier, Lilly Singh and more. Many brought something new and exciting to the platform; but for every one exciting new creator there were many more who were just there for a slice of the pie, with very little to offer in the way of newness.
But the event that caused perhaps the biggest cultural shift in YouTube was the failure of Vine. Long before Vine officially shut down in early 2017, the 6-second-video app's biggest stars began to migrate to YouTube (most likely because it wasn't possible to monetise Vines, and because the 6-second format comes with countless creative limitations).
These ex-Viners - including Liza Koshy, Cameron Dallas, Thomas Sanders and the now-infamous Paul brothers - brought their high-energy, attention-snatching, constantly-one-upping culture to YouTube, and inspired yet a new generation of imitators who were far removed from the stars of Old YouTube (who at this point were generally struggling to keep up with the ex-viners themselves). That's not to say all Viners are bad: Thomas Sanders and Liza Koshy are some of the most-loved YouTubers on the platform, with content that couldn't hurt a fly. But the great Vine migration certainly revved things up over on YouTube.
In 2017, YouTube headlines were dominated by "This YouTuber Becomes The Fastest Person To Teach X Subscribers!" or "X Just Gained X Million Subscribers In One Year!"
Team 10, a social media squad led by Jake Paul was launching cookie-cutter "influencers" into the world every other day, the whole world and its sister was an Instagram model with a YouTube channel, and the platform was so crammed with creators fighting for attention that it all became somewhat of a big, uncontrollable din led by increasingly ridiculous "challenges" that often amounted to harassment, and explosive controversies.
Over the past couple of years, thousands of YouTubers have been arriving onto the platform with the sole aim of becoming famous and/or wealthy. They studied the rules of social media growth and use them to develop massive, devoted audiences without any of the organic goodness that made early YouTube communities so special.
In the very worst cases, these audiences are little more than click-factories for their creators, who can be sold second-rate merch and be relied upon to generate views even through the worst controversies. These artificial "communities" have been built on trends rather than personalities, and noise rather than conversation. The logical conclusion of all this was reached on December 31st 2017, when Logan Paul shared footage of a suicide victim's body to his 15 million (mostly young) fans - many of who have defended these obviously wrong actions.
Which YouTubers are in "New YouTube"?
Again, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but some of the biggest YouTubers who can be counted in New YouTube include FaZe Banks, Markiplier, JackSepticEye, Liza Koshy, Thomas Sanders, Cameron Dallas, The Dolan Twins, Logan Paul, Jake Paul (and anyone who has been in Team 10), LeLe Pons and Tana Mongeau.
It's important to remember that not all Old YouTube is good, and not all New YouTube is bad. New YouTubers reinvigorate the platform and introduce new formats and styles that keep video content fresh. Plus, they bring in new audiences who will, in turn, discover more talent on the platform. Meanwhile, Old YouTubers help give the platform a sense of identity and have adapted and changed as the rules of (content) engagement evolve. But despite all the new YouTubers who are bucking the trend, there has been an undeniable shift in culture away from creativity and personality-driven content and towards shock-value, clickbait and controversy getting the lion's share of attention and views on YouTube.
Since the Logan Paul scandal there's been much talk of a "return to Old YouTube," but what I think people are probably looking for is a less corporate-sponsored YouTube, where personalities matter more than products, popularity isn't defined by loudness, and creators aren't starting their careers just for the sake of some free swag from brands and a shot at internet-fame. Whether or not it's possible for YouTuber culture to shed the money-hungry parts and nurture it's creativity once again remains to be seen.