On YouTube, Popular and Good Are Different

I would have predicted that by April 2010, YouTube’s “most popular” videos would be consistantly good. In fact, however, we’re seeing some all-star talent like Mediocrefilms and BlameSocietyFilms getting far fewer views than they would have a year ago. And we’re seeing some YouTube channels ranking consistently on YouTube’s most-viewed and most popular sections that are (how can I put this nicely?) kinda “Naltsish.”

Why? Sure there’s an increasing amount of competition, but the only common thread I’m seeing among the high performers (in views and subscription growth) is regularity (videos posted daily or several times a week). To some extent this isn’t entirely new, but I would have thought by now that the “most popular” content would kinda sort out the good from the bad. Has my taste departed from fellow YouTube viewers, or is the algorithm screwed up?

It would appear that routine posting, more than anything else, is key. Talent continues to be far less important than regularity, as well as the basic standards I address in “How To Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent” (engaging with audience, collaborating with popular creators, etc).

Joe Penna, MysteryGuitarMan, is an exception to a new rule: popular and quality YouTubers channels are hardly correlated.

There are notable exceptions. Nobody in web video has produced more consistently creative and awe-inspiring videos in 2010 than Joe Penna, known as The MysteryGuitarMan. It’s perplexing that even the most extremely awesome and popular YouTube amateurs is virtually an unknown beyond YouTube. When I speak at conferences, few recognize the most-viewed or most-subscribed people like Fred… and certainly haven’t heard of MGM (aka JP).

Check out a few of these videos from this playlist and you’ll quickly see why he’s predictably on the “most viewed” or “most popular” pages. His videos are not just audible and video joy, they’re painstaking acts of labor. Each take creativity to a new level, and is the output of countless hours of work.

MGM for free wrote my Nalts theme song back in 2007, and I’ve watched his videos over the years. He kinda fell off the grid in 2008-2009, but 2010 has been his year. I think about him at least once daily. I literally go to the computer just to see his new video (versus stumble into him on a YouTube binge). And when it’s something especially awe inspired like “Happy Dance (looping around),” I bring the whole family around the computer, like a 1940 family gathered around a radio to hear Orphan Annie.

According to Penna’s Wikipedia entry, he was going to pursue medical school. While the world could have used a creative and determined doctor like Penna, I’m really, really glad he chose to put his passion into film, video, creativity, illustration and music. I think his more than 750,000 subscribers would agree.

Parenthetically, Penna recently joined Rhett and Link (who haven’t posted a video in weeks and it hurts) to collaborate in the Swamps of North Carolina. Given Rhett and Link’s collaboration with MGM that produced this painstakingly wonderful t-shirt video (read more), I can only imagine what we’ll see next week as the result of sleepless nights by Rhett, Link and Joe.

11 Replies to “On YouTube, Popular and Good Are Different”

  1. Dude, the correlation between popular and good is pretty weak for almost everything. Why would YouTube be any different?

    Any plans to embrace regularity with your own videos?

  2. So, you’re lamenting the fact that you still get a lot of views? So long as this non-correlation (I haven’t taken enough stats to call it anything else) between popularity and quality exists, you, Nalts, are golden.

  3. This reminds me of Google’s search engine 5 years ago. You could have the worst irrelevant ads but if you could afford it you were always on top.
    The system’s broken and I wonder if it’s in YouTube’s interest to level the (video) playing field.

    There’s virtually no correlation between the number of subscribers and content quality but there is a correlation between subscribers and cleavage size. Any other interesting correlations?

  4. I agree with every word you said about Joe. He’s ridiculously talented and totally deserves all the success and popularity that he has coming to him. Not to mention he’s a really nice guy! haha

  5. Makes me wonder how Bieber got popular and yet MGM gets shoved aside! What the heck is going on!

  6. with youtube it seems to be more about quantity not quality. MGM has definitive G rated family viewing quality in every video he produces. He doesn’t need to be obscene or crass and doesn’t need hype to entertain. He’s a rare case.

  7. Totally agree about MGM. He’s insanely creative and talented and it’s ridiculous the amount of effort that must go into the editing of his videos.

    I really love creators like MGM and Rhett & Link for their fun and family friendly content. With all the crass Shane Dawson types out there, it’s so refreshing to have content that you can share with your parents and siblings.

  8. Let me introduce you guys to a superstar in my little YouTube niche. Meet Damien Walters.

    This guy is basically the real life version of the Prince of Persia. He just put up his new 2010 video a few hours ago and it’s sure to go viral: http://youtu.be/cNvJy0zoXOY

    He has less than 35,000 subscribers, but his 2009 showreel (http://youtu.be/5MeiwLLZjDo) has nearly 7 million views.

    Now tell me, how many of you YouTube die-hards had already heard of him?

  9. Very interesting commentary. I suspect that there never will be a strong correlation between te popular and production quality on YouTube. Babies laughing, kids coming back from the dentist, and cats playing piano do not require post-production!

    Dr. Strangelove
    University of Ottawa
    Author of Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People (University of Toronto Press, 2010)

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