30 Pages Deep: The End of YouTube’s Archive

“In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.” ―J. Paul Getty

Screen Shot captured 2015-09-09 at 10.22.34 AM
Screen Shot captured 2015-09-09 at 10.22.34 AM

 

YouTube search algorithm results use to be deeper

In the summer of 2014,  in the course that collected the first dataset of over 100 twerking videos, one of my most ambitious students did a deep archival search to find the earliest twerking videos in YouTube. We were able to find videos as far back as 7 or 8 years earlier, all the way back to the first full year of YouTube in 2005-2006. Those videos featured only tween black girls dancing in their bedrooms to regional styles of bounce music. How did I know?

Since doing this research I’ve had to use my ethnomusicological skills to learn about the music of New Orleans dirty south rap scene. New Orleans’ bounce is marked by the presence of a “Triggaman” beat and other “brown beats” in its music production, considered the “backbone of all New Orleans bounce music”.

This morning, I went to search for a few videos to download as evidence of local black girls’ presence twerking on YouTube immediately after Hurricane Katrina–YouTube’s launch and Hurricane Katrina both happened in 2005. What I found startled me a bit.

I found that it was impossible to replicate the search we did in June of 2014. Today YouTube has over 300 hours of video uploaded a minute. Over a year ago it was exponentially far less. The limits of the archive is perhaps merely a function of the limits of the code written to handle the massive scale of YouTube. Since most people aren’t researchers like me, and because most people live in the present moments of social media, perhaps discovering what happened on YouTube via search over 2 years ago is becoming today’s prehistoric memory.

If you cannot easily document the lineage of a meme via search, how will this change what youth know as the past? How will we document that Miley Cyrus didn’t invent twerking and that even YouTube has evidence deep within its archive that black girls were vlogging their twerking practice from their privately-public bedrooms back in 2006?

Today, you have to get 30 pages deep, the limit based on two separate searches today, to get to 1 – 2 years ago in the YouTube archive searching by type (video), duration (<4 minutes), and sorting by upload date (see pic at the top of the post).  To get back to 7 or 8 years earlier in June of 2014, it was over 70 or 80 pages deep into the YouTube archive.

As I skimmed through the 30 pages today, very few images of black girls appeared. These traces tell a story and who gets left out matters. #blackgirlsmatter

In this age of rapid and exponential change, my own experience of YouTube is constantly changing over night. Most people don’t even notice things I see. It’s just a blur. What does this mean for our conception of our online Selves and our various socially negotiated selves offline given that YouTube is all about broadcasting yourself?

I just wanted to mark this shift as I noticed before running off to class. More later.

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