September 13, 2007

VIVA LA VIRAL! Intertube Explorer

Print More

Last year, aged Senator Ted Stevens (Alaska, R) issued a rousing speech against network neutrality as only an eighty-something year old man could. Stevens described the internet as a series of “tubes” being stopped up by the large amounts of data streaming across the world. Flying in the face of both the conventional rules of network data protocol and conventional syntax for the English language, Stevens infamously related a story of personal woe arising from Internet data logjams. “I just the other day got … an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday,” Stevens mourned. “Why? Because it got tangled up in all these things going on the internet commercially.” Then, in a move that can only be described as ballsy, Stevens went on to single out video content as being a prime contributor to this blockage. Nearing the climax of his oratory, instinctually sensing that America was ready for the cold, hard truth, Stevens hammered home the fact that people couldn’t just send whatever video content they wanted around the internet because it wasn’t, in fact, “a big truck.”
Tech-savvy pundits were quick to jump all over this rousing, heartfelt display of rhetoric, saying that Stevens must have prepared for his speech with either some really bad research, or some really good mushrooms.
I, however, would like to agree with Senator Ted — if not with his uniquely asinine analogies, then with his acute sense of being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of video content available on the web. Although it’s true that it will take me at least another seventy years to cultivate a standpoint on technology as deeply ignorant as Teddy’s, I feel readers will find me an adequately flustered Luddite in, the late spring of my formative years.
And this brings us to the heart of the problem: the bandwidth bottleneck for internet video isn’t in the “tubes,” or the cyberspace information infrastructure — it’s right here in the real world. Just as the fattest fat man in the speediest Ferrari could not enjoy all of the drive-through burger joints of Southern California in one afternoon, so too does the webviewer find it impossible to filter and parse the amount of internet video constantly being made available.
Do you like your internet video nestled in the warm bosom of America’s least threatening mega-corporation? Google Video is the place for you.
Are you just hip enough to dig the whole internet video thing, but not ready to wean yourself from Mama Google’s inappropriate-content rules? Suckle at the vanilla teat of YouTube.
Is quirky indie-lite comedy your thing? Surf on over to SuperDeluxe.
More on the frat-pack end of the comedy spectrum? Hit up Funnyordie.
Are you a Chosen Web Junky? Check out JewTube. (Believe it. Watch it ’till you plotz!)
Know someone who savors the distinctly democratic allure of John Q. Beerbelly and Jane Q. Stretchmark being able to upload videos of their unmentionables? Try — or, uh, tell that “friend” about — YouPorn.
Suffice it to say that there are enough video “tubes” out there to bring a plumbing contractor to tears. Film studies yield some schemas for dividing films up into different groups that have only limited applicability to internet video content. Peter Wollen’s “Auteur theory,” grouping the work of a specific director in order to follow the themes, motifs and aesthetics of their work, does little to clear the haze: relatively few internet video producers are consistently making videos with a strong authorial hand (Team Lonelygirl, Brad Neely, ZeFrank, etc.), and most videos are anonymous.
To divvy up films by genre requires grouping by (borrowing terms from theorist Rick Altman) a “blueprint,” or “contract” for producers to give a specific audience a specific commodity. Superdeluxe, Jewtube and YouPorn exemplify a quasi-genre system: there is a tacit contract between the people that produce the content for those sites and the English majors, Jewish religion enthusiasts and voyeurs (respectively) who expect some consistent essential similarities shared between the videos found on those specific sites. In practice, most sites act as waystations for videos already produced, often embedded from YouTube. Grouping based on which videos appear on which sites is somewhat analogous to the formation of “style,” which is kind of like genre except the grouping occurs after the films are made. Unfortunately, most aggregate sites don’t actually adhere to a particular style, and the good videos are lost in a sea of skateboarders blasting their teeth down their throats on concrete staircases and Tara Reid’s most recent botched boob jobs — both of which awaken in me a thanatotic horror I could do without when searching for Miss Teen South Carolina’s latest bon mot.
Today, the best way to get a steady stream of what you want to watch is to use that Cockney street-urchin step-brother of TiVo made especially for the Intertubes: the RSS feed. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” (you see what they did there?). Lo and behold, it is pretty damn simple to use. Sites like YouTube allow you to subscribe by member, which is a pretty nifty way to circumvent the aggregate sites. Daily feeds from the aggregate sites themselves are frequently RSS enabled. You can ride the RSS wave with Thunderbird, Outlook, or on a number of web or client based aggregators.

Don’t know what Matt’s talking about? Google it, silly.