I recently sat down to chat with local graphic designer and YouTuber, Karen Kavett about her YouTube career and the changing state of online video. Karen, xperpetualmotion on YouTube, is the designer du jour online these days, a graduate of RISD and formerly a user experience designer at YouTube itself, she also works on book covers, posters for other popular video bloggers, musicians and authors.
Karen is gently shy in person, a contrast to the loud confident aspects of her personality that come out in front of the camera. Her channel, started in January of 2008, focuses mainly on crafting, graphic design and nerdery, and has grown to over 40,000 subscribers and 2.8 million views. But has her still-growing popularity changed her personal relationship to online video? Not really, she says. She is still an avid viewer and participates not only in the community of her audience but also the wider Vlogger/Nerdfighter/YouTuber fandom.
We started off talking about her unique insight into the changing face of YouTube. The site was redesigned recently and some content creators are disappointed with the new approach to smaller channels. BryarlyBishop's video Open Letter to YouTube is a great example. The video accuses YouTube of pouring more money and resources into already thriving channels while leaving smaller creators to flounder. So I asked Karen her opinion on the matter. People don't like change, she explained, but after working with the team designing the site she said, "I have a much better understanding of the site. It's no longer a giant untouchable corporation. I know the people behind the decisions, I can picture them in meetings."
She says the real trouble for new creators is not YouTube's redesigns or lack of home page curation, but instead the appetites of incoming viewers. In a deep field Karen says, "Unless you are making the most amazing content anyone could ever see, it's just hard to get a substantial audience to keep coming back." She explained that the people being introduced to YouTube currently are used to more mainstream content interaction, just sitting back watching an episode and then moving on to something else. But Internet communities, and thus those subscription counters, are built on interaction, not simply watching one video, but coming back over and over.
YouTube's decentralization of media production and consumption has simultaneously lead to a fragmentation of celebrity. Movie stars, comedians, musicians still have plenty of cache in mainstream media, as well as online, but the saturation of attention, and with it the power to draw audiences, has spread far and wide. Because the Internet specializes in the long tail of entertainment, Kavett explained, it allows geographically divergent communities interested in niche content and experiences to not only foster their own stars, but also dictate the socially acceptable level of attention. Internet celebs are not subjected to tabloid speculation, for example. When asked about her own level of recognition, she admitted to fans coming up to her, but only in the context of conventions like VidCon and LeakyCon.
And Kavett is a great example, just because YouTubers are separate from TV and movie performers and producers, doesn't mean those older media have no effect on them. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world and many online content creators are heading there not to break into the entertainment industry, but to be closer to each other. Collaboration is an integral part of the YouTube community and proximity makes sharing ideas, and being in each other's videos that much easier. There has been a mass L.A. exodus of late, including all four of the Bay Area's best known YouTubers: George Watsky, Hannah Hart, Tyler Oakley, and soon Karen herself.
For more information about Kavett, her designs or videos, go to karenkavett.com.