This essay explores a fascinating phenomenon unfolding online. The business of journaling has become viable. Searching YouTube for your hobby or interest will, first, very likely show many results, second, spending some time will show who the regular content creators are on that topic, third, the social media element of YouTube makes it easy to follow them. YouTube has created a way for creators to publish and distribute their work and to monetize it through subscriptions and commercials. We often think of content marketing as an activity aimed at creating credibility, and visibility for some other business that the subject matter expert is promoting. For example, Bryan Alexander:
Bryan Alexander is an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant, and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education….
In 2013 Bryan launched a business, Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC. Through BAC he consults throughout higher education in the United States and abroad. Bryan also speaks widely and publishes frequently, with articles appearing in venues including The Atlantic Monthly, Inside Higher Ed.
Bryan is very active with his monetized blog site as well on Flickr, Twitter, and LinkedIn where he routinely reposts his blog material. This recipe seems to be working for Bryan as his consulting business has survived even thrived over the last four years. Likewise, many other subject matter experts employ this approach to content marketing and to promoting their enterprises.
However, the phenomenon I am exploring here is slightly different. The content creators I describe and analyze in the following chapters have changed the recipe. They are not creating content in support of a retail enterprise or consulting business, rather content creation is the business.
I draw my title as a salute to John Seeley Brown’s rethinking of a human being. We are familiar with our genus and species, Homo sapiens “sapient” meaning wise or knowing. Brown offers a more complex notion defining two additional facets, Homo faber, and Homo ludens, “maker” and “player” along with knower. I resonate especially with this more sophisticated sense of human being. In this essay, I aim to explore how play makes us and particularly in an online or a hybridized real:virtual environment.
This three-part model of knower, maker, and player will play out throughout the following case studies. I imagine that “knower” is analogous to “subject matter expert” for example. Also, making these videos for some of the content creators is itself rewarding and a motivating passion, some have grown their enterprises so much that they have to hire others to do that work, however, very likely it remains part of their creative identity. One uniting thread among these content creators is the passion, fun, and playfulness that they experience with their topic. This integration and fulfillment as well the ability to make a livelihood represents a fascinating moment.
Rather than seek out pre-existing definitions, I would like to struggle a bit to formulate, abductively, my interpretations. To establish a point of reference, first I want to develop several case studies. These content creators share, of necessity certain common elements, however, teasing out their differences shows fascinating intersections of our digital and real-world lives. Based on these case studies I then want to develop or abstract a critical theory of sorts. I will then return to content creators and test the critical hypothesis against the real activities of creators. Finally, revising the argument in light of both commonalities and differences between the case studies.
Accordingly, I offer Jon B., at Fishing the Midwest on YouTube and Brennan (several YouTube channels actually) at GoldGloveTV and Twitch, and Byron Nicholai at I sing. You Dance. these three are not alone, nor are they the most successful; however, they offer excellent cases. Two of the young men are self-employed, full-time, by and through their content creation. They have created recognizable personal brands, defined business models, and are executing their plans. The third, Byron, is a Yup’ik from southwestern Alaska and his case study richly complicates this inquiry.
This essay will first develop each as a case study. I will then turn to sketching a theory of commonalities and differences. I will return to YouTube for additional mini-case studies in order to test the theory. In the end, I hope to offer a snap shot of a moment of online content creation and into the intersection of lives online and in the real world.