10 Videos to Watch to Understand the Culture of YouTube

If you’re seeking a comprehensive understanding of online video culture and how platforms like YouTube differ from traditional media, you’ve arrived at an excellent starting point. With 100 hours of video content uploaded to YouTube every minute, choosing just 10 videos to watch in order to understand this continually evolving community is indeed tricky. But, when you watch as many videos as we do here at ZEFR, you begin to see key trends and patterns emerge, and our goal here on the ZEFR Blog is to uncover these trends, explain where they come from, and help prepare you for what’s coming next.

Thus, we curated the following 10 videos to introduce the diversity found on YouTube with regards to content type, style, and intention, all coming together to illustrate a unique culture driven by a shared passion for the power video.

1.  The Little Moments

Little moments can have a big impact. The first video ever uploaded to YouTube was a short vlog at the San Diego Zoo from 2005:

This might seem insignificant today, but publicly opening up to strangers on the internet about the mundane portions of life had a tremendous impact on the future of YouTube. Before the presence of brands, and before the partnership program allowed for monetization, there were vloggers, chronicling the little moments of their lives, minute by minute.

2.  The Big Moments

YouTube is also a place to bear witness to life changing moments – birth, first steps, first words, the formation of your identity, and, for this 29 year old woman, the first time she heard her own voice:

With over 20 million views, she became a huge inspiration on YouTube and beyond, leading to an appearance on Ellen where she received an incredible gift from the company that supplied the hearing implant.

3.  Fanvids

Frequently associated with fangirls, fanvids are user created remixes of content, usually featuring their favorite movies or television characters. This is a form of devotional art made to tell new stories with established narrative universes, often in the name of love:

This “Dair” video emphasizes the relationship that could of, and, for some people, should have been, between the characters Dan and Blair on the CW show Gossip Girl. The music and the editing style seen above is very, very true to fanvid form.

4.  Cover Songs

Whether it’s someone singing into a webcam or a highly produced music video, cover songs have long been the music bread and butter of YouTube. Justin Bieber got his launch from the platform singing a Chris Brown cover. And, this future pop superstar is just waiting to be discovered:

This cover of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” has that intimate feeling of being shot in a workspace, giving it that raw feel of a YouTuber just starting to launch on an upwards trajectory. It has all the elements that make for great shareability, including a surprising voice and a unique musicality given the interesting cover choice.

5. How-tos/Tutorials/Instructional

If you want to learn how to do something yourself, people on YouTube are willing to teach you. One famous channel known for its instruction is Epic Meal Time, which is a cooking program for foods that resemble heart attacks and diabetic comas on plates:

This breakfast cupcake video gives enough instruction to be useful, but not so much that it is overly scientific. With the channel’s frequent devotion to bacon, and the Internet’s great love of bacon, Epic Meal Time is some manly instructional cooking. This particular dish is one of their tamest.

6.  Watching someone else play a video game

You haven’t understood a large population of YouTubers until you have watched someone else play video games. The single biggest YouTuber yet, PewDiePie, has made his professional life out of other people watching him play video games, as he gives colorful commentary, and plenty of swears, along the way:

PewDiePie is a Swedish video game YouTuber, and his vlogging presence continues to grow along with his subscriber fan base, aka “The Bro Army.” He now has almost 20 million subscribers.

7. Comedy

Laughs abound on YouTube, and few comedy channels have done better than Smosh, which has become more of a YouTube empire than simply a comedy channel. While Smosh’s actual level of humor is debatable, their use of color, randomness, loudness, and other devices make them very appealing, and millions of people clearly enjoy it:

Catering to both comedy fans and gamers,”If Video Games Were Real” has almost 30 million views, while the channel as a whole has as ammassed almost 3 billion views.

8. International Content

For programs that might be difficult to watch outside their country of origin, YouTube essentially has no borders. One of the most famous instances of this was Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent:

There is a growing expectation that all content, no matter where it is produced or for whom, should be viewable by everyone around the globe. The result can be seen in the global phenomenons known as “Gangnam Style“, which maybe you’ve heard of.

9. Memes

Nyan Cat is an excellent historic example of what some might shrug off as stupid internet stuff, but memes are here to stay. In just a short period of time, this cat was copied and re-posted to YouTube over and over again with alterations of every kind, such as changing its country of origin by substituting the Pop-Tart cat body for another geographically signature food or symbol. This particular version is 10 hours long. Good luck:

Using ZEFR tech, we ran a search to determine the total number of Nyan Cat videos out there, and it turns out there’s close to 40,000 of these things, totaling nearly 800 million views.

10. Cuteness

YouTube will in all likelihood never outlive its reputation for cuteness. Easy to film and easy to upload, puppies, babies, kittens, and other adorable pets acting totally adorable are like a major food group on YouTube.

While many people are trying, in vain, to move beyond this low hanging fruit, this article would not be complete without showing you this video of a golden retriever puppy falling asleep:


Get future posts delivered to your inbox