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Odds and Ends: View Master
Odds and Ends: View Master

From ‘Gangnam Style’ to Tahrir Square, Kevin Allocca analyzes the videos we share

Rick Tulka for CASE

Why do videos go viral? As YouTube's trends manager, Kevin Allocca spends a lot of time thinking about virality. And after giving a TED Talk on the topic last year, he also knows what it's like to star in a viral video since his presentation earned more than a million views. Allocca jokes about watching videos for a living, but monitoring the culture is no easy feat when approximately 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Once content is online, "we can always return to the things we love," he says. "It's easy to be nostalgic today because we have access to things from years past at our fingertips." With the recent launch of the YouTube Trends Map, Allocca and his team designed a tool that illustrates which videos are popular among different demographic and geographic audiences in the United States and shows that we're often less culturally divided than we think.

How often do people say they wish they had your job?

I like to say that I have every 15-year-old's dream job [laughing].

That cuts both ways.

It does. A large part of what we do is knowing what's happening on our own site and trying to keep a handle on the diverse array of video that exists in the world. It's also like a lot of people's jobs; there are meetings and spreadsheets. The thing I love is that every day there's some new surprise, some new thing we're trying to grasp. I definitely don't get to just sit and watch YouTube all day, but there's a part of the day when I do and it's wonderful.

How can institutions grow their YouTube channel audiences?

I think the rules are still being written for how to do that successfully. There's this whole crop of science channels that have quietly become very popular in the last year or so such as SciShow, MinutePhysics, and AsapSCIENCE. They're educational but also entertaining. A lot of people don't realize how popular educational content is. We're getting to a point where some of the best educators in the world can be accessed by anybody anywhere.

Which metrics are you tracking?

As a company, when we try to understand popularity we're thinking about how long people are watching and how much people are sharing and searching. Some of the most fascinating stuff to me is watching channels like Vsauce or Crash Course that are building audiences. This is a relatively new thing, and we're still trying to understand the dynamics. The other thing that fascinates me is seeing a lot of people posting about the same topic, trend, or meme because it shows a level of impact on the culture. That's not necessarily something we could've tracked or measured before. We're able to measure mass creativity now. How many uploads about a specific topic have been created? How many parodies of this song or movie have been produced? When you can see those things happening, it opens up this other point of view on pop culture.

What are some trends you've observed among age groups?

There's this idea that people who are over 30 aren't watching a ton of web video, but that's not true at all. Everybody's getting more comfortable with the dynamics of what it means to share something and what you do when you find something you like. There's a lot of stereotyping that happens with the younger demographics. Everybody thinks they're watching Justin Bieber or something, but that's definitely not the case. People are watching stuff from all over the world. The younger demographics are better at navigating some of these channels because they're not used to one type of media or another; they're used to the sheer connection between things.

—Interview by Theresa Walker




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