twitter + gong show + reality tv = younow.com

A new phenomenon has hit our culture: younow.com… it is live video streaming/chat with strangers,  where you the viewer can vote the streamed broadcast on/off the air. It’s similar to Skype in that it’s live video chat. It’s similar to Chatroulette in that it’s random AND it has a simultaneous chat stream.  It’s similar to YouTube in that it has broadcast channels. It’s similar to Yelp in that you rate people/broadcasts.

The goal of the broadcaster (i.e., the person at the other end of the camera broadcasting) is to maintain viewer interest and get them to keep voting for the stream to continue broadcasting (i.e., green thumbs up vs. red thumbs down). The streams are organized by topics (e.g., Music, Politics, Talk, etc.). However, most of the chatter is Twitter-esque drivel, where people aren’t saying anything meaningful.  Many of the broadcasts are video diaries of mundane musings and partially formed ideas.  So, votes seem to be based on the broadcaster’s sincerity, personality or appearance. This is a medium where “style” trumps “substance.”  Compelling personalities win votes.

Younow.com is “Reality TV 2.0″… hyper-real interactive web TV.  The “Gong Show” voting feature forces the broadcasters to “perform” and play up to the audience. The voting (every minute) keeps a constant stream of broadcasts and new personalities coming online from the queue. “Group Think” seems to be evident as well; when it appears the majority of viewers are skewing towards a vote, then it looks like the rest of the viewers jump on the band wagon and side with the general sentiment.

Younow.com reminds me of a talent show I recently attended at the Apollo Theater in NYC, where the audience’s screams determined the performer’s fate. What ended up happening is that blocks of like-minded audience members formed and found each other and then they started to coerce opposing blocks. Sometimes though intimidation and sometimes through charm. The audience’s stance (the mob) was as unpredictable as a flock of flying birds, and I found myself giving thanks that I was not in a Roman Colosseum.

Given that the broadcasters on Younow.com are from all over the globe, it’s a virtual “united nations network” cultural exchange, where viewers are asking the broadcasters (via chat) cultural questions about music and language (e.g, can you say ‘I love Harriet in Norwegian?” and “Which do you like better, the music from Eminem or Robin?”). The website is essentially a way in which to interrogate someone. The person is literally under the spotlight. For this reason, it’s an excellent cultural anthropology tool. I wonder if there’s a way to apply “social listening” filters to hone in on relevant conversations (e.g., direct me to broadcasts that mention words that interest me)?

Anyway, this website is brilliant. It will surely evolve into a billion-dollar-buy-out or an IPO because it perfectly plays into several trends:

  • Quest for celebrity
  • Craving to express (and be heard)
  • Hashtag activism
  • Crowd-sourcing content
  • Drive to collaborate
  • Cultural curiosity
  • Voyeuristic rubbernecking
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