I’ve been thinking a lot about collaborative YouTube channels.
This is mostly because, as I begin writing this, it is three and a half hours past the day I’m supposed to upload a video to the Vlogtag channel. Three and a half hours overdue, and I still haven’t shot a single frame of this week’s video.
For those unfamiliar with the YouTube community, a collaborative channel – or collab channel for short – is two or more people participating in a single vlog (short for video blog). The concept was popularized by the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. For the entire year of 2007, the brothers uploaded a video every weekday, alternating back and forth between them.
The purpose of the project – dubbed Brotherhood 2.0 – was to get to know each other better. Like many siblings, the barriers of geographic distance and age difference created both a literal and metaphorical gap between them. The project spawned a number of copycats – Vlogtag included – with various spins on the original theme.
The most popular variation is the once-a-week model. Perhaps best utilized by the Five Awesome Girls, from whom most of the once-a-week collab channels took their inspiration from, this approach is – theoretically – easier than the Vlogbrothers’ model. The concept is simple enough: each person has an assigned day. On that day, they upload a video. Repeat once a week until the project is finished (or, in some cases, indefinitely). Simple.
And yet, here I am, now five hours, ten minutes and three shows on Hulu past my assigned day on Vlogtag…and I haven’t made my video yet.
This in itself is not shocking. Whether due to technical difficulties, slowed upload times, an overpacked schedule or plain and simple procrastination, my videos are often late. But as I sat, trying to think of something to make a video about and repeatedly resting on the nature of collab channels as a whole, I realized that it’s a growing trend.
It’s become a fairly common theme for vloggers on any collab channel to spend most, if not all, of a given video talking about why it’s inconvenient for them to make a video that day. This isn’t a negative judgement; life is busy, and Lord knows making a decent video can take a huge chunk of a person’s day. The more in-depth a vlogger gets – dealing with lighting, editing, trying to make the video interesting and reasonably short – the longer it takes to churn out a four to five minute video. So we often end up overly apologizing for the fact that the video isn’t up to our standards.
On top of this, the notion of the collab channel is suffering from the detriment of success. After the sweeping popularity of a select few channels – mostly beginning with the prefix “Five Awesome”, be they Girls, Guys or Gays – being on a collab channel was the hip thing to do. A YouTube fad. Attach any random noun to the end of “vlog” or “fiveawesome”, and you’ll probably find a collab channel…or, at the least, something dismal and vacant that was intended to be a collab channel.
As a result, the collab channel has transformed as a genre. Where once it was an innovative idea with much potential, it has become a schtick, a gimmick; a shiny object that mesmerizes the masses for five seconds before they’re pulled away by the next flashing light.
Vloggers, wanting to be in on the trend, start a collab channel with unrealistic ideas about the commitment they’ve made and the benefits they’ll reap from it. YouTube is filled with the public graves of such short-lived channels.
At first, viewers were pulled in, sheep-like, based on the same mentality that creates brand-name loyalty. “This is familiar,” they thought, “so I will automatically like it.” I myself suffered from this delusion for a time. My list of subscriptions has yet to be cleared of the clutter that resulted.
As time went on, however, vloggers and viewers alike found themselves disenfranchised. Those few, successful collab channels – the ones that started the fad – were like a magical cocktail that couldn’t be emulated. Collab channels I watch now seem to lack something. Even when I know the people, and enjoy the videos they make on their personal channels, something always seems off about their collab channels. Sometimes, I even feel that something seems off about my own collab channel.
So, to me, it feels like the notion of the collab channel is dying. More and more, the channels are struggling, ending, being forgotten. Some blame the overuse, the flooding of YouTube with a thousand collab channels of dismally varying quality and the lifespans of mayflies. But I think it’s more than that; I don’t think we’ve overused the idea. I think we’ve just let it stagnate.
Even when we add new twists and quirks, we’re still working with the same basic framework. I remember when my fellow Vlogtagger, Bobby, asked if our channel instituted punishments for broken rules only because the popular channels we took our cues from did. I didn’t think much on it at the time, as I felt punishments were a good motivator for getting a video up on time. But now, as punishments have mostly faded from our channel, I can’t help but reflect on that.
Rather than come up with something entirely fresh, we keep building on the old, with all its flaws. Humans do this a lot, in every facet of life, and it always seems to result in problems. In this case, we have a genre of vlogging that feels stale because most of us are following the same basic formula.
But what can be done to rectify this?
Change, for one thing. Being open to it, and initiating it. Even toward the start of the year, my friends and I have discussed, time and again, what we potentially want to do with the Vlogtag channel next year. Vlogtag’s premise, and rules, is very different now from what it was last year. As a result, it feels like a more successful channel than it was last year, when it nearly died on several occasions. The channel finally did find itself completely inactive between the end of October and the start of this year’s Vlogtag 2.0.
Another important factor in reclaiming the glory days of this lackluster genre is identifying exactly what parts are stale, and cutting them out. Punishments, theme weeks, finding gimmicks to fill the days not assigned to a vlogger…these are all things that I, personally, have grown tired of.
The punishments are often torturous and always time consuming for the people performing them, and they’ve all but ceased to be entertaining to anyone else. Theme weeks and rule-mandated challenges are just flash and dazzle for the sake of trying to be more interesting. And as for filling days? One of the biggest detriments to the reputation of the collab channel is that people often can’t keep up with a channel that posts every day. Unless a channel actually has a different person for every day, filling up those extra days with forced filler is hurtful to the channel and the genre.
Something I’ve been considering as I sit here – now seven hours and a lot of distractions past the end of my assigned day on Vlogtag – is that the entire person-a-day framework may be due for an overhaul. When I remembered, yesterday, that I needed to make a video, I groaned. It was a chore that I didn’t want to do. I had nothing to talk about. I had no footage to play with. My vlogging moods tend to hit me when I’m out the house – when I’m actually doing things – but lately I’ve just been sorting and working. Nothing worth spending even a minute on camera talking about. My video would have been barely a minute long, and not worth the additional time it would take to make it.
I think that the pressure to make a video when I have nothing to say detracts from the purpose. It’s a professional thing to do, and it’s a great self-challenge…but that’s not the point of a collab channel. And I think that’s the problem with the framework we’re all building off of. This stale old model we’re so accustomed to no longer reflects our true purpose.
Collab channels like Vlogtag are not there to entertain viewers. They aren’t there so that we vloggers can challenge ourselves. These are side benefits, but they aren’t the point. They aren’t the core. The center of it all is people; getting to know each other better, forming deeper friendships.
So what can we do to change? The framework itself is flawed. We need to start from scratch, or at least take out a lot of beams and rethink the architecture.
I look to you, to everyone, to create the blueprints. We are architects of ideas and carpenters of innovation. All the answers lie in our heads. It’s time to determine what the future of collab channels is.
It’s time to rebuild this tired genre.