Looking for you: An analysis of video blogs
First Monday

Looking for you: An analysis of video blogs



Abstract
Blogs are a form of self–presentation on the Internet and variations like video blogs (vlogs) have expanded with the support of sites like YouTube. This study examines the culture of video blogging — its rhythm, language, and communication style. Utilizing Goffman’s (1959) notions on the presentation of self as dramaturgical, multi–stage and multi–audience processes, this textual analysis of ten personal vlogs deconstructs the structure of each site, text, links, as well as the videos and their comments to identify dominant modes of communication. Three dominant themes emerge, reflecting employment of vlogs as diaries, media for identity expression, and a means to indulge in narcissism. Vloggers emphasize one or more of these modes in creating their online performances.

Contents

Introduction
Method
Discursive themes
Summary

 


 

Introduction

With the advancement of video–hosting sites like YouTube as well as the expansion of broadband Internet, the distribution of video online is easier than ever. As YouTube’s slogan articulates — one can now “broadcast yourself” (Garfield, 2006). This study presents an examination of user–produced content, focusing on personal video blogs (vlogs). Vlogs are sites where authors post stories and/or information about themselves in the form of video, rather than text, as traditional blogs include. They are public spaces for self–expression where authors control the content published. According to David Sifry (2007), there are about 120,000 new blogs are created every day — or approximately “1.4 blogs created every second of every day.” Blogs and their descendents — podcasts and vlogs — are unique in the way that their authors produce them and the way in which viewers engage with them. Vlogs do not require teams of editors; authors control content and timing of publication. Audiences engage with these sites by both reading and viewing them as well as commenting directly about content. Traditional gatekeepers do not exist on blogs and vlogs. No longer are video–watching audiences constrained to Hollywood’s productions for entertainment (Garfield, 2006). This qualitative analysis of vlogs traces how ten personal video bloggers (vloggers) construct spaces for presenting and broadcasting themselves to audiences.

Vlogs are valuable because they tell us about ourselves as well as represent a new form of self–expression, rooted in our today’s communication environment. Changes in communication technology affect societies on multiple levels. Just as the development and adoption of the printing press accelerated the dissemination of knowledge in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, blogging and vlogging are having the same effect now. On the Internet the publication and sharing of text, audio, and video is not only easy, it is nearly instantaneous and it comes at little cost to users. Scholars have started researching blogging and online video, like YouTube, but they have yet to turn their attention to vlogging. As a descendent of blogs and as a way to tell stories through video, vlogging is an important and interesting area of study. Given their potential for future research this study seeks to understand ten personal vlogs as spaces of self–presentation.

Blogs, vlogs and self–presentation

As the blogosphere expanded, some — often bloggers themselves — suggested that blogs would replace elements of mainstream media (Levy, 2002). This is an overstatement when one bears in mind communications history — no new communications medium has ever eliminated older media completely (Couch, 1996; Levy, 2002; Shafer, 2005). Computers and the Internet have not eradicated television; television has not made radio extinct; and, radio did not vanquish newspapers. Blogging is not a “threat” and will not destroy traditional or mainstream media, but it may cause them to evolve (Keren, 2004; Levy, 2002). As Poster (2002) reminds us, even the Internet itself is not utterly new, nor does it “mark the first reshuffling of the basic conditions of cultural formation… .” [1] The Internet is a new vehicle for very human and basic activities — communication and expression. With the advancement of “produsage” media like blogs, individuals are “continually co–creating” their identities. These activities cannot help but have a “profound effect on our future” [2], with more voices contributing to the formation and maintenance of cultural identities.

Although there has been some scholarly interest in journalistic and politically–infused blogging, there has been little research on blogs, or vlogs, as online diaries. A Pew Internet and American Life Project study revealed that most bloggers use the medium as a kind of online journal, not considering them to be a form of journalism (Lenhart and Fox, 2006). Being that the majority of blogs are personal (Lenhart and Fox, 2006; Papacharissi, 2007) and that there is even less scholarly research on the vlog genre, this study combines both interests. Free video hosting sites like YouTube, Internet Archive, and OurMedia support this increased interest in and publication of vlogs. However, rather than only featuring text, as in a blog, a vlogger posts videos or short films about any topic of her choosing. Each video is often accompanied by a brief textual description as well as links to comments made by viewers. Blog hosting sites, like Blogger, do not host video. Vloggers using Blogger post their videos on a site like YouTube and then post a link to the video on their blog. Viewers can subscribe to a vlog and each time the vlogger posts a new video the viewer’s iTunes, or other software, will automatically download it.

Vloggers appear to be working out what the expectations are for a vlog. In 2006, there was a controversy over one vlog — Lonelygirl15 — who, it was revealed, is not actually a techie, lonely, fifteen–year–old girl named Bree, but a twenty–something actress working with a small production crew producing the vlog (Heffernan and Zeller, 2006). This revelation caused a small scandal in the blogosphere early in the fall of 2006 because vloggers tend to be techies that conceptualize, film, edit, and upload their own videos, rather than productions with writers, producers, and actors. Finding out that Lonelygirl15 was a professional production broke a trust with the audience that was led to believe otherwise (Heffernan and Zeller, 2006; Kurtz, 2006; Christian, 2009). However, with the acquisition of YouTube by Google, perhaps the days of primarily grassroots vlogging will give way to Big Media (Garfield, 2006).

Conceptual framework

Researchers frequently question the import of introspective expression on blogs, vlogs, and general Internet forums, finding that “much of what is said is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” [3] Yet through this fragmented and disorganized content, we see that when people are given the chance to create public content “they choose…to talk about what the serious business of the human experience — life, loss, belonging, hope for the future, friendship, and love — means to them.” [4] The contemplative introspection present on blogs and vlogs is also self–expression addressing the larger existential questions of life.

There is little scholarly research on vlogs, thus this study’s objective is exploratory and involves understanding the culture of vlogging — its rhythm, language, and communication style. This textual analysis of ten personal vlogs combines previous literature on self–presentation, with an emphasis on Goffman’s (1959) seminal work on the presentation of self. Goffman (1959) argued that indivudals present themselves differently in different social situations. Goffman’s (1959) ideas are rooted in theatrical metaphor, suggesting that in social interaction people are, in a sense, on stage. If there is a stage for performance, then there must also be a “backstage” where individuals cease performing. Goffman (1959) suggests that this “backstage” is where one’s true self is revealed because there is no audience. This study treats vlogs as stages where multimedia performances takes place. We will examine content of vlogs to understand what the connections between vlog stages to “backstages”. In this study, a vlog is understood as a deliberately constructed presentation of self, a mirror of the author or creator of the vlog.

Vlogs represent a meeting point where a vlogger presents herself to an audience. When one first opens a vlog it is as if the author is introducing herself to another individual. By exploring a site and its videos, viewers develop an impression of a given author — a constructed image created by the vlogger. The vlog audience, operating in interpersonal interaction akin to Goffman’s (1959) roles, judges vlog creators based on the information available in a given vlog. Vlogs may appear to be one–way communication — the vlog creator posts a video and the audience examines it — but interaction develops if audience members utilize the comments section available on most vlogs. While the vlogger may imagine a certain interpretation and response by the audience, the audience in turn can create a response that may nor may not harmonize with the vlogger’s expectations.

In social situations, we respond to specific situations and colleagues, adjusting our behavior (Goffman, 1959). However, in vlogging and blogging, it is difficult for vloggers to predict every individual reaction to their site — vloggers can only make educated guesses. Vloggers must present themselves in a way that they hope will generate a desired impression.

When presenting ourselves via a digital environment, individuas are the “producer[s], director[s], and star[s]” of the show [5]. Through online dramas, people find new ways to think about their identities. Turkle (1995) suggests that Web sites are places to negotiate and shape identities. She found that young people use computers as a “constructive as well as projective medium.” [6] All media are extensions of ourselves to some degree (McLuhan, 1994), so when an individual constructs a Web site, blog, or vlog, she considers which aspects of herself and identity will be shared or invented. Identity indeed is not singular; people can explore multiple angles of their identities in vlogs, on Facebook, as well as in face–to–face communication.

Other studies have examined self–presentation and identity in every day or electronic communication contexts. Jones (1990) noted that there are several self–presentation strategies individuals use when trying to create a desired impression, including ingratiation, competence, intimidation, exemplification and supplication. Ingratiation is used when the desired goal is to be liked. Competence, or self–promotion, is used when an individual wants to be perceived as talented or capable. Intimidation is used when a person desires power or control of a situation. Exemplification is used when an individual wishes to be seen as morally superior or virtuous. Supplication is used when someone wants to be nurtured or helped, due to self–perceived weaknesses. Ingratiation is not only the most commonly used strategy, it also has a “halo effect” when used in conjunction with other strategies [7].

Dominick (1999) applied these self–presentation strategies in his content analysis of personal Web sites finding that homepages were examples of self–presentation and that the strategies used were similar to those in interpersonal settings. Creators of personal Web sites “seem to be looking for approval from others. In cyberspace as in real life, ingratiation was the most used self–presentation strategy.” [8] Among the ten selected vlogs in the present study ingratiation, often through humor, is a common self–presentation strategy.

Walker (2000) also examined self–presentation on Web sites finding that “identity statements” on homepages were similar to “identity statements” in face–to–face interactions [9]. Whether the creators of personal Web sites intended to or not, identity was communicated on sites. The fact that a page exists “causes readers to assume that they are justified in making conjectures about the identity of the author.” [10] Personal Web sites provide information and entertainment as well as act as a vehicle for communication with family and friends (Papacharissi, 2002). When an individual’s interests and relationships are revealed on a Web site, aspects of her identity become accessible publicly.

Blogs are similar to Web sites in that they are often public, but different in that their writing and style resemble online diaries. Papacharissi’s (2007) content analysis of 260 blogs revealed that some blogs were created with the “purpose of perusal by friends, family members, and the occasional accidental browser.” [11] Eighty–three percent of the blogs studied were created with the “expected gratification of primarily self–fulfillment obtained from the ability to express themselves freely online.” [12] The format and writing style reflect the blogger’s interest in self–expression and self–presentation.

Understanding that Web sites and blogs are forms of self–presentation, this study applies the same theoretical framework to vlogs. The following questions were asked: What kinds of strategies and techniques do vloggers use to present themselves? What do vloggers want the audience to know about them, and what are possible polysemic interpretations of posted videos and vlogs in general? How does each vlogger approach presenting herself through video, storytelling, and editing style? How does each vlogger compare to others in this study?

 

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Method

Given the complex and exploratory nature of these research questions, a textual analysis of this phenomenon is one applicable methodology. Textual analysis is a form of qualitative research that is generally used to wrestle with more complex, intricate phenomena and when seeking a deep understanding of the person/group/text under study. The term “text” is used in a broad sense to refer to language that is written or printed as well as visual images and sound effects (Fairclough, 2003).

Textual analysts investigate questions about “what people are doing or not doing, how they are doing it, and how it is connected to other things they are doing.” [13] Meanings found in these texts are like icebergs — there is a part one can see on the surface, but underneath there is a vast amount of other veiled meanings (van Dijk, 2006). Because of the depth and complexity of textual analysis, there is no single course of action (Wood and Kroger, 2000). In communication, a single utterance or expression can have different interpretations in different contexts; it is fundamentally tied to context (Fairclough and Wodak, 1997). A researcher must examine a chosen text from a specific theoretical perspective in order to address questions of validity. Identifying a theoretical framework is important for the researcher in order to recognize a given study’s limitations while placing the study within a particular context.

Because no comprehensive directory of vlogs exists, we employed innovative and snowball sampling techniques to assemble a group of vlogs representative of vlogging tendencies. Several vlogs were chosen from the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/), based on their prominence and popularity (Ryanedit and Docmaker). Next, through a feature on the famous politically infused vlog, Rocketboom, Viviendo con Fallas (Living with Fallas) was discovered and included in the study. The remaining seven vlogs — Creatively Impulsive, Drinking with Bob (DwB), Josh Leo’s Vlog (Josh Leo), Taxiplasm, Travelvlog, Villagegirl’s Videoblog (Villagegirl), and Welcome to Amyville (Amyville) were found through links on these three vlogs and other vlogs as well as through search engines like Technorati, Video Blogging–Universe, YouTube, and Vodcasts.tv. [14]

In assembling a list of vlogs, vloggers sought to include a wide range of expression, representing comical and/or serious content as well as political or normal conversations. One common thread was that all of the selected vlogs reflected a specific vlogger’s life, career, or community, presenting a construction of an individual. These personal vlogs were chosen because, as a group, they incorporated a range of personalities and emotions — sometimes within a single site. For example, a vlogger might post a video of his friends singing karaoke one week and the next week post a short experimental film about loneliness. The variety in the selected vlogs reflects the human experience. Some vlogs incorporate more of a range of emotion than others, depending on how, it seems, a given vlogger wants to be perceived.

These ten vlogs also represent a variety of filmmaking and editing skills — from seasoned professionals to green amateurs. Part of the intrigue of video blogs is the democratization of the playing field. A professional filmmaker like Ryanedit and an amateur like Villagegirl both have equal opportunities to audiences and self–expression. Vlogs in this study hence reflect a variety of skills, reflecting in turn the wider range of all vlogs. In addition to this variety of skills and emotions, these vlogs also reflect a range of commitment to their respective sites. Some vloggers are heavy users, posting regularly, quite dedicated to their medium. Others, like Villagegirl, started out strong, but have since faded away, representing light users. This variation from heavy to light users is common in computer–mediated communication (Baym, 2006) and, thus, has been incorporated into the selection of specific vlogs for this study.

Once the vlogs were selected, the textual analysis was performed. The index page of each vlog, the structure of each page, the text, links, as well as the comments on each page were examined. Primary data for textual analysis was collected between 9 December and 19 December 2006. During this time the first five videos posted on the vlog’s index page were examined. If a textual description for the video was provided, this description was read first, followed by viewing the video. Each video was examined at least twice, but many of them were studied four, five, or even 10 times. In addition, other videos on a given site, outside of the aforementioned dates, were analyzed when appropriate. For example, Viviendo con Fallas’ (VcF) first video post from 2005 was included in our analysis because it offered evidence about the tone that the vloggers established in this medium. Hence, additional videos were used when relevant. After watching each video, comments associated with a given video were read. These comments were considered as an audience response and were helpful in understanding the development of this study’s themes.

The content in each video post, both in terms of narrative and editing style, were considered. The topics of each video — as well as locations, camera angles, and the ways in which vloggers regarded their audiences — were all considered. Many of these vloggers tended to focus their cameras on themselves to tell their stories. Alternatively, some filmed their videos while speaking off–camera. Some vloggers kept their cameras in a stationary position while physically entering or exiting the frame. The uses of cameras are relevant to the communication style of vloggers. Editing was also consdiered — whether a simple cut at the beginning and at the end, or more extensive edits, as well as the addition of a soundtrack. Editing helps vloggers tell their stories while demonstrating specific technical skills.

In addition to content, the online space within which videos were presented was also analyzed. The index page is the audience’s first introduction to a vlog and vlogger. It is also the place where comments and links are located, placing the vlog within a larger context of a community. The vlogs under examination represent a small cross–section of the vlogosphere and were selected to illustrate a range of styles, skills, personalities, ideas, and commitment.

The process of reading descriptions and comments, watching videos, and examining index pages facilitated answering our research questions. These questions examined how vloggers present themselves through the vlog medium, what strategies and techniques they use, and how they compare with each other.

By spending almost two weeks watching each video, reading descriptions and comments, as well as carefully viewing index pages, we became immersed in the world of our selected vloggers. Because of this study’s theoretical framework, we viewed each site as a space of self–presentation. Self–presentation is a way to communicate with others in a controlled way, so that, ideally, an individual will convey a specific impression of herself. After our initial viewing of all of the sites, our analysis revealed commonalities between the sites, based on three general themes.

 

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Discursive themes

In our analysis three themes emerged — diaries, identity, and narcissism. These themes surfaced continuously in the examined vlogs through various modes of expression. Thematic redundancy was established by the frequency with which these themes emerged, but also through their centrality in each vlog.

Dear Diary — Take One

According to Lejeune and Lodewick (2001) a diary has four functions, which sometimes overlap. First, a diary is used to express oneself — to release and to communicate. A diary also permits its creator to reflect — to analyze oneself and to deliberate about one’s life in a “space and time protected from the pressures of life.” (Lejeune and Lodewick, 2001) A diary can be used to “freeze time”; to create a space to hold one’s memories and prevent them from being lost or forgotten. Lastly, it can be simply for the writer to “take pleasure in writing” and improve or experiment with her writing skills (Lejeune and Lodewick, 2001).

It became clear that one of the techniques used by vloggers is to create a vlog that feels like a personal diary. Vloggers attempt this by documenting details about their lives and thoughts that one might share in a diary. However, it also became clear that despite some vlogs’ intimacy, they were constructed presentations where a given vlogger’s “backstage” remains hidden.

A diary is a space to express, to reflect upon, to store, and to experiment with the self. Traditionally, it is a space that is private; ideally it is a person’s backstage where the self is freed from public performances (Goffman, 1959). The self is both “the mask the individual wears in social situations, but it is also the human being behind the mask who decides which mask to wear.” [15] In a diary an individual is free to wear a mask as well as to lift the mask to be purely one’s self.

Some diaries are written with the understanding that eventually they will be shared, like Augustine’s Confessions. In Book Ten, Augustine considers the question of how his readers will know if his “confession” is true or not, whether he is revealing his true self. Augustine concludes that it requires faith or “love” from his audience: “… the love in them believes me.” [16] It is up to the audience to decide what is true and what is not. In terms of vlogs, it seems that audiences prefer vlogs where vloggers play with their masks, making a given presentation seem true.

Of the ten video blogs in this study, often the ones that received the most responses (i.e., comments) from viewers and the most publicity were those that were fashioned like a diary. These vlogs appeared to use all four functions of a diary, giving the impression of revealing a specific vlogger’s true self.

Ryanedit is a dynamic vlog with a well–organized index page full of content including videos, text, comments, links to relevant Web sites, and an archive. The author is a professional video editor (Green, 2005). By co–authoring a book on vlogging and instituting various vlog education projects, she demonstrates a commitment to developing this medium. Links to other projects can be found on the index page. Despite her professional promotion of this medium, there is also a notable personal side. In mixing the professional and the personal this vlogger dons different masks in her videos. Two of the five videos on the index page, analyzed on 9 December 2006, revealed the vlogger’s personal side, while the content of the other three videos related to her professional life. These videos were posted side–by–side without particular emphasis on one or the other. Ryanedit did not appear to make an effort to separate her personal life from her professional vlogging life within the context of her vlog.

Part of what makes Ryanedit interesting is that the vlogger revealed private aspects of her life. After all, an audience is fascinated by these personal details, not necessarily for what they reveal about a given individual, but how these stories connect to their own lives (Miller, 2002). The 29 November 2006 post titled, “2 Years Videoblogging,” was a reminiscence of the vlogger’s time spent vlogging while calling her mother to wish her happy birthday. Another personal video, “Random Moment: Jay is sick,” occurred in India in the vlogger’s hostel when Jay, her partner, was in bed. Ryanedit operated the handheld camera as they discussed the cost of the room while taking the audience on a tour of the room. The couple then described the differences between Indian and Western toilets which led to a discussion of cultural differences between India and the West. These two videos seemed to act like a diary, providing opportunities for self–reflection and storing memories. Even one of the more professional videos, “Tech Conferences: Where Are The Women?,” posted on 9 November 2006, contemplated the lack of female speakers at technology conferences, which was, presumably, a personal issue for the vlogger. This funny video illustrated the lack of women at a particular conference. The vlogger appealed to her audience to take action. The video generated 24 comments as of 9 December 2006, many of which were reactions to this gender disparity.

Although it appeared as if the vlogger allowed her audience to peek into her “backstage”, much remained hidden. There was a conscious acknowledgement of the audience. The vlogger addressed the camera as if speaking to a friend or an audience. As long as this acknowledgement existed, the author’s backstage was securely hidden. Goffman’s (1959) backstage is where the performer, in interpersonal interaction, assumes no one is watching or judging and thus will cease performing. It may seem genuine to see the vlogger calling her mother, talking with her partner sick in bed, or criticizing a gender bias in her profession, but it is still a performance. One vlogger, quoted in Newsweek, affirmed this: “‘[it] is a style of performance, and you can’t forget that’” suggesting that successful vloggers must be entertaining performers (Kuchment, 2005).

Unlike in interpersonal interaction, vloggers are empowered with abilities to carefully control their images in filming and editing as well as in their descriptions. The vlog gives the impression that the vlogger removes her mask and invites an audience to interact with herself. One viewer commented on the “Random Moment” video noting the way the couple interacted naturally on film: “this is possibly the best example I’ve seen in a while of videoblogging as just talking, just a conversation, just communication. I really love that about this. I would have edited the crap outta myself. You just talked.” [17] One must remember that these videos are conceived, filmed, and edited before they are posted, leaving ample opportunity for a vlogger to protect herself with a mask. Although Augustine suggested that it is up to the audience to decide what is true, Goffman (1959) suggests that as long as the author has an audience in mind she is performing. While Ryanedit may serve the functions of a diary for the author — self–expression, reflection, memory storage, experimentation — it is difficult to believe she revealed her “backstage” in creating videos for specific audiences. This is not to suggest that Ryanedit is a lie. We merely suggest that it is a performance, much like we all perform every day, and not a “backstage” that a given audience expects.

Another vlog whose videos appear off the cuff, but are actually controlled performances is Amyville. Many of the videos, like on Ryanedit, appeared as if the vlogger is living her life and just happened to have a camera positioned to record various mundane events. The lighting often appeared to be natural at the time of shooting, and the camera was a handheld, sometimes resulting in shaky footage. The vlogger appeared to shoot in familiar locations. The overall tone of the vlog was light–hearted with a soundtrack that enhanced this atmosphere.

One humorous video on the index page revealed the author’s frustrations with her job — a familiar feeling for anyone. The video, “scuffed up”, was posted on 22 September 2006. It was not clear from the video exactly what her job title was, but the video took place in a car as the vlogger explained that she has been trying to remove a scuff mark from hip–hop singer Mary J. Blige’s white boot for a performance. Interspersed in the footage of the vlogger explaining the situation was text with sarcastic comments relating to the story. For example, the vlogger remarked that she had been trying to remove the scuff mark; the text noted “not really so much” ([Amyville author last name], 2006). Near the end of the video, she noted that “This is my job”, as if she cannot believe her job involves inane tasks like this ([Amyville author last name], 2006). This post feels like a diary entry one might write after a frustrating day at work as a kind of emotional release. Because of the unusual story told in the video and the humor used one may forget that it is a controlled performance. The vlogger revealed frustration with her job, but did not describe the exact nature of her job. Despite the video’s candor, much remains hidden.

A number of these vloggers use their sites to record memories, express themselves, reflect, and experiment with the medium; all functions of diaries. Whether they share their true “backstage” selves is debatable, but what is clear is that these vlogs are controlled presentations, constructed to seem like diaries.

Another way vloggers present themselves is to negotiate aspects of their respective identities. Negotiating identity is a process in and of itself. It can take the shape of a diary, but the two are not necessarily one and the same. Identity negotiation uses other forms of expression as well, such as poetry or dance.

I Vlog, Therefore I Am

By working to understand ourselves and our identities, we also attempt to understand society. The negotiation of identity can take shape in many forms — such as a diary or vlog. Irrespective of media, understanding identity is a process (Frith, 1996). Cyberspace offers a new space in which individuals can “reconstruct” identities and play with different personae or different features of their own identities [18]. In creating an online space, whether a Web site or a vlog, that “corresponds to one’s interests,” an identity can emerge [19] because specifically selected elements of oneself are represented. The purpose of working to understand one’s self is to “improve not only our own lives, but those of our families and society.” [20] Like a Web site, personal vlogs are online spaces where vloggers share information about themselves. Information provided on a site represents an identity that a vlogger wants to convey. Deciding which information to share with others is part of the identity process. Personal vloggers, whether presenting genuine selves or characters, are trying to understand themselves and society better. Identity and self–presentation are interrelated because a given presentation reflects a specific identity that a performer wants to display.

Josh Leo’s Vlog is a strong example of identity negotiation. A young man, in his mid– to late–twenties, maintains this vlog and many of his videos are light–hearted. The author explains his goal for the vlog in his “About Joshs Vlog” section where he writes, “My style has evolved to cover a wide variety of topics. However, the one common thread in all these videos is me. I make videos about what I find interesting, what I do, who I know, what I am passionate about, and what makes me me!” ([Josh Leo author last name], 2005). Although he may discuss other topics, everything relates to the author in some way — his self is the “common thread.”

Of the five primary videos examined for this study two are about interesting West Michigan sights. The video posted on 14 November 2006, titled, “The Fish Ladder,” features a ladder sculpture that helps salmon swim from Lake Michigan to a river. The author describes the ladder as a “functional civic sculpture” ([Josh Leo author last name], 2006b). He explains that because this spot is near Grand Rapids, people often stop by to fish on their way home from work or to bring children to watch the salmon. The video is not directly about the vlogger, but it illustrates how the vlogger is trying to understand his environment in Michigan.

The other Michigan–related video, posted on 9 November 2006, is titled, “Big Things.” The accompanying text description explains, “On a Michigan road trip, you can find some interesting BIG things!” ([Josh Leo author last name], 2006a). The video features a Hawaii–themed song along with clips of the scenery from the author’s car. He explains that he is on a long road trip to visit friends and his audience is along for the ride. Interspersed with on–the–road shots are stops where he investigates local sights. First he examines a statue of a large trout followed by a very large bottle of beer. Next is a brief interview with a woman working at a Sea Shell City store that is home to a 500 lb. clam. After the clam, there is a rock formation with a “big” view of the Great Lakes along with a statue of Paul Bunyan and his ox. Last stop on this tour is a giant snow gauge that measures snowfall in the area. This charming video demonstrates how the vlogger interprets his world, sharing with his audience his appreciation of his environs and experiences.

In addition to the Michigan videos, there is an intriguing video examining the view outside the vlogger’s apartment window on a snowy evening. While many of his other videos are light–hearted, this one is pensive. Dated 8 December 2006, the video is titled, “Out My Window.” The description reads, “I like to look out my front window on winter nights, this is what I see …” ([Josh Leo author last name], 2006c). This short video opens with a long shot of a dark room and a lighted city street outside the bay windows. In the room the audience can see the silhouette of a man by the windows. Then there is a montage of cars driving past on a snow–covered street, street lights, pedestrians, people clearing snow off their vehicles, barren trees, and fresh snow falling, accompanied by the soundtrack of a piano song. The video ends with a long shot inside the apartment and the silhouette of a man by the windows. The vlogger does not speak as he does in many of his other posts. Although the video looks outward to the scene below, it may also be interpreted as an inward reflection of the vlogger. Because the video opens and closes with a person (presumably the vlogger) looking out the window, the audience may think that the vlogger is contemplating the world outside, inviting his audience to do the same. This post is different from many of the others, but it illustrates the vlogger’s attention to his world and, possibly, his place within it.

Moreover, the fact that this December post is slower and more pensive than the others is significant. The audience experiences an emotional range reflecting the human experience. Identity negotiation is the process of understanding the self and one’s society. The audience sees this vlogger’s identity negotiation in the way he illustrates multiple emotions. He describes the overall theme of his vlog as an exploration of “what makes me me” ([Josh Leo author last name], 2005).

Another vlog that explores multiple aspects of the author’s life is Travelvlog. The author is a Canadian expatriate living in Prague. The full title is actually Travelvlog: Where the journey is the destination. This vlog began as an archive of videos shot during a trip to Tibet. However, on the index page are “chapters” documenting each step of the vlogger’s wedding day. There are nine chapters of the wedding, each showing a different step of the day, from the bride getting ready, to a hotel elevator ride downstairs, to boarding a helicopter on which they were wed overlooking New Zealand scenery. After this series is a video, titled, “L’il Angel,” showing the author’s newborn daughter. Although it was posted a few weeks after the study’s original data collection, it was included because of its relevance to this theme. The video is about 30 seconds long and simply shows a close–up of the vlogger’s daughter, wrapped in white blankets, drowsily blinking her eyes.

In just over a year and a half Travelvlog changed themes, becoming more personal by turning the camera on the vlogger’s family life. A wedding and the birth of a child are intimate moments, often reserved for close friends and family. Yet, this vlogger posted them online. Intimate videos like these stray from the vlog’s original travel theme, but can be interpreted as “journey of life” moments. The vlog’s sub–title, “Where the journey is the destination”, further supports this interpretation. Travelvlog has become a place for the vlogger to present and reflect on his own journey from being a bachelor and traveler to transforming into a husband and father. He negotiates his old and new identities on his vlog.

Both the Travelvlog and Josh Leo vloggers take an inward turn to reflect upon themselves in their worlds. These acts illustrate identity negotiation. Certainly, identity negotiation can happen in many ways, whether mediated or not mediated. These vlogs represent one way that their authors have elected to do this. Another way that vloggers utilize their sites is to indulge in a natural narcissistic tendency by centering their vlogs on themselves.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

A third thematic tendency in vlog self–presentation is enamorment with the self and its accomplishments, usually expressed through a narcissistic focus. This may be an intentional or an unintentional presentation, but the self–centeredness of many of these sites is hard to deny. Freud (1914) describes a narcissist as one who retreats from the external world and focuses on her own self, or ego. Personal vloggers generally talk about themselves, what interests or concerns them in their videos. This inward focus certainly satisfies a narcissistic desire.

Vloggers also construct their own image in different ways to help shape their experiences. This turn inward is narcissistic, though, for Freud (1914), narcissism is, to some degree, natural. Lasch (1979) suggests that the narcissist does not just focus on herself; she also needs attention from others, an audience. Some part of a vlogger’s motivation, however small, for creating and posting a video is to generate audience response, to make a human connection.

Narcissism functions as a conceptual framework. One way vloggers demonstrate narcissism is through self–promotion. When done in a personal, rather than professional, environment it comes off like self–centered bragging. Self–promotion is one self–presentation strategy a person may use when she wants to be perceived as talented, by discussing her skills and accomplishments (Jones, 1990). When used in combination with ingratiation, this interaction is likely to be more successful (Jones, 1990). In a business situation, self–promotion is understandable, but in a personal context it is a narcissistic indulgence. Although ingratiation (often through humor) is a common strategy among the vloggers in this study, self–promotion is frequently used.

The author of Taxiplasm posted a video on 17 November 2006 titled, “fraud (weekend premiere),” in which he illustrates an internal, artistic struggle. The author explains that the video took him longer than many others because of its “emotionally precarious nature” (Taxiplasm, 2006) and that he discovered things about himself personally and artistically while making it. In it he goes home (location unknown) to view a film on which he worked and he felt “un–needed” and “contingent.” The video opens with rapid shots of people waiting in line, possibly at a theater, and a traffic jam on a rural road. Soon a voice–over is heard, presumably the vlogger, articulating his insecurities, remarking, “Where am I going?,” “My accolades are obligatory,” “Am I a fraud?,” “I think I’m somebody else than I used to be,” and “I don’t know if my contributions are worthy” (Taxiplasm, 2006). Later the video cuts back and forth between black–and–white archival footage of a man in a blindfold and the author in a dark room looking at himself in a mirror with a flashlight and then it returns to the premiere where individuals continue to offer praise. In a way, it is like a personal diary entry in which the author expresses his personal and professional insecurities. Yet, it is also narcissistic in its intense focus on the vlogger’s personal battles with relationships, with his art, and with himself. Visually, the shots of a blindfolded man illustrate narcissism in that the man has nowhere to look but himself. These shots are juxtaposed with clips of the author in a dark room looking at himself in a mirror with a flashlight. The narcissistic nature of this video is exemplified by the vlogger’s focus on himself with a flashlight while a voice–over describes his personal and professional anxieties.There are several audiences treated in this video — one praising him within the video itself and the “external” vlog audience praising and encouraging him with comments.

A post from Amyville, entitled “narcissistv,” highlights this very “look at me” element of vlogs. This video consists of the vlogger in front of a camera in extreme closeup, lip–syncing the lyrics to a love song. The frame consists entirely of the vlogger’s face. This video forces the audience to watch the vlogger and only her. At the end the vlogger offers a kind of “wink–wink, nudge–nudge” to her audience when she turns the camera to show her computer and the way she produced the video. This movement is abrupt and jolts the audience out of the intensely narcissistic moment, letting them in on the joke.

This self–aware video is intentionally narcissistic, but it also shows off the author’s unique filming and editing skills. The author, like Josh Leo, makes herself likeable, so narcissistic self–promotion is easier to swallow because it is mixed with ingratiation’s “halo effect.” [21] Thus, for those that use their vlogs to self–promote, one might see this as narcissistic while another might see it a clever opportunity for that vlogger to showcase her skills advance her career.

Pure narcissism cannot sustain itself. In examining a few of the more established and active vlogs, vloggers may begin simply talking about their thoughts and feelings, but eventually will take on more complex topics. On Ryanedit, for example, though the vlogger discusses her own life and accomplishments, in later posts she also discusses larger issues like cultural differences, sexual harassment, and sustainable culture. A blog, of any kind, will probably experience difficulty in keeping an audience’s interest if it remains purely narcissistic. A vlogger must broaden her perspective to maintain the interest of a given audience. Yet it is also the personal that involves the audience in the act of shared emotional experiences. Vloggers in search of making connections with others are faced with the difficult task of balancing personal and social interests.

 

++++++++++

Summary

It is not easy to express oneself in any medium. Vlogging incorporates multiple platforms, making the medium more complex. But the complexity of a given set of tools has never stopped anyone from using them for self–expression. This study investigated vlogging as a new medium for self–presentation. Vlogs support self–presentation in multiple ways. Presentation of self occurs in interaction — individuals present themselves in specific ways based on the impressions they want to give (Goffman, 1959). Some vloggers present themselves as if their vlog were a personal diary, using the site to express or reflect on oneself, store memories, or experiment with video technology. However, they are not intimate because these videos are highly controlled presentations.

Vlogs enable self–presentation by facilitating an ongoing negotiation of identities, not necessarily in a diary–oriented way. Other vloggers present themselves, whether intentionally or not, in narcissistic ways through unwarranted self–promotion or self–absorption. Certainly this primary focus on the self gives rise to a narcissistic tone. Many of the vlogs in this study exhibit all of these themes throughout their sites.

Through various means of self–presentation, many vloggers share their lives, making personal video blogs fascinating gateways into individuals. Vloggers create and negotiate a self online as well as a shape a new and more rich kind of cyberspace.

Limitations

There are some noteworthy limiations to this analysis of video blogs. One limitation is the study’s small sample size, so the results cannot be generalized. This study is also limited in that there is little previous literature to support or dispute these findings. Vlogs, being a new medium, require more research from different perspectives, using diverse methods, and fresh interpretations in order to begin building a more comprehensive understanding of this communications tool.

Future directions

These limitations, however, offer ideas for future research, such as conducting a content analyses of vlogs, or comparisons of vlogs to blogs. Future research could focus on vlogs created by expatriate authors living in different cultures or countries, like VcF, Villagegirl, and Travelvlog. Additionally, it would be fascinating to analyze vlogs created in languages other than English.

One might explore vlogging from the perspective of digital natives, those for whom vlogging and other online activities are natural. It would be helpful to understand the planning process behind vlogs, storyboarding and other activities that lead to a certain tale being told online. Additional research could investigate the ways in which active vloggers incorporate digital video into their daily lives.

Vlogging provides many new research opportunities. This study investigated self–presentation on ten personal vlogs, finding that authors present themselves in a variety of ways including using the vlog for diary–like self–reflection, a medium for identity expression, and as a means to indulge in narcissism. This study offers an initial step in looking at a rapidly growing and changing medium. End of article

 

About the authors

Maggie Griffith is a Ph.D. candidate in the Communication Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the social uses of new media.

Zizi Papacharissi (PhD., University of Texas at Austin) is Professor and Head of the Communication Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the social and political uses of new(er) media.

 

Notes

1. Poster, 2002, p. 481.

2. Bruns and Jacobs, 2006, p. 7.

3. Katz and Rice, 2002, p. 317.

4. Burgess, 2006, pp. 211–212.

5. Turkle, 1995, p. 26.

6. Turkle, 2005, p. 132.

7. Jones, 1990, p. 185.

8. Dominick, 1999, p. 655.

9. Walker, 2000, p. 117.

10. Walker, 2000, p. 118.

11. Papacharissi, 2007, p. 35.

12. Papacharissi, 2007, p. 32.

13. Wood and Kroger, 2000, pp. 136–137.

14. See the Appendix for screen shots of each of the ten video blogs in this study.

15. Branaman, 1997, p. xlviii.

16. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Book 10, chapter 3; see http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confessions.txt, accessed 31 December 2009.

17. sic, killer b, 2006.

18. Turkle, 1995, p. 177.

19. Turkle, 1995, p. 258.

20. Turkle, 1995, p. 269.

21. Jones, 1990, p. 185.

 

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Appendix: Screen shots of each of vlog examined in this study.

 

Figure 1: Creatively Impulsive
Figure 1: Creatively Impulsive.

 

 

Figure 2: Docmaker on the Go
Figure 2: Docmaker on the Go.

 

 

Figure 3: Drinking with Bob
Figure 3: Drinking with Bob.

 

 

Figure 4: Josh Leo's Vlog
Figure 4: Josh Leo’s Vlog.

 

 

Figure 5: Ryanedit
Figure 5: Ryanedit.

 

 

Figure 6: Taxiplasm
Figure 6: Taxiplasm.

 

 

Figure 7: Travevlog
Figure 7: Travevlog.

 

 

Figure 8: Villagegirl Video Blog
Figure 8: Villagegirl’s Video Blog.

 

 

Figure 9: Viviendo con Fallas
Figure 9: Viviendo con Fallas.

 

 

Figure 10: Welcome to Amyville
Figure 10: Welcome to Amyville.

 

 


Editorial history

Paper received 24 November 2009; accepted 31 December 2009.


Creative Commons License
“Looking for you: An analysis of video blogs” by Maggie Griffith and Zizi Papacharissi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Looking for you: An analysis of video blogs
by Maggie Griffith and Zizi Papacharissi.
First Monday, Volume 15, Number 1 - 4 January 2010
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2769/2430





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