The Other Use, Part Five


Part One is here.

Yesterday was about using software for The Other Use.  Now to conclude the series by discussing what on Earth happened to YouTube.

YouTube was initially meant to be grassroots TV.  It was offered as an alternative to broadcast, cable, and everything else that was already swamped in corporate ownership.  In the spirit of the Internet, YouTube was supposed to be By The People, For The People.  It was meant to make it easier for ordinary people to share videos with one another.  However, YouTube has succumbed to some of the same pitfalls as regular TV.

While YouTube still fulfills its primary purpose, its most popular videos are the Lowest Common Denominator.  That’s fine, but it’s worth taking note of.  Even if you can use YouTube for whatever you want, regardless of what’s popular, please note that the videos with the most views are successful for the same reasons that regular TV is successful.

One, many of the top videos ARE professional productions.  People upload TV and movies*, whereas YouTube was initially meant only to host user-generated content.  Some professional TV, film, and music companies have decided to head users off at the pass by uploading their content themselves.  Again, that’s fine, if YouTube has limitless virtual “space,” but lets remember that VEVO music videos have their place already on MTV and Much Music.  If there was a limited amount of space,** then we’d have a problem.
Two, many of the top videos are only popular because the thumbnail depicts either an attractive young woman in a low-cut shirt, or a guy about to fall off his bicycle, or a distressed teenager who anonymous trolls can easily harass in the comments.  Humanity, this one is your fault.

I’m not saying that everything By The People, For The People must be pure and good.  However, YouTube was created and adapted with high hopes.  We have a platform for speaking to the world, and yet local independent news, well-informed rants, tutorials, indie performances, and general messages of positivity are not getting the attention they deserve – especially when compared with Dude Falls Off Bike.  The content is there; the audience is not.  My guess is that we are rather scattered when it comes to intellectual interests but there is always the chance that people will rubberneck when some poor guy goes pavement-surfing.

So, is YouTube being purposefully Used For The Other Use?  It has certainly carved out a niche for itself in modern culture.  It was never intended to be a broadcaster for professionally made TV, and yet, because many young people cannot afford TV sets and/or cable subscriptions, YouTube has filled that accidental niche as well.  YouTube was meant to be a conveyance of user-created content.  It is perhaps a little sad that the only UCC that goes viral are cute pet videos or people trolling Chocolate Rain and the Star Wars Kid.  One would hope that such a powerful tool would be used for teaching one another how to do things, or informing one another of political events around the world, or sharing opinions and debating them in a mature fashion.  If you dig around, that stuff is in there, but it’s not really getting the attention it should.

Maybe this has something to do with humans’ shared shallowness and division when it comes to deeper and more interesting topics.***  Maybe there is something going on with Page Rank since Google bought YouTube in 2006.  I don’t know.  In any case, YouTube is an interesting example of what happens when you offer Everything to Everyone and let Everyone control it.

That concludes my exploration of things that have been Used For The Other Use, but please, keep your eyes open for other situations where it happens.  When things are used differently than how their creator intended, that opens up a new set of possibilities, and possibly indicates where the next trend is going to happen.

Remember that, despite what we set out to create or experience, there is always something we cannot anticipate.  Whether people are purposefully building something new or just messing around, there is a lot to gain when we step back and realize that the tools we have at hand can be used for more than one purpose.  Using something for The Other Use does not imply fickle audiences or shortsighted creators.  It’s a purely good thing that we look for alternate ways to use and enjoy what we have.  After all, if ancient apes hadn’t experimented with The Other Use of bones and sticks, we might all still be living in trees.  Which is a bummer, because it’s hard to charge an iPhone up there.

*They’re not supposed to, but they do.
**and, please keep in mind, there IS a limited amount of possible audience share.
***There’s that issue of audience share again.

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The Other Use, Part Four


Yesterday, I talked about websites that have been changed by their users.  Today, I’m going to talk about software that was used for The Other Use and thus led to whole other properties.

No, I’m not talking about Linux.

I’m talking about software and games that have been stripped for parts and rebuilt into something new.  Personal story time.  When I was a kid, I had access to very few computer programs.  There was Kidpics, a kid-oriented digital imaging program that was loaded with clip-art and sound effects; there was Creatures, a sort of glorified Tamagotchi-like game; and Powerpoint.  One day, I was messing around with the computer and found that you could access the “behind the scenes” of various programs by going through the directory in which they were saved and opening the files instead of launching the software.  Long story short, I used the images and sounds from Kidpics and Creatures and the rudimentary “hyperlinking” found in Powerpoint and I made an RPG.  I didn’t realize I was kitbashing at the time.  In fact, I had the attitude that I was doing something menial by foraging for parts.  Looking back, however, I daresay it was rather inventive.

Anyway, let’s go to a more recent and dignified example: Hetaoni.*  There was a Japanese horror game called “Ao Oni.”  Soon enough, fans of the anime “Axis Powers Hetalia” descended upon it and recreated a Hetalia version thereof.  Since then, there have been adaptations and translations springing up all over the world.  Sprites have been adapted and readapted.  Everything from Flash to RPG Maker has been used.  Backgrounds, settings, and items have been made, shared, remade, and shared again.  I can’t even tell you how many permutations of this game exist right now, but they all came from taking an existing game and combining it with an existing anime.  If you ever want to do an in-depth study on creative fandom, may I suggest using a Hetaoni group as one of your case studies.

What’s more, Hetaoni has led to a whole other side of Hetalia fandom.  Due to the dark nature of the game, especially when compared with the anime’s irreverence and frivolity, many Hetalia fans don’t care to partake in Hetaoni.  Oh, but those who do…

There is Hetaoni fanfic, cosplay, fanart, AMVs, MADs… Again, this is all from a fanmade (and fan-remade) game.  The original creators of “Ao Oni” never saw this coming.

And so, using things For The Other Use can lead to whole new products.  Tomorrow, I will wrap up this series by discussing what happens when YouTube is used for The Other Use.

*I am not involved in any incarnation of Hetaoni.

The Other Use, Part Three


Yesterday, I talked about fun stuff that comes from games but isn’t gaming.  Today, we drop games entirely and talk about websites and online communities.

Let’s start with Twitter.  The original purpose of Twitter was for people to document and broadcast their itineraries.  Remember the days of “What are you doing?”  You were actually just supposed to tweet about what you’re doing.  If you signed up for Twitter between 2006 and 2009, you may have seen a video explaining that Twitter was initially meant as a way for people to check in with each other and keep in touch.  What is Twitter now?

Twitter is *deep breath* a Short Messaging System, a communication system for asking questions and conducting polls, a place for people to rant and complain, a networking device, a virtual culture centre, an advice forum, a job board, an image gallery, a news aggregation site, a platform to tell jokes, and a means to promote one’s business.  Did I miss anything?

Because people can fave and RT tweets, Twitter offers a way to gage popularity.  In an economy where many creative people must be freelancers and keeping up with the trends is paramount, this is quite useful.  Because tweets are kept to 140 characters or less, we can absorb many tweets quickly and easily.  Due to linking, we discover new websites and blogs, and due to the inclusion of images, we’ve moved to a more visual form of communication*.  Then there are the people who make fake accounts to entertain or educate their fellow Twitterati.  From Lord_Voldemort7 to KimKierkegaardashian, some Twitter users have combined performance, roleplaying, and social media.

Then there are hashtags.  What began as a form of tagging to facilitate web searches grew into parenthetical commentary and competitions to see who can get their favourite topic to trend.

All this evolved from “What are you doing?”

Which, you might note, was later changed to “What’s happening?” and ultimately “<compose new tweet>” because Twitter staff knew that people were going to use it for just about anything.

Let’s look at another site that’s evolved quite a bit since its inception: deviantART.  It began as a place for artists to display their art and communicate with one another.  Even though deviantART has updated and adapted its features quite a bit, it’s mostly been the users who have led the changes.

For example, when you make an account, you can upload an avatar.  When commenting, you can include a link to someone else’s account, as represented by their avatar.  Users got creative and found a way to incorporate extra images in their comments.  Although deviantART officially offers users a set of emoticons, some people went ahead and created several accounts for the sole purpose of having more images to use in comments.  These are generally empty accounts with avatars featuring popular characters doing various facial expressions.  Because they often contain the word “plz,” such as :iconblushplz: (which features the anime onionhead blushing), they became known as plz accounts.

Some plz accounts come in a series which are to be used together.  Sometimes, there are 4 or 9 plz accounts in the series, meant to be aligned in a square to create a larger image.  Other times, they are a continuous line (like llamas holding hands) or a long adjustable image (such as longcat or a decorative ribbon).  Non-premium members use these to decorate their journals.  Subscribed members have access to decorative journal skins, but due to plz accounts, all members can improvise decorations.

There are also plz accounts that feature commonly used words (such as “THIS,” when agreeing enthusiastically with another commenter) or Internet memes (such as “Do Not Want”).  While plz-accounts are still only created by users, there is another user-borne trend that the staff have made official.

DeviantART offers groups; organized collections of art and affiliated artists brought together by a particular fandom, art style, or country.  Before groups were an official feature, they were created on the fly by users.  A user would create a new account, declare it a group, and use the “watch” function** to keep track of members.  Group members’ art would be either uploaded to the group account or “faved” and displayed in the group’s Favourites gallery.  After several years of this, deviantART made groups official by offering a special kind of account that’s meant to be run as a group.  The mod(s) of the group can access the group account through their own user account.  This is a case of the users actually amending the purpose and features of the site.

This is just two examples of web-based communities that have been changed by their users’ creativity.  There is still more that has been changed by using things For The Other Use.  More on that tomorrow.

*At least we have done so on Twitter.  A picture is worth 1000 words, which is much more than 140 characters.
**which is like Twitter’s “follow” function