For the last month I’ve been taking photos of a Banksy piece. Here you can see how it evolves over time.


I wrote a post for Tubefilter about the online video economy today. In the article I argue that YouTube has demolished the video CPM to become little more than a social media content platform, and it’s not the right stage for other types of content, like Breaking Bad for example.

What if Breaking Bad – a TV original – was released on YouTube? Do you think it would have become as impactful and influential to mainstream culture, or as big of a monetary success story? I don’t. Not at all. Check out the article to read more, it’s been getting great reviews: Click here to Read.

George Bush on 9/11 Video

Being in NYC, on most years, Rocketboom has done something to commemorate the 9/11 attacks.

On September 11th, 2007, we uploaded a video of George Bush being told that a second plane had hit the second World Trade Center tower.

You might of seen a segment before, there is slow-mo version that is typically shown. In time, this one has gone on to gain over 700,000 views and is notable for the amount of comments it has received, over 4000. Almost every day, we receive a comment on this video.

Personally, this video has become a big part of my consciousness for I receive an email in real time for every comment on every video we have ever posted to YouTube and thus get to hear people’s ongoing remarks about this daily.

Now twelve years later, and six years after uploading it, I decided to present an overview of what I think people are saying about it. I think it is interesting from several perspectives, but mostly from the perspective of psychology and how humans deal with large scale challenges like this.

From the standpoint of an entrepreneur who is forging new ground to someone who is running a city or even one of the most powerful countries in the world, you have to wonder, as we do, is this person right for the job?

I grabbed up the comments and put them through various text analysis tools and here’s what I came up with. I’m not sure there is any revelation here, or answers in particular. It is simply an interesting topic to consider, maybe a good question for someone who you are interviewing for a position. “What would you have done in that situation?”

CONTEXT

Bush was visiting young children in a school at the time. At one minute into the video, you can see the moment where an agent enters in, whispers into Bush’s ear that a second plane had hit the second tower, and then the following 4 minutes of raw, unedited footage giving you a chance to consider his reaction to the news.


THE REACTION

The undisputed #1 question here is, what WAS Bush thinking? I know what I was thinking. I happened to be tuned into the live news with a friend that day from Austin, Texas, and we watched live as the second plane crashed into the second tower. It only took me about 2 seconds to realize that this was defiantly not an accident anymore.

One recent commenter (and one responder) to the video had this to say:

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It’s an interesting psychological question. Psychology is a pretty muddy study, but this question of what would you do under pressure if you were the leader of a country is the kind of question people want answered when interviewing you for the job of running a country. What would you do if your country or business was attacked? Can you handle the stress? Can you organize and take action? Can you lead?

First off, here is a word cloud of all of the comments:

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Notice anything patterns? You can break this down in other more interesting ways. Here is a tree layout:

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I followed several lines, for example, ‘Bush was in shock’:

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Here is a Phase Net cloud:

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Granted this is one set of comments, on video, on YouTube, on Rocketboom’s account so the sample is not the best for general purposes. Here is an overview of just the last 30 days:

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Essentially there are two primary directions people wanted to go with this:

1. A large number of people used this as evidence to support the possible idea that Bush ‘knew’ and had something to do with it. To clarify, these people are suggesting Bush didn’t react because he anticipated the news and that the whisper in his ear was just a confirmation in his mind that everything happened according to plan. It is a pretty tired theory but appears to remain alive and active, somewhat like the JFK conspiracies remain alive today.

2. While some suggested he was just shocked, an even larger number suggested that he did not react in order to be kind to the children and not cause alarm, and that this was the extent of it. Though as many commentators to the video countered, Bush could have politely and calmly left the room without the need to explain why, thus rushing off to lead a crisis while not alarming the children.

Fewer comments suggested other theories: He did not understand the implications; he was waiting for instructions from someone because he didnt know what to do; he was in fact thinking about what to do and used the opportunity to think about his plans in the background.

You have to admit, it is odd that he sat for so many critical minutes just thinking. What would the other presidents have done?

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A Refutation To Jason Calacanis’ Critique Of YouTube or, Why YouTube is Not A Bad Deal For Creators

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In response to I ain’t gonna work on YouTube’s farm no more, I am in the same camp as Jason with an ultimate goal of owning and controlling as much of my own company as possible. But I think Jason is in a different position as a venture capitalist or investor when he rejects YouTube funding than the typical creator who is not a venture capitalist.

OPTIONS

From the non-venture capitalist standpoint, there are three blaring options that I would like to note for context:

1. You can build your own and if it is good and you get it out there properly, they will come (i.e. you don’t need investment if you can launch a great show and integrate into YouTube on your own, e.g.) The ad revenue is enough for hit shows to maintain themselves, and grow. From there, you can parlay a strategy beyond YT, if you would like. For people who are talented and ambitious, it is becoming easier and easier to do this. Quite frankly, this is the promise of internet video. This is the disruption that happened when you no longer needed to “get a Hollywood deal” by a major studio in order to find a distribution avenue for your work. And YouTube currently offers the best plug-in-play revenue, free bandwidth and international accessibility without the need to take a YouTube grant, or investment.

2. You can take investment from an angel investor or VC, someone like Jason himself who invests in companies as his main source of income. [*Update: Jason just emailed me the following fact-check: “I’ve never been a VC and my primary source of income is as a founder (inside.com). I do angel invest and have a small angel fund. That’s 5% of my time/5 investments a year”] There are some incredible benefits to VC, most of which can come from meeting other talented people in business who can help you grow your business.

3. You can take a YouTube grant with the type of terms that have been going around, where YouTube takes ~45% of ad rev until they recoup their investment. It’s likely there are various versions of the grant, but the typical idea is that YouTube will invest $X and then go to work to generate buzz and revenue for the content, with the hypothesis that if people like the show, everything else will be in place and the show will thrive. Once YouTube recoups their cash investment, the creator is free again.

PERSPECTIVE

There are different reasons and different times to consider these options (or others). For almost everyone, the best option is number one – a natural hit – and doesn’t really need much discussing here. You have a well received show on YT that you built on your own and you are getting the best deal that YT has to offer (good or bad), but you are also nimble. As a hit show, you are able to generate enough from YT ad rev to work on it full-time, keep it growing, and to some degree, expand on your business by launching new shows. In this case, you can keep focusing on your growth at YouTube, for now, because that’s where almost anyone in the world can watch you on almost any device, freely and easily, and where practically all of the money in internet video is, for now [FWIW, you can not get your internet show listed on iTunes unless its under the almost-impossible-to-discover-freebe-podcasting section, but if the world changes, or something better comes along, you can still be ready.] In this case, you are growing revenue (perhaps modestly if that is the main complaint), and you are growing your audience and your brand, expanding on your primary work, while actually focusing on the main activity of your product, as opposed to say, business development.

The second option, taking VC or angel investment from someone like Jason who put a call out for YouTubers to join him, is probably the worst option for most YT creators. People who successfully take investment from good investors tend to be, or want to be, entrepreneurs who are ready to spend full-time growing their business, thinking about hiring and charts, perhaps even spending more time on biz dev than as a creator. It’s hard to write and produce your best work while meeting over revenue numbers and assuring you meet the benchmarks laid out by your investors – or else!  Also, a VC is usually not going to care what you perform, but rather, how you perform, as a business person. But perhaps most importantly for the sake of this discussion, VC typically provides a limited amount of ramp-up time for your scale to occur, at which time, if it doesn’t, you may be forced to stop.

Finally then, with regards to the YouTube grant, for the creator, there is really not a single good reason that I can think of NOT to take a grant from YouTube right now, even if you have the money yourself to go alone. For almost anyone, this option should increase cash flow thereby allowing more growth and more profit. Being part of the focus and hope in YouTube’s eyes does in fact bring a lot of extra value to the creator, whereby YouTube is acting a lot like a VC would act in getting the inside deals to happen for their startups. Perhaps Jason is frustrated that YouTube is not giving him enough attention, but the reality is that most VC’s will give you much less attention and provide much less direct support.

There is another reason why it makes a lot more sense to consider a grant over VC at this time. As noted above, the YT grant is not a “forever” kind of thing and there is no date at which the show explodes and must die or be liquidated. It’s a lot like a bank loan that the bank goes out to try and recoup but that you don’t have to pay back if it fails.

DIVERSIFICATION

Jason is making a very important point that is worth reiterating, even though his point is not mutually exclusive and does not require one to abandon YouTube: Don’t bet your business on YouTube. I think that is what he is saying, though its a sentiment ruled seemingly by the breakdown of his negotiations with YouTube over his grant terms. Instead, the better message, I think, is don’t bet your business on YouTube, only. But again, why abandon YouTube instead of collaborate with it? If the goal is to cause an exodus away from YouTube in order to cause a break down of the platform, so be it, but the most successful creators will side-step their way into the next best thing when that arrives, without throwing away everything that they have built up of now for a principle.

BEYOND YOUTUBE

In order to make the leap beyond YouTube, there are a couple of obvious routes to try: 1. create a popular destination where you can sell directly to your audience without a middle person, and 2. create additional products perhaps related to, but not video. For example, expand your makeup show into a line of makeup products, or expand on your radical cooking show to a line of bacon.

At Rocketboom, I was able to use YouTube’s free platform to expand my main show into a spin-off called Know Your Meme which first became well received on YouTube. As a result, I decided to invest more resources into building up the destination site, http://knowyourmeme.com, which was first built up by our YouTube audience, but went on to become bigger than our YouTube audience. It was then that I was able to set up internal ad sales and grow a separate business. And all of that non-YouTube action was none of YouTube’s business, through meanwhile, I continued to generate revenue from YouTube as well.

Eventually, the non-YouTube Know Your Meme platform became not only larger, but more valuable than the show because of the large number of users who were participating. As an important side-note, having a large audience on YT and moving them off of YT is not an easy thing to do and is not very valuable compared to growing an actual platform where users can contribute to the growth. I found a VC that had agreed to invest in Know Your Meme, LLC due to its large, active community, and in my opinion, that would of been a good time, e.g., for a YouTuber like myself, who is also an entrepreneur (in-training), to take VC (I also was approached by a couple of buyers so I decided to sell). [*In the name of transparency, I should also note that Rocketboom was the in the first batch of creators to ever obtain a grant, before the grants were announced publicly].

So, regardless of YT grants, why do you need to poo poo on YouTube? Why not co-evolve? If Jason can come up with a strong competitor platform, great, I’m all for that. Perhaps he can suggest an alternative to Facebook and Twitter that would allow us to leave them behind without cutting ourselves off from so much potential audience, too. Let a decentralized web return. We need some competition to increase value and break down these exclusive grant deals that ultimately recreate the old school TV economy of the haves and have nots.

Over the past week, we have been hiring editors and auditioning new hosts at our studio in Chelsea and FYI, most people in professional production still think Vimeo is the better platform for professional work, and that YouTube is just for cat clips. As you can imagine, everyone has a different perspective, but the reality is, YouTube offers a good platform and a good deal for creators, something that is fair and can be worked with in symphony with efforts outside of YouTube.

There will be a handful of shows that go on to create HBO and even Disney-sized network brands with or without YouTube. In the long run, those will be rare because talent is rare.

The History of Know Your Meme

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I thought I would do a little history of Know Your Meme because there isn’t a good one out there. I had written one up before on the Know Your Meme website, but it got deleted.

In the Fall of 2007, Know Your Meme started one day in a moment.

At the time, Joanne Colan was the anchor of Rocketboom, I was selecting the content, writing the scripts and producing the show, Joe Bonacci was editing, Kenyatta Cheese was organizing company operations (the editing department in particular), Jamie Wilkinson was operating dev and Elspeth Rountree was administrative assistant. It was an awesome time because we all loved what we were doing and everyone was sincere. 

Not that it matters, but for a bit of context, I was in complete control of any creative or business decision as I had hired everyone, Rocketboom was 100% my investment, 100% my LLC and there was no board. This would never change and I eventually formed and owned 100% of Know Your Meme, LLC which I sold to Cheezburger outright last year.

Anyway! One day in early August 2007, Kenyatta and I were deeply involved in discussing Rocketboom’s video content. It was a formal meeting with just the two of us and we were discussing creative ideas for topics and writing. With the exception of Joanne at times, no one else at the company discussed production concepts. I wrote all the scripts at home myself without consulting with anyone at the office so whenever I could tap people for ideas, I would do it. Kenyatta was always my first go-to when looking for extra script ideas.

Having noticed that some of the “segments” I had been doing were working, I wanted to find some more segments to do inside of the Rocketboom show. A segment happens in the middle of a news episode where it suddenly breaks into a reoccurring theme that is predictable and formulaic, but then breaks out and back into the normal episode. From a writing standpoint, it’s a crutch to lean on when time is running out and you need to deliver a script. From the audience perspective, it’s a welcome return to something familiar. From a business standpoint, it’s a great way to spin off a new show.

Since pretty much every other word out of our mouths those days was “meme”, Kenyatta turned to me and blurted out “Know Your Meme!”, and then proceeded to provide context for the history of “Know Your _[fill in the blank]____”, especially with regards to World War II propaganda. For me, it seemed like it would be a perfect mechanism to explicate memes. As we were developing the idea further, Kenyatta also brought up the idea of the white lab coat and by this point, boom, I added it to my list of script segment ideas.

On September 4th, I surprised Kenyatta by telling him I had written a Know Your Meme segment into a Rocketboom episode. Joanne was wearing a white lab coat, I directed and shot, and Joe edited. At the time, Kenyatta was focused on shaping up the editing department and took over the edit from Joe at the end of the night, and then I directed it to completion.

Below is a section of the script I wrote from that day along with direction for a graphic intro, the first ever mention of “Know Your Meme”:

Hello and good Tuesday September 4th, 2007. Im Joanne and this is Rocketboom. Its great to be back. Lets get right to the news.

———

[v/o http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww in context of YouTube site, zooming in slowly on number of views, then http://www.youtube.com/browse?s=mp&t=a&c=0&l=&e=en_US&p=2 then for predecessors, show http://www.youtube.com/browse?s=mp&t=a&c=0&l=&e=en_US&p=1 ]

Miss Teen USA video on YouTube reaches 12million hits in one week, quickly working its way into the most viewed you tube videos of all time. As far as we know, this may be the quickest any video has shot up this high. Predecessors took many months to accomplish what Miss Teen USA has in just a few days.

———

Why has this video become so popular? 

———

[Play “Know Your Meme” intro, just like “Word Play” intro to april 12th, 2007 [see 15sec in] use images of Numnuma, lolcats, ipod, tay zon day, xmas tree lights, dance 1:12sec in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSoVKUVOnfQ , ok go http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI , guitar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjA5faZF1A8 ]

——- 

[v/o Play video of miss teen in the middle of the video [show in context on the youtube site] then start up v/o after about 8 seconds]

This type of meme falls under the category of what we call “Natural Parody”. Not only does this video represent a strong, melodramatic portrayal of the poor state of the US educational system, 

——

this video is for real!

——

[resume video of Teen USA but this time on Dotsub]

 and we all share the feeling that the reality of the melodrama portrayed here is quote, REALLY BIG

———-

[play know your meme intro to end segment]

—————

Taking things one step further,

———

[v/o http://www.memeorandum.com/070903/p16#a070903p16 ]

behind, George Bush was in Iraq yesterday on a surprise visit to convince troops that they not only needed to be there, but that we need to keep them there and find some more people to join them.

As I mentioned, for me, Know Your Meme was all about explicating memes and establishing a vocabulary. You can see that even in the first segment, there was an air of presumption that this was not actually the first segment, in the way it assumes the audience already knows the vocabulary and the scene.

Something else had occurred to me as well. Rocketboom needed a place to aggregate these explicated memes and our audience might contribute. While there were a number of other comprehensive sites that would collect the source videos for memes, there wasn’t a good site out there for documenting the whys and wherefores. And a lot of memes were not video based. To me, this was always the most exciting aspect of Know Your Meme. Once you understand how content goes viral, by studying IRL case examples, that knowledge becomes powerful and valuable. So that night while the episode was being edited, I decided to install a Know Your Meme wiki onto rocketboom.com envisioning a ‘wikipedia for memes’, so to speak, but one that our audience at Rocketboom would understand enough to kick into gear. One that cited sources that Wikipedia would not consider authoritative. One that was completely and utterly free and open. I used to write on my blog and speak at conferences a lot about the power of collaborating with wikis. I then put up a few meme terms on the wiki and wrote up a few pages for starters and linked to the wiki from that day’s episode on Rocketboom.

The segment felt right, the wiki got a bit of action and so I decided to write another one. On September 16th, I wrote a Leave Britney Spears Alone reaction video segment and Joe edited. Bonus cameo by Steve Garfield that day.

[joanne throws iphone]

Steve? Steve are you there? Damit! [throws iphone again] And now ladies and gentlemen, Spiders, bots and lolcats, its time again for anther installment of…

——-

[play know your meme intro]

———

Making its way onto the pop charts by Piggybacking [flash text below “PiggyBack Meme”] critique against Britney Spears MTV return performance,

———

[v/o leave britney alone video]

this gentleman has made his way into the #8 spot on YouTube for Most Discussed video of all time with over 1300 video responses and over 9 thousand comments. The video uses techniques of absurdity and sympathy in way that seem real enough to actually be absurd and sympathetic.

And then Christmas was coming on. Kenyatta and I had several meetings to discuss content for the upcoming Christmas holiday. I was *completely* exhausted because I had not had a single vacation for literally 3 full years so the plan was to pre-program two weeks of content and have everyone take a break at once. Since I knew in order to accomplish this I would need to write 10 scripts, I went right to my crutch when the idea dawned on me that the Know Your Meme segments are ready for the next step, to become full-blown episodes and that it would be relatively easy (and a lot of fun) to do and so that’s what I decided I would do.

So Kenyatta spoke to Joanne to get her up to speed about it and on November 21st, Kenyatta informed the rest of the crew of what we were doing in order to seek input on which memes to cover because we knew everyone at the office would have big opinions on this. Ellie’s first contribution to Know Your Meme suggested we look at other videos of people talking about the year in memes to get some ideas. Jamie sent us all a link to a playlist of videos he had been collecting on YouTube.

I took everyone’s suggestions for which memes to cover, decided on the list, got Kenyatta’s feedback and then started cracking on the writing. 

Though we had just now asked Jamie and Ellie to name some memes they liked, at this point, Jamie and Ellie were still not involved or really aware of what was going on with the creative or the production for Rocketboom or Know Your Meme and were not a part of production meetings or discussions. Jamie and Ellie actually didn’t even watch the episodes sometimes which was an outspoken point of contention for Kenyatta (and myself at times) but ultimately, I just saw it as a sign that we needed to make the show better.

Though some people might assume that Ellie and Jamie are also co-creators, or co-founders of Know Your Meme, and while both would go on to contribute significantly to Know Your Meme, by the time they entered the conversation, Know Your Meme had already established a name, a style, costumes and props, a theme, intro graphics, a wiki site, produced segments, a plan for ten episodes and a purchased domain name. Jamie and Ellie didn’t call themselves creators or founders while they were at the company (I might of even thrown these terms around loosely at times without thinking much of it), it’s just that the press calls them founders and creators for some reason. Kenyatta, Greg, Joe and Joanne didn’t call themselves founders or creators either. But Kenyatta was in fact a co-creator of Know Your Meme as you can see due to his critical contributions. Without Kenyatta, there would be no Know Your Meme.

At the end of November, when it started to look like Joanne might be out sick during the critical shoot period, Kenyatta suggested Ellie and Jamie be on camera. I thought that was a good idea and suggested Kenyatta be on camera too. I was nagged to be on as well and even got my own embroidered lab coat but I’ve *never* wanted to be on camera [protip: There is one KYM episode I am in but no one outside of our group has discovered it yet] 

As I mentioned, though Jamie and Ellie had not been involved in any way in the production process at Rocketboom before, it was an obviously good idea to try having them as on-camera “meme experts” or “scientists” to fill in for Joanne and everyone agreed to lend a hand, despite the crunch we were all under to get our other work done.

After I realized it would be impossible to get all of the scripts done alone, especially while continuing to write scripts for the daily show and acting as CEO, etc. etc., Kenyatta got Ellie and Jamie to pitch in with some script writing. This is the initial list of memes I decided on, and Kenyatta sent it out to the group to pick:

KnowYourMeme Ideas

RickRoll (include Tay Zonday and Family Guy versions)

Soulja Boy

Tay Zonday/Chocolate Rain

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0 (The Digg Revolt)

LOLCats (interview with Anil?)

Dramatic Chipmunk

I like turtles!

TechnoViking

Walk It Out

Homemade Music Videos/Commercials (Daft Punk, Flagpole Sitta, iPod Touch)

Don’t Tase Me Bro

General Groupings/Topics

Commercial Memes (Gorilla Drummer, etc)

Gross out/Shock Vids

Reaction Vids

I wrote the first full length script to help act as a guide for the others. The first ever episode of Know Your Meme then was about Tay Zonday (as a musician myself I was a big fan), starring Joanne:

[intro graphics]

———-

[Joanne standing with clipboard?]

Ta Zonday.

——-

[short graphic intro continue]

——

Otherwise known as Adam Nyere Bahner, Tay Zonday came into fame overnight on You-Tube with his own video hit single, Chocolate Rain.

——

[play some video of Chocolate Rain]

——

The question for us follows, why did this video hit count go insane?

——

[v/o tay on connan obrian]

After watching the audience reactions on National TV only to be followed by an abrupt finale – notice how they just turned off his piano as he was looking away and came out to stop him as if it were already over – one may still wonder,

—-

Why? Why even experts at Encloypedia Dramatica have not considered this question and in our research around the internet, we were unable to find any theories as to WHY this video became popular. Lets have a look,

———transition edit with a wavy dream-like edit——-

[v/o scientists standing over Joanne while she is looking at the video, point to it and they all exchange ideas and opinions about the video. At first everyone stares at video for 10 seconds just watching (to p/u enough roll) / interchange this with asset from chocolate rain.]

Think back to the first time you experienced the Tay Zonday video. He had such a young, childish face and his voice was just so… low. Many of us stopped to ask, “Is that really that guy’s voice? How could he go so low? Is it even physically possible?

——

And so we got sucked in.

——-

[v/o all scientists hard at work, maybe all lined up in a row working at computers or maybe with clipboards, etc, lots of action and commotion or completely still at work on the computer]

We analyzed the video for authenticity, fidelity, uniformity, viscosity –  we tested the lip to audio sync propensity at variable bit rates as well as searched for inconstancies in interpolation and interlacing.

——

The video is real. [passionately->] Yet it was the question – the investigation itself – which led so many to look more closely. And thats when, Bingo! – level two sinks in.

——

[v/o original vid]

As Tay Zonday looks away to take a breath, he suddenly takes himself out of the video at hand and puts himself into our shoes. It happens, in a way, teasing us even further into searching for the authenticity of the video because we know now that even HE is questioning his own authority symbolically.

————

[v/o scientists agreeing that its all good]

Supporting the environmental predisposition for natural memage, by the time we concluded that the video was authentic… and that the low voice in the recording was true… we were already hooked. Its a one chord, repetitious stuck-in-your-head sensation.

———

If it was an accident, we may never know, but after many follow up successes,

——-

[v/o yt videos and dp commercial]

including more on YT as well as TV appearances and now for a new DP,

——-

[checking off clip board]

This is no one hit wonder, this is a true talent that made its way naturally through the system, a true value of internet meme quality. Forever a part of the year 2007.

And on December 15th, I took everyone’s submissions and began to revamp the complete lot of scripts. I sent them to Kenyatta and Joe that day to get started on the edits (Michael Clays was also editing).

Here are the scripts for the meme episodes. Currently, the info is all there and I wanted to send it over to you now before it got any later, but this is a terrible representation of the overall vision for each episode as well as the whole thing. So today/tonight I will draft up a complete, beggining-to-end, detailed script of everything, including directions for assets, etc for each script, order for episodes, etc. Im available to discuss anything anytime today so feel free to call, I can clarify anything you need to know in the meantime.

The next day I sent the updated notes and the episodes turned out to be a great success and everyone got a nice break. 

By the end of the holiday, however, the wiki at http://knowyourmeme.com had turned into a real battlefield. I dreamed of a wiki that could remain open and had left the registration settings such that anyone could come in anonymously to create new meme entries and update old ones. I thought somehow removing the barrier to entry would work, like the Open Constitution Wiki, but it didn’t. Every time I turned around, someone would deface the wiki just to have fun and mess it up. I constantly had to go in and revert content and then soon, I added a login feature. As you can imagine, that was a weak fence.

Many months later, this is where Jamie came in strong. Though Jamie began to appear in some more episodes, his best contribution IMO was eventually building out a new Know Your Meme wiki styled database from scratch. This was also the first project that Jamie was able to run with and develop significant amounts on his own without the need to have me direct.  We continued to use my wiki for about a year until we finally released the new Know Your Meme site. Greg Leuch was also critical to the buildout. As the lead designer of the site, Greg should get a lot more credit than he has ever gotten in the press for his input and his ability to design in code.

As the site began to take shape on the backend, Chris Menning who also never gets enough credit was in charge of populating articles. I had hired Chris as my first assistant writer for Rocketboom and assigned him to help write entries for the database. We had a tumultuous relationship because I was so controlling and demanding over the writing but Chris endured, grew and grew and continues to do a great service to internet culture. 

Establishing the right academic voice for the meme entries was crucial. Not too long ago there was some confusion over who wrote the “first database entries”. Though Jamie’s name is stamped on them, it’s because he was the one who set up the database and thus was the first user that everything went under. Chris was actually the one that wrote the bulk of the first articles based on what we could salvage from the best entires we had written on the wiki, and anew. The voice of the articles was critical because this is what would guide others when creating their own articles. I insisted it be extra academic along the lines of the episodes while Chris injected many crucial style elements as well.

Over the next year, Kenyatta would slowly take over the production of the Know Your Meme show and the others would slowly begin to collaborate more on scripts. I still maintained control over the topics and would write many scripts, taking them all in to finalize, along with signing-off on each edit, but saw Kenyatta as my way out and on to running Magma. I’ll never forget the day (over a year later) I announced to the team that I was handing over creative control of the Know Your Meme video production to Kenyatta. That meant Kenyatta would no longer need my sign-off on anything from ideas to publishing. This had never happened at Rocketboom before with any department (and hasn’t happened again since).

Eventually, I decided I would name Kenyatta CEO of Know Your Meme but he abandoned it short of that time. Since I had mostly handed off Know Your Meme by the end of 2010, it left me with quite a load on my shoulders suddenly, along with Rocketboom. After fixing the operations and training a new team, so that it remained tuned for just a fraction of the cost, I was solicited by Cheezburger and sold last year.

Though I no longer participate much there, I still love Know Your Meme and I’m glad it’s able to keep doing its thing. The current staff of KYM which I hired, organized and negotiated employment for at Cheezburger has my heart for pulling together and stepping up to the plate to help keep Know Your Meme alive and looking good. 

When I was in the process of selling and trying to assess it’s long term value, I wondered if it would one day fade. Of course Cheezburger could effect it in any way they want, but IMO, all things being equal, it will continue to remain an important resource for years to come, perhaps following a steady and enduring upward path, much like the incline seen over the past decade for the wonderful Urban Dictionary.

From everything I’ve learned, the best advice I can give to anyone at this point is simply to study how memes happen. Once you do, your voice will be become empowered.

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* Image Credits: Top: Know Your Meme; A picture of an IRL cut-out diorama made by Brad Kim. Bottom: Urlesque; Myself with the Know Your Meme team from the first ever Hollowmeme party put on by Rocketboom & AOL, October 2009.

What Feedback on YouTube Can Do

You know, one of the most energizing and motivating parts of publishing video on YouTube is the instant feedback. It’s a special kind of feedback that goes beyond what you typically experience on other platforms.

On those occasions when you know you did your best work, and then notice the positive energy and feedback around your work increases, it drives you to keep doing what you do best.

And when the world gets in your way and in your own mind your work is not the very best, and the feedback comes with criticism, it drives you to do your best.

Consequently, between the positive affirmation for the things you think you did well and the criticism for the things you were unaware of, growth and fulfillment happens.

Rocketboom Approaches 10 Year Anniversary


Rocketboom just entered it’s 9th year. Wow. Rocketboom is indisputably the longest running online video show in the world. I’ll wait another year or two to do the big review. The quick update for today:

For most of Rocketboom’s life there was no market to support it. And to this day, I’ve still never taken investment. So I had to go out and invent my own deals and always worried about food and shelter for the company (and myself). You can track this on my blog here and in the archives at http://dembot.net I made the best of it. Today, there is an incredible online video industry that is established and successfully on it’s way upwards. It took me awhile to adjust once it arrived, and to figure out how to transition from doing my own thing to participating in the new YouTube economy, e.g., but I’m figuring that out now while focusing on the product with my time.

Me? Well, I used to never say the word “product”, even though that’s prob my strong suit here. I had to become a businessman for Rocketboom and came to see the world this way sometimes. I was the last person on Earth to run a business the day Rocketboom started. But I figured a few things out, mostly right here in public. I’ve had some great moments and some really terrible ones too.

At heart, I’m driven by the process of innovation. Rocketboom was part of an innovative movement early on that actively demonstrated freedom from broadcast restrictions — freedom for the moving image. This one key factor is what drove me. Know Your Meme iterated on that process. Magma is another step in this movement. My latest effort with Humanwire, which has taken literally years to build upon, will, I hope, be seen as yet another iteration on what can be done with the medium, when the imagination becomes free. It’s a powerful medium to take hold of, way beyond just news and entertainment. 

For those who have been around, you know that contrary to hoarding the spotlight when I’ve had it, I have made it my primary mission all of these years to inspire others to jump in and join the online video revolution. Rocketboom played a big part in inspiring many shows and people along the way, especially for those who have worked at Rocketboom and gone on to do similar work elsewhere.

At it’s peak size about two years ago, Rocketboom had 15 full-time employees, 10+ contractors, and I was spending between $60k and $80k a month, but the revenue being generated was still almost entirely special one-off sponsorship deals and it was difficult and very stressful to sustain. We were doing it, but it was a ruff lifestyle. The main Rocketboom show had sprouted into a network of shows including Rocketboom Daily, Humanwire, Rocketboom Tech, Rocketboom NYC and Know Your Meme. We were also running essentially three web community platforms to support these shows, Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma. Know Your Meme had become one of the top 2000 sites with an enormous active community.

I’ll never forget the day I was talking with a venture capitalist in December of 2010. I was standing there going through everything we were doing and he stopped me right in mid-sentence with a statement that wasn’t even a question. “How are you running three businesses?”, he said. And like I mentioned, it wasn’t a question. But the reason why I remember this so well is because I was so prepared for that exact reaction and had my answer: “That’s why I need investment.” That was my solution to the situation I was in and I think investment at that time would of been just about the right time. My company had ballooned in size and spending but the market was finally coming to life so there was no longer a need to “wait for the market” or invent one, it had finally come down to simple, real world projections for plugging in. Had I taken investment earlier, Rocketboom would have been dead several times over for having come too soon on that front, but this seemed like the right moment.

Yet somehow, my company had become internally sick. Other online video companies were suddenly growing faster with less stress while becoming more nimble and efficient it seemed. My business had become slow and bureaucratic. We had become the enemy. Internal politics, office drama and in general, too much stress. Salaries and spending were too high to sustain. I was becoming less engaged with Rocketboom and KYM as they had become established as platforms and was trying to transition to focusing on Magma, all of which was simply too much to do under the circumstances, and too soon. I got all of these works up and running but when it came time to operating them, and keeping them running, the market was not there for it, and I made the mistake of not being engaged enough in the day-to-day operations to see what Rocketboom had become. 

I made a pretty big decision around that time because just as he did say he would like to invest in one of the companies, Know Your Meme, I got another offer to sell Know Your Meme. Do I take the investment? Or do I sell? It was a tuff decision but the answer was pretty clear for me. I was not actually ready for the investment. My company was not a healthy company. The market was ready for me, but I was not ready for the market. Dramatic changes needed to be made. I needed to take what I had learned over the last decade online and start over.

CHANGES

Within the first 6 months of 2011, I sold Know Your Meme, put the Rocketboom Tech show on hiatus (the sponsorship with Intel had just completed at the end of 2010), phased out the NYC show, worked on the backend partnerships only for the Humaniwre show and all together slashed and burned the place all the way back to where I started in 2004.

From an organizational/resources perspective, the most recent iteration of Rocketboom content involves only two people. Myself and one contractor, Keghan. I’ve had no other contractors, no employees, no office and no overhead since re-releasing the show with Keghan as the anchor exactly six months ago. I have written, directed, produced, edited and published every episode myself. I needed to put everything else aside and get back to the art of the show, at it’s core. I’m not so great at doing *everything*, of course. My production skills are lacking. My writing is what it is. I’m still learning Final Cut Pro. I simply can’t compete alone with a team of many. But now that I am refreshed on what it takes compared to what it took me alone years ago when I first established Rocketboom, and by contrast to what Rocketboom had become when it was overly bloated at its peak size, I feel I’m in a good position to re-scale the now tiny audience (esp. relative to the audience we had with 6 shows and a large staff) and to rescale the business and production methods more efficiently in the process.

For starters, I just brought the two best writers Rocketboom ever had back on board along two new editors, under a new workflow that will start to come to life in the upcoming weeks. Slowly, slowly. With Humanwire on the way, I will soon have a new story director/producer. And I plan to spend some serious midnight oil myself in the upcoming months integrating Magma into Rocketboom as the basis for building on the Rocketboom community. I’ll be keeping my eyes set on developing revenue via YouTube for now (which means I can focus on developing the shows). Our old youtube subscribers have been flushed out and the audience, rebooted. It’s a pretty calm and quiet birthday this year, less of a time for celebrating and more of a time for pondering the mere fact that Rocketboom still exists.

There are always haters, but a lot of people really love the show still. We have thousands of episodes that continue to be seen and comented on everyday. It’s turning into a pretty exciting time in terms of the business proposition of Rocketboom. Without having to race to be first (something that was so important to me in 2004), a slow and steady, sustainable build is in order.

Again Im reminded of the “format” for Rocketboom which seems to still work. Rocketboom happened at just the right time way back when, and in a strange turn of events, appears to be happening anew at just the right time again. If nothing else, let this be one example of a wake-up call to independent publishers who have a dream. We’ve been doing it with just two people for the last several months. Some do it with just one. In terms of building an audience, we are just at the beginning again. Clearly if I can do it so easily, you can. The window of opportunity is still very much wide open.

Welcome Keghan Hurst

You may have been wondering where Rocketboom has been for the last several months. The wilderness? Sitting around selling stamps? Nope. Looking for Keghan.

You would think a grand search through the depths of YouTube would lead you to the talent you are looking for pretty easily, wouldn’t you? You might even think that having access to Hollywood agents, or subscription platforms like Backstage might help, right? Well YOU WOULD BE WRONG!!

If you have ever enjoyed Rocketboom in the past, you know that we put it all into talent and I can tell you with all certainty, talent is very rare. So rare. We find ourselves going to all ends of the Earth to find it. For example, we’ve gone as far as obtaining America’s first international O-1 work visa for an Internet TV show and then went on to secure one a second time. We’ve also been known to pay the highest salaries in our field – whatever it takes. If you have ever met anyone who has worked at Rocketboom, on-camera or off, I’m sure you will agree, without a doubt, they are talented. 

Over the last several months we have been winding down all of our client work (something that started to pick up a couple of years ago but ultimately became too distracting for sucking out all of our time and creative energy). We also ran a show for the amazing PBS Parents channel online (it won an award a few months ago) and alot of past Rocketboomers have gone on to work with PBS on some really cool projects.

Another program we have been working on is Humanwire. Humanwire has been on Rocketboom for years and years but over the last 6 months we have grown our correspondent base to 130 vetted video journalists around the world, all on standby and producing assignments. It’s just a sign-up page now, but Humanwire has officially spun out of Rocketboom (in a similar way in which Know Your Meme spun out of Rocketboom) launching with three episodes per week with the expecatation of growing to as many as 10 per week by the end of the year. It’s not exactly a secret who we have partnered up with for this project, though I’ll leave it up to our formal press releases soon as the new show will launch on May 14th.

Late last October, just as Rocketboom was about to carry on with the next iteration of the daily news show – literally days from release – I decided it just wasn’t good enough, scrapped everything and started over. From scratch. 

Which leads us to Keghan. After a harsh, depressing and very long and drawn-out search, about a month ago, there she appeared – the needle in the haystack we were looking for – and the rest, as they say, is history. Keghan moved from Los Angeles to NYC just last week and today, I can surely say, Keghan is going to take Rocketboom to the next level with her larger-than-life, smart-as-a-whip personality.

I think it is amazing that people still enjoy Rocketboom, almost now in it’s 9th year. My only explanation is that we have hit upon a format that continues to work, much like the night show format which continues on pretty much unchanged after decades (Guy stands at front of stage with hand in pocket for intro monologue with jokes of the day, then sits at desk with coffee mug and index cards being silly. Camera expands to guest-star in chair stage right of desk. Throw to band. Interview another star. Repeat.) The format is there, though it takes an extraordinarily rare kind of talent to turn it on, and make it brilliant. Please welcome aboard Keghan!