This weekend about 1,400 YouTubers will converge in Los Angeles and there won't be a single Novocained-up seven-year-old among them.
At VidCon 2010, participants will talk about a YouTube that is more than a repository of viral videos and clips from TV shows that will eventually be removed because of copyright infringement. The convention is for the comedians, musicians, humanitarians and vloggers (as well as the folks who watch them) whose original content has won them more than just 15 minutes of fame. Here are three:
Shawn Ahmed, 29, Toronto
What: Documentation of a development project
When an earthquake hit Haiti earlier this year, Shawn Ahmed saw millions of fellow Canadians donate money to various charities, but no one he knew actually learned where their money went.
He dropped out of his master's program at University of Notre Dame in 2007 to tear down the wall that separates donors of aid from recipients. His tool of choice was the video-sharing site. Through the one-man Uncultured Project, he has travelled to Bangladesh and Kenya to distribute supplies, start water projects and rebuild schools, all of which is possible through donations from his subscribers.
"The videos about poverty [from most charities]might only get 28 views, but someone interacting, talking about Britney Spears or what they did last weekend can get … a million views," he says.
It's that direct, intimate vlogging style he's adopted in his videos that has helped him nab far more views than the those produced by many international charities. He documents every dollar he spends and tells individuals what their money has bought, such as a water bottle or a bag of relief supplies for a family whose home was destroyed by a cyclone.
"It's not as infrastructurably scalable as a charity, but I've been able to do some pretty amazing things."
Molly Lewis, 20, Orange County, Calif.
What: Songs about life's eccentricities, performed on a ukulele
Molly Lewis was convinced of the power of YouTube in 2007 when a grainy video of her playing ukulele at a school talent show somehow found its way to singer Jonathan Coulton, one of her idols. He said he'd like to hear more.
Offline, Ms. Lewis is a college student in Seattle. She's managed to nab a few gigs in the past few years, but hasn't been too successful at selling her music. But on YouTube, she's a star whose low-tech videos have racked up almost 3.5 million views.
"I don't really have musical abilities that are good any place else than YouTube," Ms. Lewis says. "I don't really have the face for television and how would you pitch this to a record label? 'She writes songs about Wikipedia … and plays the ukulele and doesn't have a band.' "
The investment of time and money required to professionally produce a record, promote it and distribute it is prohibitive, she says. With her webcam, instrument and YouTube, she can stream her music into the homes of thousands at no cost with only a few minutes of work.
"I sell my MP3s on [bandcamp.com]but you can't foster discussion on a bandcamp page," she says. "Half the experience [of YouTube]is the comments. … It's not just mindless back-patting; they're paying attention."
Hank Green, 30, Missoula, Mont.
What: Video letters to his brother John
Environmental technology blogger Hank Green lives in Montana and his older brother, author John Green, lives in Indianapolis, Ind.
Somehow, when the brothers ceased all text-based communication with each other in 2007 with the goal of communicating in the form of video letters for a year, more people than just the two of them tuned in. Thousands more people.
The brothers Green continued the Brotherhood 2.0 project (now called vlogbrothers) after the year was up and now reach more than 285,000 YouTube subscribers.
They've debated the nutritional value of Peeps and dredged up childhood controversies (such as how poop managed to get into their shared Nintendo console), subjects that have inspired hundreds of thousands of comments from viewers. But they've also rallied their subscribers to donate thousands to charities and talk about pressing world issues.
"It's really amazing to be able to sit there and have created something an hour beforehand and then watch the responses that you get," Hank Green says.
The raw, personal connections that stem from those videos wouldn't be possible using old media, he says.
"When you're on the Internet you don't expect for there to be all these layers ahead of you. it's harder to suspend your disbelief and say that person is an actor. It's why vlogging works on a computer but does not work at all when you're sitting on a couch."