Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube
YouTube is a public video-sharing website where people can experience varying degrees of engagement with videos, ranging from casual viewing to sharing videos in order to maintain social relationships. Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by manipulating physical and interpretive access to their videos. The analysis reveals how circulating and sharing videos reflects different social relationships among youth. It also identifies varying degrees of "publicness" in video sharing. Some participants exhibited "publicly private" behavior, in which video makers' identities were revealed, but content was relatively private because it was not widely accessed. In contrast, "privately public" behavior involved sharing widely accessible content with many viewers, while limiting access to detailed information about video producers' identities.
As social network sites (SNS) gain users and visibility, a wide range of websites have adopted SNS features (boyd & Ellison, this issue). YouTube began as a video sharing platform, but it also offers users a personal profile page—which YouTube calls a "channel page"—and enables "friending." Research on SNSs has shown that the meanings of social network site practices and features differ across sites and individuals (boyd, 2006). This article explores how YouTube users employ the technical and social affordances of the site to calibrate access to their videos by members of their social circle. Specifically, it examines how video sharing can support social networks by facilitating socialization among dispersed friends. An important goal of the article is to document how youth and young adults use YouTube's video sharing and commenting features to project identities that affiliate with particular social groups. The analysis also evaluates to what extent YouTube's video sharing practices are conducted in public view (versus as private video exchanges) and how these choices reflect different kinds of social relationships. For example, how does sharing videos with certain friends but not others reflect different kinds of friendships? More generally, how do young people maintain and delineate distinct social networks through public video sharing?