Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A note about this blog

This blog gives a record of my micro-ethnographic research project on the documentary by Simon Shama - Mark Rothko.

The posts offer a time line of the activity. The tabs above, entitled 'Rizome' and 'Alloy' are my observations from a digital cultures perspective.

I also created a digital artifact in Thinglink

This task is not complete but in view of the time schedule it offers a first glimpse of what I felt was an exciting activity.

Monday, 4 March 2013


Some online communities may be too task-orientated (and therefore not 'social' enough) or might not stimulate sufficient interaction to develop 'group-specific'meanings, or they might be too divided and divisive to coalesce' (Baym 1998)

The question remains though if YouTube technology is promoting a disjunctive, disparate trend or if it reflects  our 21st century world, rooted in a contemporary zeitgeist of integration vs dis-integration, a constant dialectic that is driving us along towards 'progress'.

How does YouTube make money?

The online platform is driven by a business model.

Why can many individuals upload the same documentary and thus support a rhizomatic structure which is nurturing various 'gesellschaften' (Bell): In Schama's case there are many opinions, represented by the postings of many. The heterogeneity of the group promotes the underlying product-driven consumption. Here we have a documentary, produced by the BBC, enjoyed by a male audience in the US, Canada, and UK, aged between 34-64.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

YouTube community

'Thanks for being part of the YouTube community and for shaping what the site is today. We're looking forward to celebrating our fifth anniversary throughout the year and hope you'll keep watching, keep uploading, keep sharing, keep informing, keep entertaining, and keep discovering the world through video.'

Chad Hurley, Co-Founder & CEO, YouTube

If we take the YouTube vision, we are considering the platform that of an imagined community, a community characterised by detraditionalization, driven by innovation, disembedding time and place, surging towards a globalisation of experiences. (Bell)

Final part 7

This final part seems to receive a final push in comments, 188 in total, recent comments a month ago, with a number of interactions and the size of the comments larger than a few off the cuff remarks.

The increased volume of postings has an effect on the search-ability of the comments that were made 4 years ago, making them less visible, accessible. This results in a skewed view: old comments lost, no longer influencing opinion.

3 commentators in particular are engaging is a conversation, both under what I am assuming are real names. The discussion is not a pleasant one, has aggressive undertones, to some extent relating to the appreciating of Rothko. There is a frankness about it, no hiding behind fake names. Commentators now have an extended profile, Google/YouTube integrating online behaviour into directions that previously were far more private.


I started to look at the idea of creating an digital artifact. As posted in 'my other blog' I feel this is very rhizomatic. All the Schama documentary uploads (3 in total, an Italian version, and a number of edited versions) seem to literally sprout over time within the YouTube fertile environment, creating offshoots.

I thought it was apt to choose this image a background, bamboo being a rhizome too.

lack of community? part 6

At long last, one  commentator gives feedback on the disparate feel of these comments, over time, in place and on the subject.

The challenge of finding a common thread is obvious.

more discussions

part 5 continues along the same style as part 4, with the bulk of comments focusing on the implications of Rothko's work, reflecting on Schama's voice-over comments (the Seagram commission)

Most of the postings date back to between 1 and 2 years ago, although the most recent one was 4 months ago. Only 25 comments are noted. Top comments here were made 3 and 2 years ago.

Following all the comments from part 1 onward, direct exchange (i.e. in reply) is between 2 commentators, never in group. Posts may be the result though of reflective readings in general, but due to the time separation, it is not always clear how communication is affected. The nature of YouTube would make it difficult to have group discussion, unless viewers would actively engage at the same time.

Interestingly in this part, 2 commentators do not use pseudonyms.

Google/Youtube offers a personal profile on individuals, with a viewing profile of other YouTube uploads.


part 4 is offering some discussions and exchange on art history and even the weather. In this section of the programme, there seems a real exchange on views and opinions on Rothko.
Commentators seems to connect and offer opinion, mainly on the paintings. Discussions can be grouped over a period of time: some a year ago, another set 2 years ago.
Introductions between commentators include comments about the weather and location, informal chat, usually displayed when people meet in a more personal or synchronous setting.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


The asynchronous nature of the YouTube platform promotes some of the discontinuity: it is unlikely that comments made over a period of several years still resonate with the originator. What YouTube activates is the aggregation of these comments at anyone time, archiving as a historic artifact.

Opinion is not measured today but as a timeline.


As my investigation deepens and I research the next part of Schama's documentary, a feeling of dis-connecting, dis-engaging, dis-locating comes to my mind.

Increasingly, the YouTube community for this sample, impresses me as an incidental group of individuals.

Comments are a random mix of expressing political views, views about the actors used in the documentary, comments made by Schama, and on occasion Rothko, the artist, and Rothko, the Russian immigrant.

risky discussion

Part 2 of the Simon Schama documentary has, in my opinion a racist undertone. A few commentators highlight the Jewishness of both Rothko and Schama. Some of posts have been removed.

The tone of the post conversations matches in part Schama's reflection on the socioeconomic, political and racist conditions in Russia - Rothko emigrated when he was a boy.

In total 59 comments were made for this post, however some of the posts are repeated several times in the listings (technical error?)  and it is not always clear who is commenting on what.

Here how the community guidelines are applied is a fine balance between offensive remarks and the freedom of expression.

Many posts are characterised by heightened reflexivity, self-scrutiny and self-consciousness

person not found

person not found

Looking at the building of a community, YouTube cannot avoid people choosing an exit route.

I came across a conversation which I decided to further investigate. Clicking on the individual link, got me the page not found message, clicking back got me at the top of the conversation queue. Another example of fine disorientation

Friday, 1 March 2013


An alloy is a mixture of chemical elements, which forms an impure substance that has the characteristics of a metal. Alloys are made by mixing two or more elements; at least one of which being a metal. This is usually called the primary metal or the base metal, and the name of this metal may also be the name of the alloy. The other constituents may or may not be metals but, when mixed with the molten base, they will be soluble, dissolving into the mixture.

I was playing with the idea of using the idea of alloy as a metaphor for describing YouTube activity.

Thursday, 28 February 2013


YouTube is painful when trying to read comments that are a number of 'pages ago'... that could be anything in terms of real time, depending on popularity, i.e. if dozens or hundreds, thousands are posted.

Trying to scroll back is agony. If a a commentator is posting more than a few, and perhaps the comments are attractive, the temptation is to click on the individual's profile to find out more... You might be awarded with a profile of what other interests this viewer has and, if you are really brave, you could send a message.
But if you decide to go back to your original position, you are lost, back at the top of the queue...This can be frustrating.

It is like visiting someone's house, knocking on the door, you look back to see the street view, you turn around again to say 'hi' to the person you were about to meet, but you find yourself back at the very top of the road....

YouTube community

The page is clear and concise. It talks about guidelines for the community, as well as as 'YouTube is for the community.'
I wonder if this is the issue: it is 'for' the community.

Where the community is being created is perhaps on other platforms, through 'share':

In that sense, YouTube is an affordance in the building of communities on other internet platforms.
A Google blog like this one, can integrate videos, and offer the building of a community. But this is not a YouTube community

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Thumbs up/down

You Tube offers commentators the chance to like or  dislike an upload (video), separately from any of the comments made. Comments liked most get listed at the top.

The underlying analytics give some idea of demographics and where the video is popular.
For the first time I can get a sense of who and where, a vague community reference.

AA: Aspiringly Anonymous

It is almost a rule not to have a name on display. Pseudonyms reign and offer little information on the intention of the individual with regards to art or any other form of art association.

The impression is of casual, accidental visit although some viewers must have a certain reason for accessing the YouTube upload. However, their intentions are not clear.

There are moments where the environment of the frame feels like a public space, a street, a square, with individuals crossing randomly.


The first post appears with a spam notice.

BBC Tate

I wonder if the positioning of these videos, part of a news bulletin affects how we perceive the images.
Both have depictions of the gallery space. There is a sharp factual voice-over and the surrounding textual information makes the viewing almost detached form its aesthetic context, i.e. the Tate.

The Tate however, looks impressive.

I posted this here to illustrate the contrast with the Schama documentary. Both give a glimpse of the same gallery space, the Tate. Increasingly we can visit the same gallery spaces in different YouTube setting. Could it be that our online behaviour when visiting these spaces is being refined, sensitised, heightened? This is a question I would like to revisit later.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

are you talking to me?

A number of comments indicate a conversation: one makes a statement on Rothko's power, the other asks to elaborate but there is no reply
Some comments get a thumbs up. All comments were made around 4 months ago.

video reponses

There are  video responses to part 1 of the documentary

one of the videos, posted recently, is entitled

mark rothko and jean michel basquiat at uni freiburg   

it allegedly shows a 'real life' painting of a Rothko, hanging in a corridor, near the cleaning lady's office, some where in Germany. It is odd, and in stark contrast to the sacred space that was discussed by Schama. The second painting shown is an original by Basquiat. The uploader of the clip has posted 960 in total, ZEMDOKU

the post has received 33 views, and 3 comments

a second video response is a video, accompanied by an Italian song entitled, 

ARTE PITTURA - Yellow le Origini dell'Universo - Alessandro Giorgetti

video responses can receive likes and comments.This one has received 799 views

there is very little reference other than the colour scheme that matches a Rothko painting.

a third response refers to the music of Beethoven,used in the Schama programme. The comments do not relate to the Rothko programme and I doubt if any of the commentators actually watched the Schama doumentary.

One arts community seems to have little to do with the other arts community.

hashtag communities

Monday, 25 February 2013

Simon Schama's Power of Art - Rothko, part 1 of 7

The documentary was added in 7 parts, in September 2008.
Part 1 has 278 responses (replies) and 2 video responses

Top comments received 8 likes and were posted 1 year ago. The most recent one was a week ago.
The top comment reflects on the quality of Simon Schama
a second top comment reflects on the music used in the documentary. The question relates to the composer and someone replies it is by Beethoven

Both top comments are about the sound: Schama as a commentator, the music that accompanies to images.

Comments are then listed chronologically:

  • comment about the use of bad grammar in another comment (correcting the language)
  • a comment about a comment, which has been removed: This comment has received too many negative votes
  • a comment concerning the looks of Simon Schama (John Lennon look-alike?)
  • two comments follow, criticizing the artist, the commentators expressing their dislike of the work, although they offer an appreciation of Simon Schama
  • This is followed by a few of comments expressing adoration for Rothko.
Interestingly YouTube gives both likes and dislikes to an upload, in this case Like      Dislike 14

a measure which allows for an instantaneous   impression.

A video entitled

Rothko's Evolution - Alessandro Giorgetti (Italy Art Abstract)  

 is uploaded by ART GIORGETTI· and other than the title has very little to do with Schama's programme.

From the website Artfinder

Mark Rothko wanted you to be totally immersed in his works, so the best way to view his paintings in person is to stand right up against them, so you can’t see beyond the canvas. This way you will be completely submerged in the feeling he is trying to generate. As an Abstract Expressionist, he sought to induce a particular feeling by paying rigorous attention to formal properties such as colour, shape, balance, depth, composition and scale. In this work he applied the paint in thin layers to add luminosity and reduce depth, and made the canvas vast in scale to have that all-encompassing, meditative effect.

How does Google work?

let's get started... more than one video

In the first instance I will have a look at YouTube again, to find out if there have been any updates on the search results.

I have now come across the posting of the BBC Rothko programme by a few others:
davidwebb091370 who has split the programme in 4 parts and uploaded this in July 2011, 3 years after the first uploader, naughtycopycat. (uploaded in 2008)
A third one was also discovered, uploaded byinternationalDocs who provided the whole doc (59 mins) and was added in December 2012. This is in addition to ArtHistoryLuv who uploaded the same programme in January 2013, also the whole documentary.

Question: why does anyone want to add these programmes that are already available?

This already brings an interesting fragmentation of the experience. Accessing the documentary is driven by the search engine in You Tube (native) or from outside the site, determined by other parameters.

The viewer arrives at the doorstep of the BBC, how one enters is determined by technology, not necessarily human decision making

Note: I subsequently discovered an Italian version as well as other fragments of the same documentary.