Is YouTube a future “hub for national discourse”?

Online video has the potential to be social video:

Hurley’s launch comes as his prior startup YouTube itself becomes more collaborative under owner Google. YouTube this past fall opened a 41,000-square foot studio in a former Los Angeles aircraft hangar, where amateur video producers can work with one another and use professional-grade equipment. YouTube is also working to make its comment section more socially sophisticated, with more real names and higher-quality feedback.

Design software company Autodesk, meanwhile, placed a $60 million bet on social video last summer when it acquired mobile video startup Socialcam. And Amazon has roughly 45 projects in the pipeline at Amazon Studios, its 2-year-old effort at crowdsourced interactive filmmaking.

That’s not to say that every rising online video brand has bet on social. Netflix and Hulu, for example, have both invested heavily in polished, Hollywood-style content and offer only a minimal set of social features. Viddy, a Los Angeles-area startup, has struggled in its efforts to fuse content from mass media stars like Justin Bieber with social platforms like Facebook.

But with each passing year YouTube looks like a more crucial hub for national discourse — seedbed for potent political appeals, the hinge of effective Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, and fodder for much of the sharing that goes on within networks like Facebook and BuzzFeed. And there’s both poetry and logic in the notion that Hurley, having helped democratize television with YouTube, is now trying to turn the medium into a truly two-way affair.

This is a big claim: YouTube as a “crucial hub for national discourse”? Videos do indeed become part of conversations today and there is potential here to make money but I question how often these videos lead to social or political action. What happened to Kony 2012? How about that recent video about wealth inequality in the United States? How many good conversations are had in comment sections of YouTube videos? In other words, I think there is a long way to go here.

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