G20, YouTube And The Three Phases of Amateur Video

On a day the police have come under fire from Parliament for their handling of G20 summit protests, are we witnessing another step-change in citizen reporting?

According to a post on YouTube’s own blog, uploads from mobile phones to the video sharing site jumped 1,700% in the last six months. More staggering, uploads have increased 400% a day since the release of Apple’s iPhone 3Gs. 400%?!

Authors Dwipal Desai and Mia Quagliarello say the growth is due to three things:

new video-enabled phones on the market, improvements to the upload flow when you post a video to YouTube from your phone, and a new feature on YouTube that allows your videos to be quickly and effortlessly shared through your social networks.

Well, we can all agree on the first.

Amateur video as eye-witness has been around since before the VHS handheld, of course, but  the ubiquity of video-enabled mobile phones changed the maths – more tools in the hands of more potential eye-witnesses.

Boxing Day 2004 was arguably the last time the camcorder dominated the mobile phone: the dramatic footage of the Indian Ocean Tsunami was largely filmed on the former.

From there we entered phase two, events ranging from the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London to post-election Iran via the Sichuan earthquake have all been caught on mobile phones.

April’s G20 Summit in London was a notable example, given footage passed on to the Guardian sparked an investigation into the death of non-protestor, Ian Tomlinson. It’s equally worth noting, footage from ITN added a missing piece to that jigsaw.

Notwithstanding the professional contribution, would the Home Affairs Select Committee have launched their investigation without the mountain of amateur footage?

So we’re now in the early stages of phase three where a combination of smart phones and smart web-apps (not just YouTube but Audioboo and co), have meant a dramatic improvement in ease of use and speed of transmission.

We still haven’t reached critical mass – dumb phones still dominate their smarter cousins – but that’s only a matter of time. As Clay Shirky said recently: “Tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”

So once we all stop wetting ourselves over the Apple iPhone, things will get really interesting.

(Hat tip: Digital Stats)

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