Evolutionary Biology: Movies are Slow Humans. YouTube are Fast Guppies.

When Wired claims YouTube is the world’s best film school available, I would agree, but suggest they’re actually thinking too narrowly in their explanation. Writer David Pierce steps us through what he calls “YouTube Film School,” a loosely organized community of content on the platform which unpacks and analyzes the craft. Pierce believes “the best channels are the ones that teach film as an art form, that help you understand why a particular cut or camera move makes you feel the way it does.” And while there is a tremendous amount of YouTube content supplying technical analysis, critique and breakdowns, to focus on these videos alone ignores the most wonderfully disruptive aspect of YouTube: the 100x faster cycles of content creation over traditional media.


Compare the evolutionary cycles of humans versus guppies. Humans evolve v e r y  s l o w l y, while guppies can experience rapid evolution, seeing meaningful change in just several cycles. Let’s stretch this comparison to movies versus YouTube. Innovation in movies travels slowly because of production constraints: expensive, long development time periods, delays before public release. We think about cinematic influence in generational  timeframes – Scorsese was influenced by Citizen Kane and Tarantino was influenced by Scorsese!

Now the guppies – YouTube videos. Any new trend in YouTube content will be discussed, mimicked, iterated, improved and remixed over just days or weeks. It’s much closer to the “view source” era of website creation than it is to film. During my time at the company I was consistently amazed by how quickly formats would spread and, mostly, how willing the creators were to share their tips and techniques.

In some ways you can think about these differences impacting design principles for systems depending on the outcome you want to bias towards. Systems which have evolutionary friction, prevent easy cut/copy/paste, restrict creation to a small group of individuals – these are likely to be more static and predictable but produce a certain type of complex work. On the other hand, if you support remixing, sustain longtail content and foster collaboration, your system will be more chaotic but also evolve faster and more broadly. Professionally I spent my operating years in the latter (Second Life, AdSense, YouTube) and *loved* the creator population we supported.