New Criticals

No such clarity exists in the production of views, the definition of which varies from month-to-month, platform-to-platform, and, on YouTube, view-to-view. For a video with less than 301 views, the platform simply counts the number of times the video has been loaded. After 301 views, this mode of counting changes and the platform begins to count only views that lasts roughly 30 seconds or more. Thus, the definition and value of a view appears significantly less settled and subject to frequent change – more like the position of an electron than a car. This should comes as no surprise to scholars of audience measurement systems, but the stakes change dramatically when we consider this not as a form of organizational sense-making, but as a measure of labor output.

Put differently, the product of a content-creator’s labor appears ontologically unstable and fluid. As I’ve said elsewhere, views lack the fixed materialities of more “closed-box” commodities such as a pin, a car, or even a film or recorded song [vi]. This instability exacerbates the already uncertain value of media products (“nobody knows”) insofar as the definition and value of a view varies based on when it occurred and audience demographics. Content producers tend to experience this as the platform’s unknowable logic and this tends to produce anxiety and uncertainty. As a man earning nearly $40,000 a year from YouTube and other content platforms explained to me, “I don’t know that I would ever really feel comfortable [doing this as my sole job] because of the way that YouTube changes and Google changes and Facebook and all these ways that you make money change.” As in the examples given in the opening of this post, views may appear, disappear, and reappear without notice or explanation.