I had the opportunity to be part of a brand new panel at VidCon. It was very cleverly entitled <Famous. And it was great.
The idea of the Less Than Famous Panel came primarily from the mind of one person: James Schwarz (aka Talenthatter). Schwarz had been to VidCon the previous year and was disappointed by how little content was geared toward YouTube’s smaller creators. Instead of just grumbling, Schwarz decided to change it. He posted a video on his channel proposing a panel put on by and geared toward YouTube’s smaller creators—those who are actively involved in the community but may never make a career out of it.
Within 10 hours of posting the video, Hank Green (one half of the Vlog Brothers and one half of the founders of VidCon) had reblogged it on Tumblr saying that he wanted to make this panel happen, and with that reblog, the whirlwind began.
Auditions for potential panelists for <Famous opened up to the burgeoning YouTube creator community and within the following month, more than 200 people submitted videos talking about why they wanted a chance to be part of the discussion. From there, approximately forty of us were chosen by a committee to move forward into a round of sample panels held over Google+. The committee then chose the final five and the moderator for the panel.
The final VidCon 2013 panel consisted of moderator Max (aka HeySticks) and panelists: Amanda (aka shessomickey), Christine (aka polandbananas20), Lucy (aka meowitslucy), Steve (aka fizzylimon), and myself (Sadie aka SadieTeachesThings). The panelists’ subscriber counts ranged from 500 to nearly 40,ooo, and we lived in locations ranging from across the United States to London to South Korea.
The panel was set to begin at 2PM on Friday, August 2, 2013. It was the first time the panelists, our moderator, and the panel’s creator gathered had all been in the same place at the same time. We were a mess of nerves as we made our way up to the stage. The entire point of this panel was that it offered us creators – who were not typically accustomed to vast audiences – a large platform from which to speak and be heard. We weren’t even sure very many people would show! But our assumptions, thankfully, could not have been more incorrect. As we entered the room and filed on stage, we could see that the room was full. We later learned that people had even been turned away due to the fact that the space had reached its capacity.
As the panel began, the butterflies vanished. There could not possibly have been more support and genuine interest in one room. At the very beginning, James asked everyone to raise their hand if they created content on YouTube. Nearly every hand in the room shot up. In that moment of solidarity, it became less of an audience/panelist interaction and more of a casual discussion amongst a group of people who shared a passion for this hobby we had all taken up and the community that we had found within it.
The discussion covered how we all got started on YouTube, past collab channels we all had and wished we could now forget, how we maintain YouTube as a hobby despite busy lives outside of our channels, the difference between “larger YouTubers” and those with less subscribers, how YouTube has affected our daily lives, what kept us motivated on YouTube, and things we all wish YouTube would add (the main takeaway being nested comment sections).
At one point, panelist Amanda stated, “The most interesting people on YouTube are both fans and creators,” and this was a perfect descriptor of almost every single person in that room. “What was it that made it click that YouTube was more than just uploading videos, that it’s sharing and meeting people and connecting?” Max asked the panel. We all sat in silence for a moment before answering, because Max’s question had summarized exactly what had brought us all there. After a moment of reflection, I answered. To those who were lonely or not fitting in at home, YouTube provided us all a gateway to friendship and connections. “We grew up with our parents telling us ‘Don’t post things on the internet!'” I said. “But to have youtube, to be able to see people’s faces…to have this relationship with other humans became more personal than any other place on the internet.”
YouTube began as a pastime for all of us, but ultimately it became the force that brought more than 200 people together in that room and nearly 12,000 people together at VidCon as a whole. In the trailer for upcoming documentary Vlogumentary, Alli Trippy said, “If you can turn on a camera for a minute and make a connection with one person, you’re a YouTuber.” That very well could have been part of the mission statement of <Famous.
In reflecting on her experience as part of the panel, Amanda speaks for all of us involved: “It was incredibly invigorating to be in a room filled with hundreds of people united by our love for the YouTube community. Among so much talk of brands, marketing and revenue, we spent an hour sharing stories and advice with other people who are in this for the love of it. It was a privilege to have a place in that conversation.”
Photos by Sadie Hillier.