BOB GARFIELD: Thirty-five hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute. That means for every hilarious video of piano-playing cats enjoyed by millions, there are many, many more clips that suffer in ignominious anonymity. That’s where Colin Fitzpatrick comes in. His site’s called [LAUGHS] Zero Views, and it offers the best of YouTube’s worst. He finds the YouTube videos that have never been watched by anybody - ever.
COLIN FITZPATRICK: The way that I do it is it’s kind of a complicated algorithm [LAUGHS] that we came up with. It’s actually not complicated at all.
BOB GARFIELD: Or an algorithm.
COLIN FITZPATRICK: [LAUGHS] Or an algorithm. I just like to call it that. What I do is I go in and I try and think about the most obvious thing that somebody might put up in their title or in their description, something like “Chillin’” or “So Tired” -
[BOB LAUGHS] [LAUGHS] - or, you know, “My Besties,” things like this that I can think of different types of like teens and, and young adults that would just kind of create content for themselves and use these descriptors. I do that and then I sort by upload date because if I really want to look for something that hasn't been viewed yet - anything on YouTube that’s been there for a year probably has at least 10 views – so if I - I'm looking for something that hasn't been viewed at all, I’d probably have to look within the last six months and then just go back at least a couple of days to make sure that it’s not just because I'm catching it too early. And if it hasn't been viewed and it’s still somewhat watchable, I'll post it.
BOB GARFIELD: So these videos are so dull [LAUGHS] that not only haven't they been viewed by the friends and family of the person who uploads them, they haven't even been viewed –
[LAUGHTER] - by the person who uploads them, which, of course, suggests this question: Why did the person bother putting them up on YouTube, to begin with?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: I think there’s this really human urge to try and share your life. And for a wider YouTube audience, yeah, there’s absolutely no value in looking at some friends who are taking a bad camera phone video of putting condoms over their heads and blowing them up, but for those people this is kind of an important moment that they want to share. Whether or not they realize that nobody’s going to watch this, that’s not the point. There’s this need to connect that, that happens without much thought.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, I get that. That’s why it’s called YouTube. But, you know, I must say the condom ski mask is something, right? There’s some action there. There’s a concept there. Some of the stuff that I've seen on your site is [LAUGHS] camera phone images of, you know, a guy driving to work and you see his POV through the windshield and, yep, he’s driving to work.
[SOUND OF MUSIC ON CAR RADIO] But there’s commentary.
MAN: Yeah. I'm on my way. See you soon. On my way to work, that is.
COLIN FITZPATRICK: It’s something that he thinks is funny to put online, and it’s just not - it’s not something that’s more largely consumable.
BOB GARFIELD: Now that you have accumulated a fairly substantial number of videos that haven't been viewed, what do they have in common? Is there any common thread?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: At least in terms of the way that I look for them, they fall into a couple of camps. One is kids goofing off, another is people vlogging, and the last is the type of video that you were saying, where it’s just a random camera phone pic that somebody thoughtlessly uploaded. In terms of the common thread, I really think that it really just shows this display of how people commonly use the Internet and how people commonly try to reach out and share their lives, and just fail.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, at the risk of sounding unnecessarily mean-spirited, would you say this is a storytelling problem or a life-living problem?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: I've seen commentary about the site that says that it’s kind of sad, at times. And I definitely try and put the videos out there with absolutely no commentary attached, but there is something a little bit depressing about someone who is trying to make a statement or share their opinion or their life that nobody’s watching.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, I don't know about depressing. It’s certainly poignant. Are there any that you've encountered that you've gone, wow, I can't believe nobody’s seen this before, this is great?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: Uh, there’s one that got a lot of comments on it, and it was these kids who had made a music video about their library card, and they, they - they were singing a song called, Having Fun Isn't Hard When You Have a Library Card.
[BOB LAUGHING] And a lot of effort had gone into this, and nobody was watching it.
[BOB LAUGHING] And as soon as I posted it, everybody was reblogging it and it got tons of notes and likes.
BOB GARFIELD: Is there any video that you've seen that is just so monumentally bereft of narrative, of emotion, of substance, of visual interest, of just everything that you would expect to find in a video?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: I think my number one favorite video that I've posted, it’s about a 10-second video, and I think it was titled Mr. Smiley or something along those lines. And it was just a picture of this guy’s face. You couldn't see his eyes. And he has really awful teeth, and he’s smiling. And then he has this kind of creepy voice and he just goes:
MAN: Well, hello, children. How are you today? Thank you for coming to the Smiley Show.
COLIN FITZPATRICK: It’s just gross.
[LAUGHTER] I can't – I don't know why anybody would share this or upload it. And to me, that’s really the epitome of what the entire [LAUGHS] site is about.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so now, you know, you've unmasked Mr. Smiley, and it just so happens that elsewhere in this program we've discussed memes. What do you think the chances are [LAUGHS] that this conversation will get somebody to go look into Mr. Smiley and next thing you know he just shows up everywhere, Auto-Tuned, and you name it?
COLIN FITZPATRICK: [LAUGHS] I think it’s probably fairly likely. The site has a funny following, which is that the actual videos aren't things that people like, so but people really like the concept. So it has a decent number of followers but, you know, people get turned off maybe after, you know, a week and will stop following sometimes, just because it’s junk that nobody wants to watch.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Colin, thank you so much.
COLIN FITZPATRICK: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Colin Fitzpatrick curates the site Zero Views.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
CHILDREN SINGING: Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card! Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card!
LIBRARIAN: Come on inside, we've got everything you need. There’s plenty to do…
[LIBRARY CARD SONG/UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week’s show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Nazanin Rafsanjani, Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, with more help from Nerida Brownlee, and it was edited by our senior producer, Katya Rogers. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Dylan Keefe.
Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of national programs, and our cranberry relish. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find transcripts at Onthemedia.org. You can also post comments there. You can find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, and you can email us at Onthemedia@wnyc.org. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. Brooke Gladstone will be back next week. I'm Bob Garfield, heading for the first time to meet my newborn grandsons, Oren and Oscar.