Youth vlog the South African story

vlog A camera, an internet connection and a desire to be in front of the camera is all you need to begin vlogging. (Image:Tamur Madjerey).


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Sulaiman Philip

Vlog (noun): A blog in which the postings are primarily in video form. Since 2011 it has been a point-scoring word in Scrabble. The South African vlogging population is growing. Slowly. But it is giving South Africans, mostly young, an opportunity to share their world with the universe.

There are older South African vloggers, says Gabriel Erasmus, but the majority tend to be younger. Erasmus is the creator of the youtubestars.co.za website and a member of the South African Facebook vlogging group. “Age is not a factor. If you have a camera, internet connection, a love for filmmaking or just love being in front of a camera you are sorted,” he continues.

These young, and young at heart, South Africans are in the vanguard of an internet movement that has been growing over the past decade. It is the evolution from the ubiquitous bloggers, and involves the uploading of personal video clips of everything from beauty and fashion tips to raging about language and homesickness.

Henri Himschoot was one of the first South African vloggers. The Cape Town musician began his The Himschoots vlog in 2010. A period of inactivity that lasted for a few years came to an end when he discovered the YouTube South Africa Facebook group. When he joined in April 2014, there were 80 members; there are now 291 and the number grows daily. “The community is extremely diverse, but you have to get to know us and understand how we all fit together to make one big happy South African family. Not one of us competes with the other, we all support each other and that’s what makes us succeed.”

Communication tool

Ruben Mostert was the shy kid at school who had trouble making friends. Vlogging became his outlet and means of communicating with others. The longer he vlogged the more confident and comfortable he became in his own skin. “The best of all, my personality in front of the camera has evolved into my daily life. Why do I like vlogging? You can escape the real world with all the bad things going on and create your own world and share it. Call it my fantasy world if you want.”

Author Michael Kaminsky traces the birth of vlogging to 2000 and Adam Kontras’s dream of a Hollywood career. Driving across the United States, he posted a video to accompany the blog of his trip. By 2008, vlogging helped elect an American president. Will.i.am’s Yes We Can used a speech by candidate Barack Obama to create a powerful vlog viewed more than 25 million times.

Will.i.am’s vlog is slick and professional, but the popularity of vlogging is down largely to the ease with which people can shoot and upload videos. “To start you don’t need fancy equipment or expensive software. You can start with a smartphone and the basic video editing software that comes pre-installed with all major operating systems. All the skills needed are even taught in schools nowadays. In the end good content exceeds the need for expensive equipment and fancy editing.”

Global online community

Vlogs are part of a larger online movement that has given birth to online global communities. These communities are built on the idea that users are not docile recipients of content but are actively shaping their experience.

Vlogger Kristen van Niekerk believes that technology is changing the way we communicate. The world has moved from writing letters to sending emails; phone calls have been replaced by video calls. “Writing is still the basis of all communication and won’t be replaced by video, but video does improve how we communicate. Our education system should adapt to technological advances, offer to teach skills to those who want to learn. Not everyone wants a life filled with technology, but the choice should be available.”

YouTube has grown from its first video in 2005 to become a repository of videos of cute kittens, conspiracy theories and a new kind of entrepreneur. It is a hub of raw, soon to be discovered talent, a place that allows for experimentation and creativity that is changing the way traditional media interact with audiences.

YouTube vlogger Michelle Phan has over 700 million views of her personal channel, a makeup demonstration channel that grew from a blog. That is as many people who turn on their TVs to watch the World Cup, all of whom want to watch a 27-year-old teach them how to apply lipstick like Miley Cyrus.

In a 2012 MacTaggart lecture, media and TV executive Elisabeth Murdoch pointed out that YouTube was beginning to behave like a market leader. “Believe at your own risk that the platform is based on homemade videos of cats in washing machines… Brands and talent are using YouTube to create direct-to-consumer relationships.”

Vloggers had developed a new way of creating content and interacting with an audience, which made them attractive to companies. The history of vlogging is full of stories of products mentioned on popular channels that sell out within days, if not hours.

South African vloggers

South Africa vloggers do not generate that kind of hysteria or have the fan base to do that, just yet. Sara Mormino, a director at YouTube, in an interview with the Guardian newspaper explained the attraction of vloggers to companies. She began by explaining that the earning capacity of English vloggers had increased by 60% in 2013, in large part thanks to mobile phones. “These young people have really captured a new way of creating content and a new way of engaging an audience.”

South African vlogger Rachel Kopel says even YouTube stars never began vlogging intending to make money or become famous. She has been producing content for three years and believes that she is still learning to create great content. She does it because she is passionate about her topic and wants to share her opinions with the world. “We are living in a very self-absorbed generation, where everyone is taking selfies and promoting themselves. YouTube is a way of promoting yourself and creating a name and reputation for yourself. You must just hope that you are doing it for the right reasons.”

As South Africa’s connectivity speeds increase and software becomes more accessible, the number of South Africans going online will increase. As we mature as technology users, how South Africans use the web will change. We will begin looking for more individual experiences or communities that share our interests. South African vloggers are building a collective memory bank to share about the South African experience.

Being criticised, earning support, the frustrations of dealing with South African upload speeds, getting views, even making bloopers, are part of the adventure, say Marco and Elmar, who vlog as ThoseBroz. “You find a community that allows you to express yourself and where you can paint a picture of who you are, and share it with the world. The journey from your first video, straight up to your 20th-plus video, is simply one of the most amazing adventures any person can take,” they explain.