Last week YouTube released a new player along with a few other features across the site (for some reason they have yet to blog about these changes). Personally I liked the look and feel of their old player more, but that is beside the point: the new interface exposes the most popular off-site links to the given video (a.k.a. backlinks), allowing users to discover who is really driving viewership. From my brief interaction, it appears the video must be embedded on the source page, and not simply a text link. Here’s the backlinks for their most popular video of all time (Evolution of Dance):
What you find inside this little hidden window is usually not startling: MySpace profiles, i-am-bored.com, and so on. But in some cases the backlinks are more interesting. Take for instance the popular Treadmills video by Ok Go is apparently the most downloaded music video of all time. In YouTube’s backlinks we find the largest driver of traffic to be a weblog named fugufish, with over 200k links. Who is this mysterious blogger? Were they the first people to identify the video, or simply a maven that brought it to a larger audience? For a researcher of diffusion (such as myself), these links are fascinating, and start allowing us to understand how giant internet memes tend to spread.
This move also continues to solidify YouTube’s place in the ever-evolving media ecology of the web. It solidifies the video site as a platform integrated with other media providers. You can think of this feature as a sort of traffic-share with those sites that drive the most viewership; just as AdSense shares Google’s ad revenue with publishers who use the ads, YouTube will now reward bloggers with traffic for using YouTube as their video platform. YouTube was a pioneer in the platform approach to building an audience, and they continue to innovate.