YouTube pulls a Facebook move, circa 2004

YouTube has opened a new section of its site called Colleges on YouTube. Students, staff and alumni of 30 universities can access video from their school community by using a .edu email address and other users can’t access those pages. Users are encouraged to suggest that their school be added to the list. This strategy has clearly been successful for Facebook, probably the 2nd most recognized online social network in the US with separate sections for more than 2000 schools. Just like Facebook is moving away from its initially closed nature, though, it makes little sense to me to see YouTube launching private sections on what was initially a viral video site. A closed college section is to the rest of the site like a suburban gated community is to a hip downtown scene.

I can’t help but think that a college section is appealing because it will keep out the freaks (and pirates) that make YouTube so lively. More Tea Partay, less 66Six. And thus more profitable advertising, in the short term at least.

The theory is that walled gardens for colleges make relevant content easier for insiders to find and less likely to be viewed by outsiders. In reality though, alumni accounts and the basic portability of data on the web mean that it’s not very hard to access the content and posting Facebook profiles elsewhere on the web has become standard gossip blogger practice. A degree of privacy on Facebook may be an antiquated idea from the days when online social networks were new. The .edu email login may be little more than an inconvenience to casual contact and collaboration – anyone who really wants to can get into the system. Things are changing at Facebook – its recent API release indicates that in some ways the company wants now to take the lead in opening up.

Creating closed sections of your site for large communities is not the direction the best of the web it going in.
YouTube is known and loved not just as a site to upload videos, but as a place to find and spread video freely. Photosharing site Webshots demoted their College Live section from its own tab to a drop down menu item on the front page in this week’s redesign. Given that College Live rolled out in April, downplaying it in the end of August may indicate that it was a summer time experiment that wasn’t well received.

Webshots has said that video sharing will soon join photo sharing on its site. Hopefully Flickr and Zooomr will be next in offering video support. The line between photo and video is blurring, the line between inside and outside social sites is blurring – so why would YouTube draw another line around college users?

Though it was a trailblazer in user uploaded video community, the site is facing a growing anti-Paris Hilton (corporate influence) revolt and in this move seems to be moving backwards as well. Perhaps this fledgling section will wither on the vine or perhaps the freaks will move on to other sites.