Big Joe Smith, an Insiders Exclusive
I used to be on YouTube. That statement in itself probably makes very little sense to most folks that would typically be reading this – my professional blog – so perhaps it needs a better explanation.
Most people know YouTube as a place where you can see funny videos of anything from pet tricks to practical jokes, or you can search a recent news story or music video. Just under that outer epidermis lie other videos… Runaway viral videos like Chocolate Rain and Numa Numa, Sneezing pandas and laughing babies while others even more bizarre like Chris Crocker would even find their way on to The Jimmy Kimmel Show.
But if you go even farther into the depths of YouTube – and you know where to look – you may just find the strangest thing of all… a community. All over YouTube there are people who call themselves ‘vloggers.’ The term vlogger is the viral term for the video equivalent of a blogger, except instead of (or in some cases in addition to) writing a blog, they just turn on their webcams or video cameras and talk. If a blog is a written web-log then a vlog is its viral video equivalent, and there are hundreds if not thousands of these video bloggers on YouTube, getting in front of the camera and talking about everything from religion, to politics, to what kind of toothpaste they use. The sky is the limit in the YouTube community, and some would say that without the vloggers and the vlogging community, YouTube wouldn’t be where it is today. I spent a great deal of time interacting in this peculiar yet unique community, and have made friendships that I expect will last for years to come.
Enter Big Joe Smith.
Big Joe was hired at YouTube in March of 2006, prior to the Google buyout I had the chance to catch up with him on twitter a few weeks ago and asked him if he would be willing to do a phone interview, to which he emphatically agreed. I knew Joe through my work with the katiesopinion project on YouTube but hadn’t actually ever had the chance to sit down and ‘break bread’ with him (a BigJoe-ism) so I was grateful for the opportunity. Joe’s role with YouTube – and the last official title he held before leaving to work for Google – was ‘People and Blogs Manager/Community Specialist,’ and what that essentially meant was that Joe was YouTube’s liaison to the community.
Craig: So Joe, tell me when you first got hired at YouTube, did you actually interview with Chad Hurley or Steve Chen?
Joe: No I initially interviewed with a woman who liked my resume, but she did bring Chad in and told him she wanted to hire me.
Craig: So obviously he said yes?
Joe: Pretty much, he said “He seems like a good guy” and the rest is pretty much history.
Craig: So how big was YouTube at the time you were hired?
Joe: I was number 27, or 28… somewhere around there. It was pretty intimate back then.
Craig: So what would you say was the most significant difference from the time you were hired to the time you left?
Joe: Well I would say the size, but more so the amount of videos being uploaded, the opportunity to catch new content as it was uploaded was far greater. It was much easier for the staff to hand-pick videos for front page features back in the day. It was also a lot easier for the staff to pick out who was who in the YouTube community. Everything was pretty much ‘real,’ or so we thought until lonelygirl15.
Craig: So I always imagined that the staff all had their own favorites, and that played a hand in who got featured, was that the way it was?
Joe: Nah not really. The company was pretty small then so when someone found a video that was really good we could all take a look at it. I remember one time in particular when a vlogger named ‘renetto’ put up a vlog about another user named geriatric1927, who was an older man from the U.K. We all gathered around a monitor to watch it and when it was done I looked over at one of my co-workers who was in tears. I think that’s when I first realized how powerful and impactful these vlogs could be. I mean a guy doesn’t just break into tears in front of his co-workers unless he’s truly moved.
Craig: So it sounds like it was really a cool job and you really loved what you did yeah?
Joe: Hell yeah. YouTube allowed me the opportunity to travel quite a bit, and meet some really interesting people. I really felt connected to the people in the community especially after meeting so many of them in person. I went to a lot of the YouTube gatherings and was really able to get to know the people behind their videos, and for the most part they were some really great people.
Suddenly in the middle of our phone conversation Joe breaks out into laughter
Joe: Sorry man, some lady just walked by wearing a YouTube t-shirt. I always find that shit to be so funny.
Craig: I bet.
Joe: So yeah, I really felt in touch with some of these folks man, I really liked them and my job started becoming less like a job and more like an obligation. I really cared, maybe a little too much. Some of the videos were so real… so honest. Hell, some even brought me to tears and I’m a damn grown man! I mean I really cared about the community there and that was part of my frustration.
Craig: What was the frustration Joe?
Joe: Well, it had alot to do with the way I was brought up. I was always taught to help people any way I could, it’s how I was raised and it’s really instilled in who I am.
Craig: Help people how?
Joe: Well my job as the community specialist had a lot to do with helping to get people featured, and I think I was able to do that pretty well. I had about an 85 to 90 percent rate of success, but it was always that 10 to 15 percent that I just felt like I couldn’t help that got me so frustrated.
Craig: So when did you actually leave YouTube?
Joe: July of 2008. On my last day my co-workers joked “The King of Content has left the building.” You know I never really told anyone when I left, you’re getting some pretty exclusive shit here Craig.
Craig: Hey man, I appreciate it. So why was it all so hush hush?
Joe: Well to be honest I just didn’t want to answer all the questions. It was really hard for me because I was really attached to the job… I really cared. I just needed that break.
Craig: I know how you feel. When Katie moved to Los Angeles it was a much needed breather for us as well… sometimes YouTube could be all consuming.
Joe: (laughing) Yeah, I think someday some people are gonna need some YouTube anonymous support group.
Craig: So I understand you’re working for Google directly now… what exactly is your job title there?
Joe: I work in the Google checkout risk analysis department, essentially I deal with investigating fraud… It’s a much different kind of job. The product is called ‘Google Checkout’ (checkout.google.com). Check it out man, safest way you can shop online.
Craig: So on a lighter note, what would you say were some of your most significant and memorable moments looking back at your time with YouTube?
Joe: Oh man there are so many… hmmm… well, one was definitely when I got a video called ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas‘ featured. It wasn’t that video so much as the follow-up video by the guy who made it, a user by the name of zipster08. He made a video just thanking us for featuring his video, and that really touched me.
Craig: I remember that video.
Joe: Another would have to be the 7.7.7. YouTube Gathering in New York City. There was so much that was awesome about that meet up, but I’m still amazed that it worked out to be so hugely successful in spite of all the drama it was shrouded in. Do you remember all that craziness?
Craig: Oh I sure do, it was pretty lulzy*.
Joe: (chuckling at my use of the word lulzy) Yeah it was definitely lulzy, but it was really a big turning point for me, it was an opportunity to really get to know the people behind the videos they produced.
Craig: So these were your most memorable?
Joe: Well actually, the most memorable of all would really have to be the RickRoll on April 1, 2008. I was behind that whole thing (laughing really hard). We set it so no matter what video you clicked on the YouTube home page it took you to the YouTube RickRoll channel. In one day I RickRolled seven million people in nineteen countries… who else can say they did that? We even cleared it with Rick Astley’s people. Good times man, that was alot of fun. Check out the RickRoll channel on YouTube, www.youtube.com/user/YTRickRollsYou
Craig: (laughing) That’s awesome man. So what does the future hold for BigJoeSmith?
Joe: Well, it’s my time now. I wanna leave my mark on the internet. I’ve been the behind the scenes guy for way too long, it’s my turn to throw my hat in the ring. Who knows, maybe I’ll even try for YourTubeAdvocate. I’ve got alot to say man, and I haven’t even gotten started.
Craig: Ok so here’s a more personal question, so please don’t fault me for asking it… in our two plus years of doing katiesopinion we were among the 15% that didn’t get featured… so in all fairness instead of asking you why, let me ask you which Katie video you would have gotten featured if you could have?
Joe: That’s a no-brainer… ‘The Monologue‘ was by far my favorite katiesopinion video, and the one I really went to bat for. Unfortunately it never made it past the gate, but I really tried man.
Craig: No worries Joe, we were well taken care of. So what was it about that video you liked?
Joe: It was just so different. It was a real shift in the stuff Katie usually put out, and it showed another dimension to her. It really impressed me and I really thought it was something that deserved a feature on the front page.
Craig: So, being ‘the man’ at YouTube, and a champion for the ‘community,’ what would be your advice to people just coming on now and trying to gain e-fame?
Joe: I would just tell them to keep it real. I’m all about keeping it real. I know all the ins and outs and I truly believe in just being positive and getting on camera and expressing yourself. It’s going to be a lot harder than it was in the old days, but anything is possible. I’d also advise them to have a thick skin. If you can’t take the negative withthe positive you really should find some other less public outlet. YouTube isn’t a place for the – for lack of a better word – butt-hurt**.
Again Joe and I share a laugh at the term butt-hurt, knowing it’s such a YouTube-ism
Craig: So what do you think the future holds for the YouTube community Joe?
Joe: Craig man, the community is not about YouTube, YouTube is just the platform that aids the community’s interaction, but it doesn’t determine your community. There are communities all over the Internet, and I see lots of YouTube peeps popping up on twitter and facebook. It also isn’t just one community, but lots of small communities interacting within a bigger platform. Think of it like this… If you hang out with a bunch of your friends at a bar, and the bar were to close, would that mean the friendships were over as well? Of course not. A community – a ‘real’ community – is about people, and has nothing to do with YouTube.
*Lulzy – An Internet term often used to describe the humor found in the misfortune of others, very much like the laughs derived from slapstick-like situations. “When the waiter dropped the plate of pasta all over my mother-in-law’s lap, I found it very ‘lulzy.'”
**Butt-hurt – An Internet term used to describe someone who is perceived as overly sensitive, or who complains about their perceived unfair treatment. “The little boy acted very ‘butt-hurt’ when his mother told him he wasn’t allowed to have dessert until he finished his dinner.”
So there ya have it folks, some inside information about one of YouTube’s finest, and a man who had a hand in the development and growth of one of the biggest, best known and certainly most visited websites in the history of the Internet. Keep your eyes out for Big Joe Smith, if I know people (and I do), I expect great things from him. Be sure to check out the links below to his blog, his twitter, and his YouTube channel.
And a big thanks to Joe for taking the time out of his vacation to speak with me.
Where to find Big Joe Smith on the internet…
Big Joe’s blog/website – http://www.bigjoesmith.com/
Big Joe on twitter – http://twitter.com/bigjoesmith
Big Joe’s YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/bigjoesmith
Cutting Edge @ March 20, 2009