I've been waiting for a little entrepreneurial ingenuity to creep into Google's
A site like MySpace can break bands. A site like LinkedIn can turn social networking into job leads. A site like eBay
So what about YouTube? Sure, it's served as a platform for short fiction like Lonelygirl15, and it has given ordinary folks armed with webcams moments of fleeting fame. But amid all of this fleeting sizzle, where was the business-savvy beef? I figured the cattle call would never come. Then along came Valentina.
Valentina from Val's Art Diary opened her YouTube account a few weeks ago. As an unknown painter with a Mac and a knack for video editing, she decided to chronicle the creation of her artwork with a video diary. With the camera rolling, she explains the artistic process behind "Dolly Wants to Play," but also peppers in a little personal commentary. Her ex-landlord's a thief. Her ex-boyfriend is a jerk. Her mother isn't doing so well. The eventual acrylic painting is then put on the block at eBay, along with a companion DVD.
It's a brilliant business model, as long as you can draw a crowd. Val's big break came when YouTube decided to feature her video. Some 367,000 views later, her eBay auction ended with a healthy winning bid of $710.
Is Valentina for real? Those are some mad video-editing skills, and how many starving artists can afford a copy of Final Cut Pro? Since Lonelygirl15 was outed as a staged production, it's been easy to get suspicious. That's not the point, though. Val's Art Diary has found an audience, and even if the crafty artist is never featured again, she already has more than 4,000 channel subscribers on YouTube to win over with this week's four-piece artwork.
The very next video that was featured on YouTube also inspired some quick-thinking commerciality. In a brief 25-second clip, WinkyPWNs demonstrates a self-stirring mug that his father gave him as a gift. Once the video was featured, Winky promised to come back with a link on where to purchase the battery-operated mug. He did, tacking on an affiliate link that will enrich Winky with every self-stirring gadget that viewers ultimately purchase.
Winky's model may not be as sustainable as Val's. Even though the mug video has generated more than 1.3 million streams, just 74 YouTubers have subscribed to receive future Winky uploads.
However, it's only just a matter of time before more people begin tapping into their inner Val or Winky to make YouTube a vital cog in the e-commerce engine.
Things to look out for come 2007
Even under Google's watch, YouTube is unlikely to lose the indie spirit. However, there is one key ingredient waiting to crack the e-commerce possibilities open for YouTube, and I'm guessing it'll happen sooner rather than later.
Local search has been a major part of every search engine's growth strategy. Whether it's Yahoo!
I predict that within the year, YouTube will prominently sort videos geographically. It will help give the site more of the localized social-networking flair it currently (and surprisingly) lacks. It will also help inspire more local-minded e-commerce.
Why aren't folks generating leads on YouTube to sell their homes or cars? Yes, searches for "cars for sale" and "homes for sale" generate about 300 entries apiece but many of those videos are several months old. That's chump change for a site that's growing by 65,000 uploads a day. Paying for listings or going through Craigslist is so 2005.
Keeping it local won't be all about buying and selling, of course. Innovative camcorder-wielders will be able to create their own brands with area reviews and critiques. It will be easier to get noticed on the local level over the landing page shuffle.
Man, how I wish I could paint. Or at the very least have a self-stirring mug.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't a YouTube junkie, but he does find himself on the site more often than he would care to admit. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.