Because information tells a story, cartoons are intelligent and German masterminds aren’t always super-villains.
…because a video game vlogger realized he could be the digital Mr. Wizard. Michael Stevens started Vsauce as a channel for comedic gamer-oriented content, but naturally transformed into a source of educational content driven by his fun, geeky persona and the mission statement to “think.” The success of Vsauce led to spinoff channels inviting viewers to “find” with host Kevin Lieber and “play” with Jake Roper, as well a Wesauce channel for fan engagement and the D.O.N.G. channel for digital technologies and, in a full circle twist, games. The award winning content registers millions of views on topics ranging from physics to art, and features fun thought experiments like “What If Everyone Jumped at Once” and mind-bending claims like “This Is Not Yellow.”
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Believe it or not, Vsauce really did begin its digital existence as a source for video game commentary with a comedic bent. However, as Stevens began to experiment with science related content that interested him – remember, there’s actually a lot of science that goes into creating video games – he realized that not only would this be more fulfilling for him personally, but also for his audience. While there is a decent sized community of science-oriented YouTubers, it seems like a law of nature that they will always be dwarfed by the online gamer population that dominates so much of digital media. And as Vsauce has grown, Stevens has branched out beyond the technical sciences into more human spheres like “The Science of Awkwardness” or philosophical issues of perception like “Is Anything Real?” and even art! The spin-off channels hosted by Kevin Lieber and Jake Roper allow the content to become specialized, with Lieber’s videos targeting the “this will seriously blow your mind” audience and Roper’s offering science with pop cultural topics relating to video games, comic books and other web-friendly niches. However, the success of Vsauce’s evolution results from the fact that it wasn’t planned in any strategy meeting, but instead resulted from a natural understanding of what works and the authentic interests of the hosts and creators.
If you think about it, it’s kind of surprising that a gamer channel could so easily transform into an educational content site. Then again, perhaps the YouTube friendly origins of Vsauce account for some of its ability to attract fans. At the surface level of science and presentation, most of the videos could blend right in among the most popular vlogs through their use of info-graphics, pop cultural references and engaging personalities. However, if this is basically a fan-proof formula for web content, why not use it for good? Whether it was a conscious act or not, repurposing the “fun vlogger” style for educational videos has played a large role in Vsauce’s success. However, it’s the content that matters more than how it’s conveyed. In fact, Stevens himself has said he tries not to talk down to his viewers when it comes to the concepts and ideas, but does try to use simple language to make sure it’s easy to follow. Serious academics can sneer, but this approach has worked in reaching a mass audience. Vsauce has also carefully adhered to another tried and true strategy of web media: once the viewers are there, keep them involved so they won’t leave. The Vsauce team has been very smart about fan interaction, even creating a whole separate channel devoted simply to audience engagement and fostering the social network. Even the video titles and subjects implicitly invite fans to participate. “What If Everyone JUMPED At Once?” includes every single viewer in its thought experiment; “Why Do We Kiss?” (perhaps generously) assumes that the audience members are all out there kissing other people; and “Travel INSIDE a Black Hole” invites the viewer on a journey. These are really simple touches, but at the same time, they speak to Vsauce’s broader purpose. After all, what is educational content without an audience ready to learn?
Yes, we get it… structure and organization probably sound like intro classes for a business school student. Yet one of the more underrated aspects of Vsauce is arguably how Stevens and his collaborators have developed an interesting way to present and arrange their videos by topic, style or subject. Whether this involved creating a new channel, throwing markers in the video title or arranging the content thematically, Vsauce has avoided what could be a critical problem for anyone creating mountains of digital videos for a YouTube audience. Maybe this seems like a simple concept. Then again, have you tried to arrange hundreds of videos across different channels and platforms in a way that’s easily accessible to viewers? And for anyone who thinks that presentation is separate from the creative side of making content, take a minute to consider how accessing and viewing content has affected your own personal experience. Go ahead and ask any art school student. He or she will tell you that the framing, location and display of a piece are all integral to the overall creative process. Again, it’s kind of boring to think about this stuff…but then again, how many people thought all that science was boring until Vsauce made it entertaining.
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