When new technologies are created, the initial concern is to reach an intended audience and to fill a particular void. What happens in reality, however, is that many unintended audiences often find and incorporate these products, regardless of how popular the service becomes with the target audience.
This phenomenon of surplus audiences, outside the target demographic but whose use of a product or consumption of some type of media is nevertheless a factor in the popularity of the product, has been of interest to me.
For instance, last June, I wrote about the As the World Turns storyline involving gay character Luke Snyder and how it was being written about regularly on message boards in the gay community, driving interest from a segment of people who were not initially fans of the show but who were particularly into this storyline and who started to become interested in the show in general.
"The thread is a demonstration of how fan communities within a niche audience can begin to proselytize and recruit other members of their social group to watch the show as well," I wrote.
Last month, I wrote about a way in which a company has explicitly begun to take notice of one of its surplus audiences, with DC Comics beginning to market graphic novels to teenage girls, a segment of the fan community that has long existed but has been outside the traditional focus of comics until the popularity of manga reminded creative powers that girls may enjoy comic books, too. I wrote:
We've already crossed the boundary that was placed between comic books and adults, as it's been a longheld myth that comic books--and animation--is strictly children's fare. But it's been a longer road for female readers. The problem is that, even if it is an obvious falsity that women are not interested in a medium like comic books, the majority of content over the years has not written for female audiences in any way, forcing them to be a surplus audience that is not part of the target demographic.
Alec Austin, my colleague here at the Convergence Culture Consortium, sent me this post from Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light, looking at the ways in which deaf audiences are using YouTube.
Now, deaf audiences are not surplus audiences for YouTube. YouTube doesn't have a target demographic in the sense that it is a tool meant to draw in all types of uses. However, one would imagine that the ways in which deaf communities are now using YouTube was not conceptualized as one of the initial reasons for lauching a site to share video.
Teresa writes, "Many of them are not comfortably fluent in written language. For many more, sign is and always will be their first language. YouTube gives them an easy, expressive, unmediated channel for many-to-many communication."
With the many discussions about the power of video communication through YouTube and other video sharing sites, few have thought about those who primarily use visual stimulus to communicate. The use of video blogging and sharing by the deaf community shows a way in which an existing technology can provide surprising uses among audiences not initially considered.
Teresa provides a number of interesting sites featuring videos for the deaf community, which include storytelling, community announcements, politics, and the type of everyday blogging that you expect from most people who have a personal blog.
As Teresa writes, using YouTube as a tool for video and signing truly is "transformational."
Just as interesting is the wide variety of comments left after her initial post and the wide range of people who are part of or interested in the online deaf community who debate the rise of YouTube and its importance to deaf Internet users.