What makes an online star?

Since its inception in 2005, video-sharing hub YouTube has attracted tens of millions of users who watch and upload videos of a diversity unprecedented on one website.

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Music videos, movie trailers, how-to videos and big brand channels rate highly, but the medium has also given rise to a whole new kind of star which often surpasses their popularity.

Ordinary people taking advantage of increasingly cheaper and easier to use video editing equipment to document their lives and broadcast them frequently become YouTube ‘stars’, attracting millions of viewers.

The term ‘vlogger’ emerged to describe these online video personalities, based on the term blogger which describes their more text-oriented predecessors.

In January 2009, the disappearance of popular vlogger ‘Boxxybabee’ from YouTube and another video site reportedly crashed 4chan.org, which bills itself as the Web’s largest English image board.

As for what vloggers produce, the website’s slogan – ‘Broadcast Yourself’ – sums it up, with its user-generated content covering a range of subjects possibly more diverse than commercial material.

Australia’s most popular YouTuber, Natalie Tran, produces and broadcasts videos regularly on her stream ‘community channel’, on topics like her favourite toys as a child to nicknames she’d like to have.

At the time of writing, her channel had over 540,000 subscribers, far outstripping that of rock band AC/DC which has around 80,000 and is Australia’s second most popular.

Tran’s popularity is due in large part to the fact she solicits and responds to comments, according to YouTube marketing head Jason Chuck.

At the end of each of her videos she reviews selected comments posted about her previous one, including negative and racist remarks, often hitting back with witty or self-deprecating replies.

Despite her popularity, Tran says she is reluctant to cash in on the many advertising offers she receives, saying they may offend her viewers if they’re not relevant to her videos.

Media analyst Tim Burrowes said that in years of watching YouTube he has seen ‘surprisingly little’ product placement by popular entertainers.

Popular Sydney bloggers Louise Hawson and Kate Low both told SBS they would only advertise if ads were ‘unintrusive’ and ‘relevant’, perhaps indicating that selectivity around advertising is an internet ethic that has remained firm as its platforms evolve.