It’s hard to remember that two years ago, VidCon was in the basement of a (very nice!) hotel in Los Angeles. There were 2,500 attendees that year. This year’s VidCon was bigger than the previous three combined: 12,000 people came to the conference, and sponsors ranged from YouTube to Taco Bell to Kia. (There were also sponsors like Orabrush, who’ve supported the show since the hotel basement days.) This phenomenal growth is a credit to the strength of the online video community, but it’s also due to my brother Hank’s excellent stewardship of the conference. While people keep telling us to grow faster (this year’s VidCon sold out, as it always does, months before the actual conference) or to sell it or to host a hundred different VidCons around the world, Hank has remained steadfast that VidCon must be a reflection of the YouTube community and its values. We’ll grow again next year, but slower than some would hope, because we want it to stay fun, and we want it to feel like VidCon. The staff and volunteers — most of whom have been with VidCon since the hotel basement — are equally passionate, and I think this year they put together a smooth-running and really enjoyable conference.
The highlights for me: seven thousand people chanting “Watsky Watsky Watsky” before George Watsky’s blistering set on the last night of VidCon. The Gregory Brothers singing “Double Rainbow” with the actual discoverer of the Double Rainbow. Hannah Hart and Tyler Oakley hosting the Kia Mainstage on the first morning. And the Nerdfighter Meet-up, where over a thousand nerdfighters squeezed into a room to talk about how our community can work together to decrease the suck in the world and increase the awesome.
The panels and keynotes were also packed: more than 300 people showed up to listen to YouTube’s educational content creators talk about integrating online video into classroom learning experiences, for instance. VidCon has always been a mix of fan conference and industry conference, and we like it that way, because there is no bright line between those who make online video and those who love it. Fans are creators and creators are fans, and even as the conference has grown, it has continued to reflect this strange reality: at VidCon, and on YouTube, it’s not so much about corporations making stuff for you; it’s about people making stuff with you. Walking the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center, people with a few thousand or even only a few hundred regular viewers would get stopped by fans of their content. Our channels may have over 2 million subscribers, but I still get really excited about meeting creators I like, and was giddy when I bumped into 17-year-old YouTuber Paige Finch in the expo hall. Paige has 274 subscribers (I’m one of them) on her channel of hilarious parody songs, and I couldn’t stop gushing to her about how much I enjoy her videos.
That’s the essence of VidCon for me. We’ve lived for so long in a world made up of those who make stuff that gets watched and those who watch stuff. That’s no longer the case, but it’s difficult to fully internalize the changing relationship between creator and audience until you see it up close. This year, a lot of people got to see it up close. We have a lot of learning and growing to do — we’re still in the infancy of online video. But man, is it fun to be together for a few days to imagine what it might grow up to be.
John Green is an author and co-founder of VidCon. He and his brother Hank Green also run The Vlogbrothers YouTube channel and the “Crash Course” web series/channel, which features educational courses on topics such as world history, chemistry, literature, and more.