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GOOGLE batted an eyelash last month, and nine new YouTubes sprang up around the world.
Countries as diverse as Brazil, the Netherlands, Poland and Japan woke up to versions of the site in their own language, complete with their own Most Viewed sections and tailored community areas already well stocked with fresh local videos. (Googlespeak lesson: "local" now refers to an entire country. Don't be provincial.)
YouTube's multiplication is one more sign that the young video site is following its mother ship's loving admonitions: Don't ever stop growing, be friendly to everyone you meet, facilitate geocultural interconnection and — this one's important, Yutie — try to make billions in ad revenue while you're at it.
Though each nation's YouTube is built to appeal first to the people who live there, the company's aim is not to build borders between nations but to blur them. As Sakina Arsiwala, YouTube's international manager explained, the new YouTubes are not stand-alone sites but rather country-specific windows into one huge, worldwide video database.
"YouTube is global," said Arsiwala from the company's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif. "Trying to restrict viewership or limit content to a particular geography is completely contrary to what we're trying to do."
A user in Italy, therefore, has access to all the same videos as someone in Ireland — the same way the two have access, via Google's search page, to the same set of global Web pages.
Although the ability to search the Web in Polish, Dutch or Portuguese might not come in handy for the average Internet citizen, seeing which videos are popular on the international sites offers a particular kind of glimpse into what's happening around the world.
It's true that Most Viewed lists of all types are nothing if not havens for titillating and sensational content. But even a look at the many flavors of titillation around the world can yield interesting results.
In Italy, the month's Most Viewed list features a sidewalk home video of President Bush's recent vehicular trouble in Rome. The videographer, who probably hadn't expected much besides a shot of the motorcade speeding by, ended up with a front-row seat as the president's limo sputtered to a halt and both Bush and the first lady had to be hustled into a different car. The video's 145,000 views — a pittance in U.S. terms — were enough to get the video a spot in the fledgling Italian site's top five of the month.
(Technical clarification: The way each nation's Most Viewed rankings work is a little confusing. Instead of being a list of the most popular videos among, say, Italians, Italy's Most Viewed page is a list of the videos posted by Italians that have received the most attention worldwide.)
Another example is a video titled "Japanese tv tetris game," where contestants must stand on the edge of a shallow pool as a series of walls lumber toward them on a conveyor. Each wall contains a roughly human-sized cutout, which the player must contort himself to fit through to avoid being knocked into the water. The game is patently unfair; barely anyone can pull it off. But the video has scored more than 1.5 million views, shooting it to the No. 1 spot on June's Most Viewed list — in Spain.
Human Tetris must be old hat in Japan, since it's nowhere to be found on the Japanese YouTube's top 100.
France's hot list has a decidedly more nationalistic bent. A glance at the page reveals that nine of June's top 12 videos were of the same event: President Nicolas Sarkozy speaking at the recent G-8 conference. One is tempted to attribute this to France's characteristic high-mindedness and concern for international affairs. But the real reason is because Sarkozy looks drunk.
That gossipy suggestion began with a Belgian anchorman, who introduced the footage by stating that Sarkozy had apparently "had more than just water to drink," and the firestorm began. The allegation has since been generally dismissed. Sarkozy, an avowed teetotaler, said he was simply out of breath. The Belgian anchorman also apologized.
Even so, YouTubers from around the world jeered. This comment from a derisive Scandinavian was typical: "lol!!! i see that french people EVEN PRESIDENT!! not stand small drink of alcohol like we finnish!!"
In Ireland, a different sort of scandal was stirred by a cellphone video apparently showing a member of the Garda, Ireland's national police force, mocking a man who called to file a complaint. The officer engages the caller in a Bugs Bunny-style game of "yes," "no," "yes," "no," "no," "yes" that drags on for an astonishingly long time before the caller — clearly hurt by the teasing — insists, "Don't you dare laugh at me!"
According to Irish news reports, the video led to the launch of two investigations, with at least one officer already being reassigned.
Though several videos on Poland's Most Viewed list indicate that the nation is just now arriving to the question of whether purple Teletubby Tinky Winky is gay, the most engaging video on its June list is a 17-year-old boy's heartfelt appeal for female companionship. In a four-minute entreaty in Polish, young Bartek explains that despite his prowess at chess and cards, he has had little romantic luck. Though he admits that he is "a little bit bonkers type of guy," he believes his sheer generosity is enough to compensate for any shortcomings.
"Among the gifts I can give you," he says, "is, just, my love."
For nonnative speakers, Japan's YouTube may be a bit more difficult to navigate. This is equal parts language barrier and the fact that a lot of Japanese television defies easy description. Enlisting the help of several authoritative Japanese-speaking sources, Web Scout was able to piece together a synopsis of Japan's No. 1 video.
Kojima Yoshio — a comedian whose shtick is to arrive at serious gatherings clad only in a Speedo swimsuit — arrives at a celebrity wedding. As he begins a toast to the newly married couple, he realizes that all he has on is a Speedo, at which point he launches into a song and dance about how embarrassing it is to have arrived at this wedding wearing only a Speedo.
"I've been around a long time," says someone in the audience, "but I have never seen that before."