Is Someone Gaming Obama's YouTube Site?

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:15 PM EDT

Over at Techpresident, a group blog on web politics, blogger Joshua Levy is making an interesting case that something's amiss. Obama's YouTube channel has 2,700,000 views--35 times as many as the second most-popular political site, that of Hillary Clinton. While people trolling for the 1984 video may have skewed web traffic to a degree, that's still a huge disparity. "There are a few reasons why the high number of channel views looks fishy," Levy says:

First, the total number of views of Obama's individual videos is nowhere near the total number of channel views. When you first load the channel, a video automatically plays, which may or may not contribute to that video's total views (the relationship between channel and video views is sketchy, though we're told by sources at YouTube it should be cleared up soon). But if we take the total number of video views as accurate this means that only about 24% of visitors to his video-sharing web site are actually watching videos, while over 2 million people are visiting the channel but not watching any videos.

Second, it appears that there's a way to game the system. Last fall a social networking news site called Mashable published a post about "Gaming YouTube for Fun and Profit," in which they described how to artificially increase the number of video views on YouTube. Essentially, if you set your browser to auto-refresh a YouTube page (a Firefox extension does it), every time the browser refreshes the video has a new view added to it.

(To test this idea, Levy made a video of himself discussing the problem, uploaded it to YouTube, and set his browser to auto-refresh every ten seconds for 12 hours. The strategy yielded 1200 views).

Third, Levy notes the Obama channel's unusually small number of viewers compared to subscribers. See his post for the cagey response from YouTube.

If gaming is indeed at play, it wouldn't be a first for Web 2.0, nor would it be all that surprising. Elliot Schrage, Google VP of Global Communications, recently predicted the advent of political spyware in this year's election and wondered whether people will attempt to track candidates using GIS chips in their cell phones. As David Weinberg of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society put it to me today: "Anything that you can imagine happening online, eventually, probably will."