SAN FRANCISCO--In what may be a harbinger of face-to-face discourse among video-bloggers, hardly anyone who attended Saturday's gathering of YouTube's most popular bloggers held a conversation without filming it.
At an event called "As One," budding entertainers, information junkies and people just wanting to be part of a new communication medium conversed while training lenses on one another.
Cameras whirred, people posed and every word was on the record. In an age where seemingly everyone is packing a cell-phone camera or Handycam, the scene at San Francisco's Pier 39 illustrated how everyday life is becoming part of the public forum.
Many of the estimated 100 people who attended are examples of the democratization of media. YouTube, which sees more than 30 million unique visitors a month, continues to gain influence with the so-called user-generated generation. As a result, some of YouTube's better bloggers and videographers are beginning to derive a legitimate if modest form of celebrity.
"I don't have any groupies yet," said Ben Going when asked whether his Internet fame has changed his life. The 21-year-old waiter from Huntsville, Ala., has a regular YouTube audience that numbers nearly 26,000.
Two minutes after making his joke, Going was approached by two red-haired teenagers who asked him for an autograph. Going, known at YouTube as Boh3m3, shrugged at a reporter and appeared simultaneously thrilled and embarrassed. Lowering his hat, the one Going wears in many of his videos, he signed away.
"I watch you all the time," Eric Dutton, 14, from Pacifica, Calif., told Going.
Just two years ago, it would have been a curious thing for a 14-year-old Californian to revere a waiter from Alabama. No more. Dutton who spends two hours a day on YouTube, later said: "Boh3m3 is really honest on his blogs and he's naturally funny. Like the time he said he's never thrown a boomerang without it coming back to hit him in the head. That was hilarious. He thinks the Australians are trying to put one over on us."
The good news for those who fear that technology is eroding personal interaction is that many of the attendees said they came specifically for some face-to-face interaction.
"We thought it'd be good to remove some of the barriers of the Internet," said Damien Estreich, 21, whose handle on YouTube is YourTubeNews. "That was the goal, to come here and share ideas and maybe learn each other's real names."
What they have in common is a passion for communicating with the rest of the world via the Internet. Many of the top bloggers, such as DigitilSoul, TheHill88, and YourTubeNews, spend roughly 30 hours a week working on or watching YouTube videos. Frank Patterson, or DigitalSoul, is a 36-year-old, full-time father and part-time electrician from Pittsburgh.
Patterson is the Tony Robbins of the YouTube blogging community. With more than 11,000 subscribers to his YouTube videos, he said that he got hooked after he received comments from people who said he helped them lose weight or changed their lives. He thinks YouTube is going to overhaul the entire entertainment industry.
"I think YouTube is the next television," Patterson said. "I don't watch TV that much. I think people will find a lot of raw unknown talent on YouTube."
Certainly, said Caitlin Hill, 18, who flew in for the event from Queensland, Australia, and goes by the alias TheHill88, YouTube is only going to continue to attract people who have something to say and want to reach an audience that otherwise wouldn't be available to them. She said that one of YouTube's biggest stars drew her to becoming a blogger and now she has a regular audience of nearly 22,000.
"I saw one girl who I thought was real and who could do so much with the world," said Hill, referring to Lonelygirl15, the blogger who became a rage before it was discovered that she was an actress and her character was part of a dramatic role. After seeing the blog, Hill said "I wonder what I can do...I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it, but I think I'll get there."