YouTube vloggers take it offline

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Sure, bedroom-to-bedroom communication is fun, but even YouTubers like good ol' face-to-face interaction too.

Vloggers on the video sharing site are increasingly meeting offline in gatherings across the country. The meet-ups are organized by members of the YouTube community who are curious to get a real-life look at many of the faces they know only through webcams.

Though the Google Inc.-owned site is flooded daily with millions of videos, its community is a structured culture (its stars are those whose videos are the most-viewed) that communicates by responding to each other's postings.

Several prominent YouTubers have developed friendships online that bleed into the real world. But the gatherings that began earlier this year are larger affairs where -- true to YouTube style -- everyone is invited.

The first notable congregations of YouTubers were held this January in Los Angeles and, more famously, in San Francisco in February, where about 100 people attended. These meets, known as "As One" and organized by Cory "Mr. Safety" Williams, drew many well-known vloggers including Ben Going ("boh3m3"), Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla (the comedy duo known as smosh) and Paul Robinett ("renetto").

Paul Bracewell, who goes by "Podcasting 101" on YouTube, has enthusiastically helped organize meetings through his Web site http://www.YouTubemeetup.com. His largest was "777" held in New York's Washington Square Park on July 7, which drew several hundred attendees.

Bracewell is currently helping to plan "SouthTube" in Atlanta on Sept. 22-23. The "DCTubeGathering 987" is also planned for Washington D.C. on Sept. 8.

The gatherings, predictably, are a sea of video cameras looking back at each other.

"Everybody is with a camera," says Houston-based Bracewell. "Everybody is shooting everybody. There's video rolling all the time."

Typically, every aspect of events are recorded, including the invitations, traveling and main event. Over 3.3 million watched a singing video invite to 7/7/07 by YouTuber "HappySlip." Multitudes of recaps soon followed, each with its own perspective -- a fractured point-of-view that can seem like "Rashomon" times ten.

After the New York meet-up, YouTube "Xaves511" said in a video: "Anybody that feels like the user community is a virtual community needed to be there to experience the reality." He added: "We are a loving, caring, respectful community of people."

YouTube has noticed the trend. In a posting on the site's blog (www.youtube.com/blog) on Monday, YouTube said it has been "following the progression of these meet-ups and are impressed with what everyone has contributed toward making them an inspiring experience for all who have attended."

It was unclear how involved YouTube plans to get in organizing the events.

"If Google gets involved it could be interesting," said Bracewell. "But it really should be left up to the users to throw their own backyard barbecue gatherings that may or may not grow to have 1,000 or 10,000 people."

For its part, YouTube -- which is generally very conscious of its community -- is asking users for comments on the gatherings and what the company's role in them should be. An e-mail sent to YouTube on Tuesday was not returned.
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