Three years ago, Laurie Shannon started a side project posting cake tutorials on YouTube. Her channel, The Icing Artist, has amassed an impressive following of a little more than 81,200 subscribers and a total of 7,636,550 views. About six months ago, the 26-year-old noticed popular Facebook pages were downloading her five-minute videos, editing them down to one-minute clips, and reposting them to earn millions of views. It soon became clear to Shannon that the interest in her content went beyond practical instruction.
“I don’t think 50 million people are making the cake,” Shannon, who quit her job at the bakery this year to focus on her videos full time, told me. “I think it’s more of a calming thing. They just get hypnotized. I always watch those nail videos; I find them so therapeutic. But I would never do my own nails.”
Even if many DIY artists first got their start with tutorials on YouTube, Facebook’s massive reach has spurred creators to reformat their work in pursuit of widening their audience. On Facebook, however, they’ve learned their goal isn’t to teach people, but to distract them.
I can vouch. A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I landed on a video from a page titled “Daily Picks and Flicks.” The four-minute clip appeared to be some kind of baking tutorial and, despite my News Feed algorithm’s best efforts, was completely unrelated to my interests. Though I have eaten many cookies in my life, I haven’t baked one in well over seven years. (The closest I have come to actually decorating a food item in recent history is artfully pouring Cholula on an egg.) And yet, I clicked.
What followed was the most impressive homespun feat I had ever witnessed. At 5x normal speed, a manicured hand began tracing delicate lines of frosting on a cookie. As a sugary white canvas materialized before me, I was struck with suspense. What possible embellishments could come next? The hand soon answered by confidently painting flower after multicolored flower, each more complex than the next. By the time the crafter began lining the cookie’s edges with a lace-frosting trim, I had slipped into a near meditative state. This masterpiece — what ended up being a cookie styled to look like an embroidered doily — had come together flawlessly in under five minutes.
This was not meant to be presented as a tutorial but as unadulterated homemaker porn. “I couldn’t even draw a dot!” one viewer wrote in a comment. “So many moments where I would have messed it up. I’d probably need anger management classes after attempting to recreate this,” another chimed. Its otherworldliness was a break from the rest of my day’s static activities: I spent about seven additional hours typing on my laptop; I ordered lunch from Seamless; I scheduled a laundry pickup on the Cleanly app. I’m willing to bet a good fraction of the 9.7 million people who watched that transcendent video had similar afternoons. There’s very little room to perform intricate sugar cookie decorations when your employer expects you to answer emails past 8 p.m.
Whatever Facebook gets wrong about delivering news to its users, there’s no doubt that the company’s integration of video into its News Feed has opened unexpected pathways for content creators. In the crafting community, it’s sprouted a budding genre of wordless, sharply edited footage that shows the accelerated assembly of materials into a completed product. You might recognize the aesthetic, for instance, from BuzzFeed’s extremely successful Tasty cooking vertical. But these clips take many forms: detailed nail art, scrapbooking, dessert decoration, hair-braiding, and the transformation of mundane household items into helpful tools. Format-wise, they are the perfect length for someone working the casual desk job who’s desperate for a minute break and thrilled to see something materialize out of thin air. (Even better if you don’t need earbuds to enjoy it.)
It’s possible that the millions of people who consume this genre of content — often posted by viral-video-aggregating Facebook pages like 5-Minute Crafts or The Bright Side — just really like playing around with pipe cleaners and craft paper. But for those of us who spend our waking hours glued to a computer screen, these clips can also serve as aspirational windows to the tactile world — a world where people use their hands to make things! If YouTube offers long and meandering ASMR videos to put people to sleep, Facebook is home to fast-forwarded cake decorating tutorials that serve as quickie meditations.
Nowadays after filming a long YouTube video, Shannon will make her own supercuts of it for Facebook and Instagram. Within the past half-year, she’s grown the audience on her Facebook page from 20,000 followers to nearly 190,500. In this shift, she’s noticed that the appeal of craft videos lies in a medium people are familiar with — in her case, using traditional icing rather than fondant decorations.
“They find it fascinating to see what you can do when you’re piping and smoothing,” she said. “It’s something that’s relatable.”
YouTube and Facebook statistics are current through Wednesday evening.