How YouTube Became One of the Most Important Sites Ever

YouTube Play Button Credit: YouTube
Could you even imagine a world without YouTube? Yeah, me neither. 

Within the elite group of website-giants is a video-sharing platform that we all interact with at least once a day. Known as the second largest search engine on the web—the first being Google—the platform is the go-to website for anyone who wants to watch... well, anything. 

That’s right folks, I am talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly—YouTube

YouTube is an essential part of many people’s lives. Whether you are a content creator who lives off making YouTube videos or someone like me who watches older movies like The Red Shoes and Joe Versus the Volcano for free, the video-sharing platform revolutionized the way we watch videos online. Thanks to three guys, Janet Jackson, the urge to create a dating website, and the beautifully terrifying internet, we have an easy-to-use video sharing and streaming platform that makes it hard to stop watching. 

Table of Contents


Who invented YouTube? 

The brainpower behind YouTube could be found working at PayPal in the early 2000s. Three guys—Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim—met while working at the e-commerce company. 

Chen and Karim both studied computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but Karim left to work at PayPal while still pursuing his degree at Stanford. After graduation, Chen would also be employed by PayPal. Hurley attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he studied design, and would later meet Chen and Karim at PayPal after he graduated in 1999.  

YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim Credit: Brand Success Story

The idea behind YouTube

There are multiple stories of how the three men came up with the idea for YouTube. Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence that can prove which story is false and which one is the truth, but you can believe which one you like best. 

The first story that is often repeated in the media is that Hurley and Chen developed the idea for YouTube after experiencing difficulty sharing videos that had been shot at a dinner party at Chen’s apartment in San Francisco. To eliminate this issue, the two men decided to create a platform that would make sharing videos with a large number of people easy. Although this story seems very plausible, it is a very clean story that looks good in the eyes of families and worried mothers who are wary of the internet. 

YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen Credit: Business Insider

Karim did not attend this party and denied that Hurley and Chen thought of the idea that night. Chen even stated that the story was probably a marketing ploy that was easily digestible, and convinced people to check out the family-friendly video sharing site. 

The second origin story is my personal favorite. Karim said that the inspiration for YouTube first came after the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in 2004. Janet Jackson had been performing with Justin Timberlake, and at the end of their act, Timberlake pulled off a part of Jackson’s top, exposing her right breast. Luckily, Jackson had worn a nipple shield, but for less than a second, the world saw a famous woman's boob on TV. 

Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performance at the Super Bowl XXXVIII Halftime Show that would later become Karim's inspiration for YouTube Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Karim wanted to find this video clip of the incident, but couldn’t find it anywhere online. Since there were no video-sharing sites online, Karim saw the benefits of creating a site that could feed this demand. 

Hurley and Chen said that their original idea for YouTube was a video online dating service that had been influenced by the website Hot or Not—a dating site that allowed users to rate the attractiveness of photos submitted by the user or others. They asked women via a Craigslist post asking to upload videos of themselves to the video-sharing site in exchange for a $100 reward. Unfortunately, Hurley and Chen were unable to generate enough dating videos to launch their site, and they decided to change plans. Instead of just dating videos, the founders decided to accept uploads of any type of video. 

In the end, it is possibly a mix of Karim's idea and the efforts of Hurley and Chen that made YouTube what it was. It is understandable why a cleaner version of the story was produced to encourage the average family to use the site; no parent would feel comfortable with their kid using a site that once uploaded dating profiles. 

Was YouTube the first video-sharing platform? 

Surprisingly, the idea for YouTube was not very original. The first video-sharing platform on the web was Vimeo, a site that focused on many of the same aspects YouTube would later incorporate into their site. 

Vimeo was mainly a side project for Jake Lodwick and Zach Klein who both assisted in developing CollegeHumor, a site that caters to comedy-based videos. The inspiration for Vimeo came after CollegeHumor received a large number of views from a posted video clip of Ashlee Simpson’s infamous lip-syncing incident on Saturday Night Live back in 2004. 

Google even tried creating a video streaming platform in January 2005. Google Video was a free video hosting service that allowed video clips to be hosted on Google servers and embedded onto other websites without running into bandwidth or storage capacity issues. Unfortunately, Google Video failed to generate much traffic.

How did YouTube get its name? 

YouTube’s name is pretty simple and self-explanatory. 

The “You” represents that the content is user-generated, created by the individual users and not the site itself. “Tube” is a nod to the original term for television, implying that this video-sharing platform is like viewing home videos on the internet. 

Some users confused YouTube’s URL for Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment’s URL, www.utube.com. The company filed a lawsuit against YouTube after their site was regularly overloaded with people looking for YouTube, but the lawsuit was unsuccessful and the company changed its URL to www.utubeonline.com

The launch of YouTube, and this first video posted 

In February 2005, the company launched YouTube.com from an office space above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California. On April 23, 2005, the first video was uploaded to YouTube by co-founder Jawed Karim: 

The video, titled “Me at the zoo,” shows Karim at the San Diego Zoo standing in front of the elephant exhibit. While not much is happening in the 19-second video, it is the first test to see if the site could function as a video-sharing platform. Little did Karim, Hurley, and Chen know that they were making a little piece of history when that first video was posted. 

What was the first video to reach 1 million views? 

YouTube launched a public beta version of the site a month after uploading the first video to the site. It was recorded that around 30,000 visitors came to the site each day. 

In November of 2005, Nike saw the marketing potential with YouTube and decided to create a channel. They uploaded an ad featuring Mundial Ronaldinho receiving a pair of golden boots. The views on that video skyrocketed, making it the first video to reach one million total views.  

By the time the site officially launched on December 15, 2005, the site was receiving 8 million views a day. Each uploaded video was limited to 100 megabytes, which is about 30 seconds worth of footage. In July 2006, the company announced that more than 65,000 new videos were uploaded each day and that the site received 100 million video views per day, making it one of the most successful and popular platforms on the internet. 

What was the first viral video on YouTube?  

Youtube’s launch was a successful one. With videos being uploaded constantly to the site and the constant flow of traffic, the site became the go-to place for all video content. 

During YouTube’s launch week, Saturday Night Live ran the skit “Lazy Sunday” by The Lonely Island, and it was quickly uploaded to YouTube by multiple users. 

“Lazy Sunday” became an instant hit, boosting ratings for Saturday Night Live and traffic to YouTube. The unofficial uploads of the skit to the video-sharing platform drew more than 5 million views by February of 2006 before NBC Universal requested it to be completely removed from the site based on copyright concerns. Regardless of NBC Universal’s actions, “Lazy Sunday” became the first viral video that established YouTube as an important website for the average person. 

YouTube decides to sell to Google

The success of YouTube came with its own set of problems. The company had to purchase more computer equipment and broadband connections to the Internet to keep up with the site's traffic. YouTube also had some financial struggles as many companies discovered videos that contained copyrighted material on the site and took the company to court. With this overwhelming success and limitations, the founders began looking for a buyer. 

After the failure of Google Video, Google decided to purchase YouTube for $1.65 billion in stocks in November 2006. Rather than merging their website with YouTube, Google continued YouTube’s operations as before. Why try to fix something that works perfectly? 

Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billionCredit: The New York Times

Google was a bit concerned with copyright infringement though after the viral success and banishment of “Lazy Sunday.” To reduce this risk, Google negotiated deals with several entertainment companies that would allow copyrighted video material to appear on YouTube, giving YouTubers the right to include certain copyrighted songs in their videos. The deal also agreed to remove tens of thousands of copyrighted videos from YouTube that were uploaded by third parties. 

In November 2008, Google made a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to show some of the studio’s full-length films and television shows for free on YouTube with advertisements running alongside the programs.

Making your homepage personal

The ubiquitous "algorithm" is always present in our lives and affects what we watch on YouTube. Karim’s purpose for creating YouTube was to crowdsource videos that people wanted to find, so the YouTube algorithm recommended the videos that attracted the most views or clicks. This, unfortunately, led to an increase of misleading titles and thumbnails that intrigued viewers enough to click on them—in other words, clickbait. 

As user experience plummeted due to clickbait videos leaving people feeling tricked and unsatisfied, the algorithm changed. Instead of recommending videos based on clicks, YouTube decided to recommend videos based on time watched. When people find videos valuable and interesting, they watch for longer. 

Some creators tried to make their videos shorter to have viewers watch the video all of the way through, while other creators made their videos longer to increase the overall time watched. 

In 2016, the algorithm got more personal. 

A breakdown of YouTube's algorithm Credit: Paul Covington, Jay Adams, Emre Sargin

YouTube released a whitepaper describing some of the inner workings of its AI, and it was revealed that the new algorithm targeted videos that were similar to a particular viewer's watch history. In a 2017 interview with Verge, a YouTube executive said the new algorithm was capable of drawing users deeper into the platform by creating an “adjacent relationship” between videos and the viewer. The idea was to match viewers with videos that they would want to watch, which in turn made users spend more time on the site.  

Although we can thank the algorithm for personalizing our YouTube home pages, the algorithm can heighten a topic’s sensationalism and pull users deeper into conspiracies. It can be hard to escape videos that all say the same thing if you don’t search for the opposing opinion yourself.

On the positive side, the algorithm knows what type of content you would like, and filters out the videos that the site knows you would never click on. 

The beauty of YouTube for filmmakers 

There is no way to ignore the influence that YouTube has had. Right now, YouTube is the second most popular website, with Google being the first, accounting for 15% of traffic on the internet. Every minute, 500 hours of videos are uploaded, which means that 720,000 hours of content is uploaded every day to YouTube. It is hard to say there is nothing to watch when there is that much content to consume. 

The platform also offers people a space to showcase their amazing skills and talent to an audience, for free. The platform is a space for a diverse amount of creators from every corner of the world to provide content that they are interested in. Some people have even been fortunate enough to turn their content creation into a job. YouTubers can receive a generous income from each of their videos based on ad sponsors, fan funding, and merchandise.

If they are lucky enough, they might be noticed by companies, like Shamook, who was offered a position with ILM/LucasFilms after posting a video of how he would have deepfaked Luke Skywalker in the second season finale of The Mandalorian

The platform is also a great way for filmmakers to upload their short films after the film festival season has come to a close. While YouTube does not directly target a film community, it does expose the filmmaker to a wider audience that would have not engaged with the short film in any other way. The best thing that can come out of uploading a short film to YouTube is that it goes viral, and generates a fanbase who will follow the creator’s future projects or that it will catch the eye of a talent agent or producer. 

It is undeniable that YouTube has ingrained itself as an important website and tool in our day-to-day lives. In an instant, we can watch and share videos with our friends and find ourselves in a community with others online who are interested in a certain video topic. The unique face-to-face communication platform has created a different style of journalism in the digital age that has made its presence known.

So if you are looking to turn that hobby of yours into a part-time job, hit record on your camera and upload your video to YouTube. The results may be better than you could ever imagine. 

Let us know your thoughts on YouTube and its impact on your life in the comments below!      

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so interesting

November 24, 2021 at 5:27AM

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