Five Years Young

14 02 2010

The story behind the beginning of YouTube is probably as mythical as that of eBay’s beginnings, but it makes for good storytelling anyway. Not to mention marketing bluster. Never mind that it likely did not happen quite the way the story goes. The fact of the matter is, it has been, more or less, five years since its conception.

Birthed on 14 February 2005 and domain name registered the day after, the first video was posted two months later, a 19-second clip of Jawed Karim standing in front of the elephants at the San Diego Zoo. Now there’s some trivia to impress your friends with at your next party. Forget about that first MTV video…this is far more culturally relevant (or the fact that Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube in October 2006).

Jumping forward five years, YouTube is now the 5th most-visited site in the world with 134.4 million viewers and 13 billion viewings in the US alone, and ahead of Facebook.

And you thought it was silly for people to post status updates in Facebook. Apparently it is even more acceptable to watch those status updates. Why merely type when you can broadcast yourself?

That is precisely the pop culture impact of YouTube. Whereas iPods allowed us to become our own DJs, and social networks allowed us to publicize our comings and goings, YouTube allows us to become Steven Spielberg wannabes. Entertainers and educators. Parodiers and partiers.

It is no surprise, of course, that both Facebook and YouTube have become marketing playgrounds, almost to the point of being co-opted. Fan pages and dedicated YouTube pages are a dime a dozen as the emphasis morphs from showing and telling to showcasing and selling.

Is this a better place because of YouTube? For those who have never been, I’m sure I know the answer. But for those of us who use it as a search engine in and of itself (hmmm…those Google guys sure are smart), the answer is quite the affirmative. Half the time I am looking for a visual presentation of something anyway, so it makes sense to go straight to the bank.

The sad but true reality is that much of the content filling YouTube servers and bandwidth is copyrighted material owned by unsuspecting others. But that doesn’t stop 40% of all USAmericans from going there. Someday the copyright police will find a way to intervene, but until that day YouTube will continue to be the pipeline for our video creativity. Join me in singing a round of Happy Birthday to one of our favorite cultural icons.

Just don’t shoot it and put me online. That’s a story I’d rather not have shared.

Dr “Let’s Cut The Cake” Gerlich

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