Allow me to make a bold statement: YouTube, at 10 years old, is the most interesting place on the internet. It’s not about the platform or the brand, of course, but rather the sheer amount of content it hosts and its diversity.
300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Not all of it is worth watching but enough of it is that you won’t live long enough to see it all.
And there’s more to it than watching. Online video can engage people in many ways. Some of these are engineered, such as ‘liking’ or leaving a comment, and others entirely unexpected, like the YouTube-inspired servers for Minecraft. Plenty of offline occurrences spring from the uploading of a video, from massive conventions to familial reunions.
So, on the occasion of its 10th birthday, we’re exploring the evolution of this most fascinating and gargantuan of websites. Note: I’ve tried my hardest to find and verify original uploads but sometimes ... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
1. “Me at the zoo” (2005)
YouTube’s first ever video was uploaded on 23 April 2005. (The site’s 14 February birthday marks the registering of its domain. Tenuous maybe, but it is Valentine’s Day so we have love in our hearts and we will let them off.)
It’s perfectly inconsequential; site co-founder Jawed Kareem, blissfully unaware of what his bad elephant joke will come to represent.
As life stories go, YouTube couldn’t have a humbler origin. But, given the increasingly threatened sanctity of an egalitarian internet, the pointlessness of this clip seems almost profound.
Also, how retro is 2005?
2. justin timberlake ft. janet jackson - rock your body (2006)
From humble beginnings to the dawn of viral video. This Superbowl clip is cited as the founders’ original inspiration for an online video platform. As a search term, “Janet Jackson” went massively viral in 2004-05, but there was no where obvious for the clip to live.
Should we be surprised that the catalyst for global paradigmatic change was a split-second of unplanned public nudity? No we shouldn’t. In hindsight, we have nipplegate to thank for what is variously described as the scourge and joy of viral video.
3. Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 6 years. (2006)
This video is one of the first and most viewed of its kind. YouTube is now awash with them, suggesting that online video is perhaps humanity’s preferred way of relating to one another on a massive scale.
Videos like this pay tribute to our ingenuity while at the same time highlighting our mortality and relative insignificance. This may sound like codswallop, but the speed with which such videos are replicated confirms that, as a species, we seriously dig them.
4. HOW TO: Be A Bad Bitch | Tyler Oakley (2010)
From the sublime to the ridiculous. If you’re an adult, you may be yet to encounter Tyler Oakley. But chances are you’ve glimpsed his face or your younger relatives are au fait and possibly ardent fans.
This video represents the phenomenon of YouTube fame. But we aren’t talking Justin Bieber, Psy or anyone who used the internet to launch conventional celebrity careers. Dedicated YouTubers like Tyler Oakley, were born, bred and thrive in online video. And it’s largely because their loyal fan-bases live online too.
Echoing many native YouTube stars, Oakley told us he didn’t foresee any of it: “I never dreamed that YouTube could be a full-time career for me.”
Indeed, this is not the lip-syncing of someone aiming for the big-time in a traditional sense. But it was the start of something else, as Oakley explains:
After one listen I instantly fell in love with the song so for the entire ride [to LA from Las Vegas] to I kept playing it over and over so I could try to learn all the words. The second I walked into my apartment, I set up my camera ... I uploaded it to Facebook and got a huge response from all of my friends so I decided to upload it on YouTube as well. It went viral in a day.
Oakley has since built a bona fide entertainment career, with occasional mainstream gigs complementing his YouTube channel, to which 6.5m subscribe.
Controlling his own means of distribution leaves him free to advocate for LGBT rights alongside vlogging about his favourite 1D member. (Harry, in case you were wondering) And his reputation for both means he has a big enough online footprint to raise serious money for good causes.
5. Nyan Cat 10 hours (original) (2011)
That all got a bit intense. So, here’s 10 hours of Nyan Cat, which is also what YouTube is for.
The video description for this reads: ‘First and best edition of longest Nyan Cat video on Youtube’ which is almost certainly an oxymoronic statement.
6. Four Horsemen - Feature Documentary - Official Version (2013)
In 2010, YouTube lifted limits on the length of video users could upload. Since someone had already done a 10-hour Nyan Cat video, Ross Ashcroft used this facility to freely distribute his “an award winning independent feature documentary” about the global financial crisis.
Criticism of the filmmaking aside, Four Horsemen demonstrates the full potential (some totalitarian regimes might say danger) of an open video platform. It’s view count also destroys the common misconception that we only have attention spans for 1.5-minute, animated politics.
7. Abdullah-X: Five Considerations for a Muslim on Syria
It’s important to acknowledge the key role of YouTube in the breaking and analysing of news. The journalist Elliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, broke “some of the most important stories on the Syrian conflict” by, among other things, watching YouTube videos to monitor weapons trafficking.
ABC News called the horrific 2009 death of Iranian protest bystander Neda Agha-Soltan “one of the most witnessed deaths in history” because of its uncensored presence on YouTube. More recently, Time magazine termed the conflict in Syria “The YouTube War”.
By 2014, however, online video had also become a place for serious debate and reaction to raw documentation, as demonstrated by one Islamic initiative to reach out to young, would-be jihadists.
8. Comment Update! (2014)
PewdiePie is the YouTuber you’ve probably heard of because he’s perfect news-fodder; astronomically successful, objectively irritating and completely baffling, at least to your average grown-up.
He has over 34.5m subscribers to videos that mostly consist of him narrating his own computer-game play, in an inimitably silly fashion beloved by teens. Those of a cynical persuasion might be tempted to find a link between his ad-friendly content and the waves of hype his channel attracts.
Felix Kjellberg, however, generally comes across as grounded and almost repulsed by fame. Indicative of this, last year he reset one of the most fundamental YouTube conventions by switching off comments on his videos.
Though initially opaque about his motives, he later explained he was tired of the spam and so was taking his engaged fans elsewhere to chat about his videos.
By taking the matter into his own hands, Kjellberg reminded YouTube where the real power lies on its platform; with independent creators not the brand.
9. Abuse on YouTube (2014)
Another growing pain for YouTube has been navigating its responsibility for offline activity linked its online content, particularly when it comes to young people and the creators they adore.
The company has a clear safety policy but has nevertheless endured controversy linked to multiple allegations of abuse made against some male YouTubers by mostly female viewers. Only one creator has ever been charged.
As with documenting conflict, the reaction to abuse controversies has been compelling in its own right. Proving that the site can be a platform for debate, many people made videos on the importance of consent and overall positivity of YouTube sub-cultures and communities, despite its potential for manipulation by a minority.
10. The YouTube Interview with President Obama (2015)
A decade may as well be an epoch in internet years. It certainly seems like it in the development of online video, which has gone from an elephant penis joke to an extended interview with the US president.
Importantly, still centre-stage as interviewers are three unpolished, diverse and independent creators, one of whom offers the president green lipstick, while another is the joint head of a multi-platform community called Nerdfighteria which runs things like “The Project for Awesome”. If this seems worryingly trivial, we assure you it is not.
The interview is hosted on the president’s White House channel. Not only does the most powerful man in the world acknowledge online video, he appears to ‘get’ its fundamental importance to reaching younger generations and wider demographics.
If that isn’t an endorsement, we don’t know what is.
This article was written by Fred McConnell, for theguardian.com on Friday 13th February 2015 13.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010