YouTube | How It All Started
- February 1st, 2004, Houston, Texas, 8:30 PM Eastern Standard Time. Over 150 million people across the United States were watching the annual Super Bowl halftime show featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. During the show, Justin was supposed to rip off a layer of Janet's shirt as part of the planned dance choreography. But for some reason, something went wrong, and Justin accidentally ripped part of her shirt off, and let's just say a wardrobe malfunction happened on live national television. The incident became a pretty big news story across the country, and Janet actually got a lot of shit for it because people felt she wasn't being modest enough, with many of the outlets covering the story censoring the video they featured, which, as you could imagine, frustrated many people, particularly men, for obvious reasons. That same year, a much more devastating incident occurred in Asia where a huge earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a massive tsunami that affected 14 countries just one day after Christmas.
It became one of the deadliest recorded natural disasters in human history, and sure enough, a huge portion of it was caught on video. Although these incidents are unrelated, at the time, they shared one thing in common. It was really, really hard to come across videos of them, even on the internet. At around this time, three young men, Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim, and Steve Chen, were working for a company known as PayPal. They were quite satisfied with their jobs.
The 2002 acquisition of PayPal by eBay allowed the three employees to live quite comfortably. Hurley worked as a designer for the company, even creating the PayPal logo, and Karim and Chen both worked as software engineers. Needless to say, they were doing all right, but still, they recognized this big problem that was occurring online. Why was it so freaking hard to come across these videos? Now, in hindsight, this answer makes quite a lot of sense. Many online communities would not want to host explicit and violent content of this nature, especially since online bandwidth was quite limited at the time for a digital medium such as video. If they could use video, might as well use it for more suitable, friendlier content.
Because of these factors, there really weren't a ton of videos you could find on the internet, especially in comparison to what we have today. So what was there to do? Well, the answer to that question would allegedly be found at a dinner party at Chen's San Francisco apartment in which Karim and Hurley also attended. I say allegedly because Karim said that no such dinner party ever occurred. In fact, none of the three founders could ever fully agree on what actually happened.
But anyway, according to legend, at this dinner party, the three guys just started showing each other videos of their cats and thought to themselves, "Hey, these videos are pretty cool. How could we easily share this with all of our friends? I mean, do we really have to burn like 100 DVDs? The file is too big to attach to an email." This reminded them of their struggles to find those videos of Janet Jackson and the tsunami, and that was when they had a revelation. What if we created a website where people didn't have to search all around the internet for a specific video? Instead, they could just find everything in one place.
The boys got to work on their new business venture, and a website called youtube.com was born. Now, this is the story that the media often tells about how YouTube started, and while it certainly is true, it gets a lot more complicated and deeper than that. YouTube was by no means some superficial idea created on Taco Night. It was a rough, rigorous process filled with ingenious design, critical thinking, competition against both other companies and a technologically limited but growing online industry, legal battles, maybe even a little betrayal. Surely something that can't be covered in just one video. Absolutely not, and don't call me Shirley.
Which is why I would like to welcome you to a new series. This is YouTube History. (logo chimes) Firstly, YouTube was not the first video-sharing site.
Not even close. Sites like ShareYourWorld, Metacafe, PandoraTV, StupidVideos, and even Vimeo all predate YouTube. So what was so special about YouTube? Well, all these sites had the same problem, and this problem was the reason it was still so hard to find videos online at the time, technological limitation.
Now, this was due to many factors such as bandwidth, upload quotas, and compatibility issues. In the early 2000s, the internet really wasn't that strong. This was a time where people still thought 50 kilobytes per second was fast and where many were even still using dial-up.
The idea of a website that hosted all kinds of videos was just too ambitious and therefore very selective as to what kind of content could be added on there. And even if you did have the computing power and internet speed to upload such a video, the files could only be a certain size, you could only upload a certain amount of videos, and, most importantly, it had to be the right kind of video. Oh, your video is an AVI file? Well, we only take MPEG. Too bad, so sad.
Running a website costs money and resources, especially hosting big files like video. Not to mention that the operating systems of the time were not spectacular with video streaming performance. So yes, video-sharing sites did exist, but they were just very complicated and annoying, and that was why it was still so hard to come across videos.
And these were all issues that were more or less addressed at this dinner party. The three were already working on a video-oriented website, just under a different vision. "Tune in, hook up." That's right. YouTube was a dating website. This would explain the dropdown menu featured on the first design for the site, but there is some discrepancy as to whether this was the slogan or even the original name of the website.
But regardless, it took great inspiration from an already popular dating site called Hot or Not, where users could upload photos of themselves and you would rate, MySpace style, how hot they were. It was basically this but with video. You couldn't search these videos, they would show up at random, and it was just people briefly talking about themselves. The idea didn't catch on because it was just Hot or Not except it required more work and computing power. Didn't really make sense.
The founders got so desperate, they even tried paying camgirls on Craigslist $20 to put their own videos on the platform just to get the ball rolling. But even with these undesirable results, there was one unknowingly genius thing about the site. This was user-generated content being uploaded to the site in video form.
Perhaps this is where the Janet Jackson video could find its new home. The three boys realized what kind of advantage they had, and the domain name youtube.com was registered on Valentine's Day of 2005. They were so excited about the idea, they were willing to put their jobs on the line. They certainly wouldn't be the first ones to do this.
In fact, a term was coined for a whole group of people who left PayPal to start their own successful businesses called the PayPal Mafia. The founders' roles in putting together the website reflected their positions at PayPal. Hurley would focus on the design aspects of the site, such as how the website would look, and even create the company's logo, and Karim and Chen focused on the code and getting the thing to actually work properly. The technical details of how the site was coded and put together will be its own separate video. But it was created just after a couple of months.
And then on April 25th, 2005, the website officially entered public beta when Karim uploaded the very first-ever video to the site called Me at the zoo, which he filmed at the San Diego Zoo. And instead of advertising it as a dating site, they would focus on a new angle which would be integral to the site's success. It's Flickr for video.
This would be the phrase thrown around in everyday conversation when people were being introduced to YouTube. On Flickr, you could upload any images you want, and the site would host them for any anyone to see. Now that YouTube had this exact approach but with video, it didn't limit what users could post there.
There was something very special about YouTube that allowed it to blow its predecessors out of the water. It took advantage of a very fast-growing and popular technology called Adobe Flash Player. As long as you had this installed on your computer, not only could you view the video online without having to download it, you could upload whatever videos you wanted to the platform. The file type did not matter.
This was a huge deal at the time because now you could upload videos to the internet, well, without being a computer whiz. Flyers were put up around Stanford University. In fact, some of the earliest videos on YouTube would be from Stanford students. And even word of mouth got people to know about this new website. And before they knew it, YouTube now had their own headquarters, an office above a pizzeria in San Mateo, California. And the website grew rapidly. It snowballed.
Its recognition would even branch out into the real world, even being featured on the news. During a segment on the show "Call for Help," co-hosts Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur pose a very interesting question. - A lot of people don't wanna download video. A lot of people wanna go to the website and actually view the video in a player, so- - [Leo] How much? - Free. - [Leo] What? - Yeah, it's completely free.
- [Leo] It's free? - Yeah, it's completely free. - How? Who's paying for the bandwidth? That's amazing. - Not us. (laughs) - [Leo] Yeah.
- That's a great point. Who is paying for it? How on Earth were three guys hosting thousands and thousands of clips with pretty much no problems and for free? Well, according to Hurley, YouTube at the time was using a hosting service called ServerBeach, and they apparently had some special deal where they were giving websites unlimited bandwidth at an affordable price, and so they greatly took advantage of this. But of course not even unlimited is unlimited, and as the site got bigger, they would need to find a more reliable approach eventually. These three did something quite brilliant to combat this, and although the practice wasn't uncommon at the time, it was the method that stood out, the use of venture capitalists. Keep in mind, these three were living comfortably from PayPal, so at the very beginning, being able to fund the storage cost for a site like YouTube out of pocket really isn't that unusual. But as YouTube began to grow rapidly, way beyond what they expected within just the first six months or so, bandwidth demand would grow to sky-high rates.
So the only way to get more money is to ask for it. But rather than asking customers to pay for it through premium subscriptions, they sought out private equity funding from Sequoia Capital in November of 2005, roughly $3 1/2 million, which was just enough to keep them afloat until another company would enter the picture. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. So it was the vision, the website's genius use of Adobe Flash, the funding from venture capitalists, and the fact that it was free that made YouTube destroy the other competition of the time. But there was one other thing, arguably the most important, that's pretty much overlooked, timing.
While I am not the biggest believer in luck, I do believe in perfect storms of circumstances where the outcome can become something favorable based on how the subject behaves. In Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," he makes a very interesting point regarding the success of big tech billionaires. What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, and Andy Bechtolsheim all have in common? They were all born in 1955 just a couple months apart from each other. This might seem like a mundane point, but consider the fact that all of them would've been 20 years old by 1975, meaning they would all be young, healthy, ambitious adults with their whole lives ahead of them that are finally on their own just as the personal computer era is starting. Gladwell argues that if Steve Jobs had been born just a year later, he likely wouldn't have founded Apple. Of course, this is all just educated guessing, and Gladwell goes a lot deeper than that.
But the point is that the factors of your environment and even the era you are living in determine your success in some ways. Let's use the British Invasion of the 1960s as an example. The Beatles' Ed Sullivan performance happened at exactly the right time.
If you want the details for why, I made a video all about it, which you can find up here. Click, click here. The point is that happened, then a million other British acts exactly like them followed and also became insanely popular in America. If The Beatles had shown up just a year earlier or even later, the outcome could have been very different. We even saw this with ChatGPT.
As soon as ChatGPT came out, there was an explosion of AI-related software. The year 2005 was arguably the perfect time to start a video-sharing website. It was the creek that divided the Internet's archaic '90s infrastructure and the new, innovative social media age that we've come to recognize today, and YouTube was the bridge. Some things are just meant to happen all at the same time, and the one who is the most brilliant at convincing people that they are the best prevails. And because of YouTube's incredible features and methods of getting funding and being free, it rose to the top drastically. Just a month later, Dailymotion would come out, and a bunch of other similar sites would follow, but YouTube had that headstart at being brilliant.
And with video streaming-friendly operating systems such as Windows XP holding majority market share in 2005 and with smartphones becoming mainstream very shortly after, the demand for online video became less complicated and more realistic, so running a website like YouTube just wasn't so hard anymore. These things were the catalyst that created the boom. Despite YouTube having a way bigger market share and being much more popular, all of these video-sharing sites were used for roughly the same thing, as digital video repositories. Instead of keeping everything on tape or on DVDs that sit on your shelf, you could access them online whenever you please and even share them with your friends with just a link.
Minimal effort and no downloading necessary. But just like most things in life, the easier they get, the more time it gives people to be creative. So people really started to notice that. They start uploading comedy skits, fictional storytelling, entertainment. Maybe there was a way to make money from this. It was during this time early adopters started working on videos together, creating the world's first-ever online collaborative video community.
Collaborations? Something I'd never do. I'm not a sellout. I'm not some cheap guy who would let any random person take over my channel for like three minutes. Never, ever. - YouTube may have been born as a simple video repository, but something magical happened as the winds of change swept through the internet.
As YouTube and its user base grew, people realized it was not just a place to upload videos but to connect, share stories, and build communities. This is where the concept of influencers comes into play. These were individuals who, through their content, had the power to shape opinions, trends, and cultures. They were the new-age celebrities but with a twist. They were accessible, relatable, and interactive. YouTube became their stage, and the world was their audience.
The platform evolved into a social media giant where content creators and viewers could engage in ways that were never possible through traditional media. One of the earliest and most iconic examples of influencers was Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, the dynamic duo known as Smosh. They were just ordinary high school friends with a shared sense of humor, but they had a knack for creating content that resonated with a generation looking for something fresh and relatable. Their early videos were simple, often just them lip syncing to popular theme songs, but it was their energy, their chemistry, and their humor that made them stand out. Smosh became a phenomenon. They were not just making videos.
They were shaping a culture and a generation. They showed what was possible on this brand-new platform. They were innovators and they were trailblazers. But here's the core of what made Smosh and YouTube such a perfect match, community. YouTube allowed Smosh to build a community, and in return, Smosh helped build YouTube's community.
They grew together. As YouTube continued to grow, it became evident that it was a platform for all ages. Peter Oakley, known as geriatric1927, was a testament to this.
Unlike the energetic energy of Smosh, Peter's content was a gentle stream of wisdom. He shared stories from his life, his thoughts on various topics, and even some tutorials. YouTube provided him with a sense of community, and he, in turn, provided solace and comfort to those who watched his videos. And the community embraced him. They found comfort and ease in his words. They found a friend.
Peter's presence on YouTube also broke stereotypes. He showed that in 2005, social media was far more than just for the young. He demonstrated that age is just a number, and wisdom and connection are timeless. Another early YouTube trailblazer was Lisa Donovan, also known as LisaNova. She entertained and broke barriers for female content creators. But what set LisaNova apart? Well, I'd have to say it was her fearless approach to comedy and her ability to create diverse characters.
She was bold, she was funny, and she was unapologetically herself. Before the birth of YouTube, the comedy scene, especially sketch comedy, was heavily male-dominated. Opportunities for female comedians were few and far between.
YouTube changed the game. It gave creators like LisaNova a platform where they didn't have to wait for someone to give them a chance. They could take the chance on themselves. LisaNova seized this opportunity. Her channel grew rapidly, and she became one of the first female content creators to gain significant popularity on YouTube. Of course, these are just a few of the content creators that shaped the YouTube scene during its earliest days.
There are countless others. And as YouTube grew, so did the amount of its influencers and content creators. From a simple video repository to a social media giant, YouTube became a platform for connection, entertainment, innovation, and community building.
- And just like that, Hollywood was now online, and it all happened before YouTube even left beta, as it would officially go public as a corporation on December 15th, 2005. And YouTube recognized this very much. If this was the direction the site was going in, then it had to take on more personality than being just a video repository, and this would be reflected in design changes such as changing the YouTube profile layout. They were no longer profiles. They were channels. Ditching the ugly online archive look and adopting the highly customizable CSS channel layout, very akin to MySpace pages. You could even add filmmaker roles to it, your entire personality on one page.
And other outside forces were really starting to see the potential of this new website, and so a new company would enter the picture, a sort of acquisition, as you would call it. But I'm afraid we're gonna have to stop there for now. But the fact remains, right now, I can put food on the table quite literally because of Janet Jackson's boobs. There are some things that shouldn't be said out loud.
So that was YouTube History. I really hope you all liked it. My friend Zack is going to help me with a ton of these. Please go check out his channel, especially if you are into YouTube culture-related content.
His videos are fantastic. I know I don't really talk to you, I'm usually talking at you, but I'm really excited about this series. The plan is to do this weekly. We'll see where that goes. I'm really working on it. I'm gonna do the best I can to upload these chronologically, so from like 2005 onwards.
I may not always do that, though, in case I, like, forget a story and wanna go back, but I will do the best I can to make the playlist chronological. So if you really wanna watch, like, the ultimate YouTube History experience, watch it in order from the playlist that I have on the channel. You'll find it on the channel somewhere.
But just stay tuned. Some of the stories I'll be covering for this series are just insane, some of them even anecdotal, like that time I may or may not have almost taken YouTube down accidentally, like, over a decade ago. We'll get there, we'll get there, but we've still got a ways to go.
Anyway, I'm really looking forward to where this series goes and I will see you all soon. Thank you so much for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please subscribe and click the notification bell so that you never miss a future video.