Happy birthday, YouTube: 10 defining videos from the site’s first decade
James R | On 16, Feb 2015
YouTube turned 10 years old this weekend. The site now has more than 1 billion users. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s five hours of video for every second, which means it is humanly impossible to watch all of the video footage that is on YouTube.
It’s hard to believe that former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim had any idea what their creation would become when they began the site back in 2005. Since then, Google bought it for $1.65 billion in 2006. Now, the site is valued at around $40 billion.
People now go to YouTube as their first port of call when it comes to watch videos online. It has become part of the television landscape for a generation, who tune in for anything they can think of, from cute cats and music videos to beauty tutorials and even recordings of people playing video games.
What’s incredible about YouTube, though, is not just its profitability, its popularity or even its social significance: it’s the website’s longevity. To put it into perspective, MySpace launched in 2003. Bebo launched in 2005. Both have faded away over the last decade, because that’s exactly what 10 years on the Internet is: a lifetime. YouTube, on the other hand, is not only still going, but still growing too.
How, exactly, did we get to here? We break down YouTube’s journey from tiny video site to cultural giant:
The first ever YouTube video (2005)
A guy goes to the zoo and looks at the elephants. It’s hard to imagine a more inauspicious start for the global video hub, but it’s precisely what has driven YoUTube’s growth: actual people sharing real videos.
Fast forward a year and it didn’t take long for someone to realise the potential to take advantage of the appetite for real people sharing their diary entries on camera. This interactive web-based video series about a girl called Bree was revealed to be fictitious in 2006 – after becoming an online sensation.
Justin Singing So Sick by Ne-yo (2007)
Synonymous with YouTube’s growth has been the rise of celebrities, both bloggers and music stars. Justin Bieber has been one of the most successful examples of the site’s potential to transport a nobody into a sonebody, all thanks to videos shared online of him performing in local singing contests.
Charlie Bit My Finger – Again! (2007)
And yet, no matter how big celebrities get on the back of YouTube, there will always be room for footage of small children biting their parents’ fingers. The video has since earned its family more than £100,000. You’ve Been what now?
OK Go – Here It Goes Again (2009)
OK Go produced one of the definitive examples of a viral video in 2009 with their song Here It Goes Again: a pop track made instantly memorable (and – crucially – shareable) thanks to its all-in-one-take visuals. It took them 17 times to record it succesfully. In exchange, they got 24.9 million views. And counting.
Minecraft Multiplayer Fun (2010)
Have you heard of PewDiePie? The YouTube star has amassed a following of 34.6 million people in the past five years, just by uploading videos of him playing Minecraft. We’ve written at length before about how Minecraft has effectively become a TV show in its right, with tons of other users uploading their own gameplay too. For young viewers who want to be part of a gaming conversation, want to learn how to play the game, or simply enjoy the silly commentary, PewDiePie and similar channels have become an integral backbone to the YouTube community.
Gangnam Style (2012)
Homegrown talent, such as Justin Bieber, will always have a place on YouTube, but the music industry is increasingly aware of the site’s ability to reach a wide audience. Psy’s Gangnam Style is the epitome of commercial clout, becoming a viral sensation that was the first to hit 1 billion views on YouTube – and last year broke the site’s counter altogether. It’s now the most viewed video on YouTube, with over 2.2 billion views.
TAYLOR SWIFT-I Knew You Were Trouble (GOAT VERSION) (2013)
Dubbing over existing music videos, TV programmes and other footage has become an equally vital function of YouTube. From Cassetteboy’s comedy satire of David Cameron to someone adding their own narration on top of the whole of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the site provides a creative output for people wanting to remix the culture around them. The UK even legalised parody videos in September 2014, enshrining in law the ability of any old so-and-so to replace Taylor Swift with a goat.
The YouTube Interview with President Obama (2015)
Following the State of the Union address in 2015, President Obama sat down with YouTube creators Bethany Mota, GloZell Green and Hank Green for an interview about the top issues facing them and their audiences. The most powerful man on the planet giving his seal of approval to a video site filled with cat videos, babies and Minecraft? It doesn’t get much bigger than that…
… well, until you watch this: