YouTube Is Getting Ready to Celebrate Its 9th Birthday

Depending on how you define when a company is “born,” YouTube is on the brink of the verge of the edge of celebrating its ninth birthday. It’s amazing to think that no one in the industry has “10 years of YouTube marketing experience.”

As Chris Tryhorn of observed on August 29, 2008, “You know how it is with technology — once something becomes so ubiquitous and so universally used, it is simply impossible to imagine life without it.”

Embedded in his article “Life Before YouTube” is a funny video by Matt Koval entitled, “The Making of YouTube” which is only three minutes and 36 seconds long.

YouTube was founded in February 2005 by three former PayPal employees: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim. According to Jim Hopkins of USA Today (Oct. 11, 2006), the idea for what became YouTube sprang from two very different events in 2004: Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show and the great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, also known as the Asian Tsunami or Boxing Day Tsunami. In February 2005, it was difficult to find and share online videos of either event.

At a San Francisco dinner party, Karim proposed to Hurley and Chen that they create a video-sharing site. “I thought it was a good idea,” Karim told Hopkins.

Within a few days, the three agreed to develop the idea and then divided work based on their skills: Hurley designed the site’s interface, while Chen and Karim split the technical duties for making the site work. It’s worth noting that none of the three had strengths or interests in marketing.

The first video on YouTube was shot by Yakov Lapitsky and features Karim at the San Diego Zoo. “Me at the Zoo” is only 18 seconds long. That video was uploaded on Saturday, April 23, 2005, at 8:27 p.m. At that time, YouTube’s headquarters was above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California.

In front of the elephants, Karim says, “The cool thing about these guys today is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks.” An annotation added more than three years later asks, “Can you hear the goat? MEEEEEEEEEEEH!”

As of today, “Me at the Zoo” has more than 14.6 million views.

Why is this ordinary moment so extraordinary? In spite of what Karim says, it’s not the elephants or their trunks. And despite the annotation, it’s not the goat.

That’s why the real story is what happened next. And it’s only in hindsight that we can see why YouTube went on to become the world’s most popular online video community.

The beta launch of YouTube took place in May 2005 and the video sharing site was officially launched in December 2005. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, YouTube didn’t “git thar fustest with the mostest.” And it didn’t attempt to be a “fast follower.”

YouTube began as a personal video sharing service, not as yet another video search engine. This strategy is called “hit ‘em where they ain’t.” It enabled YouTube to emerge from relative obscurity shortly after December 17, 2005, when a video entitled “Lazy Sunday” — which was a copy of the Saturday Night Live skit “The Chronicles of Narnia Rap” — was uploaded to the video-sharing site.

On December 27, Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times reported that “Lazy Sunday” had already been viewed more than 1.2 million times. The next day, LeeAnn Prescott, who was the research director at Hitwise at the time, posted her analysis of the hot video of the past week on her Hitwise Intelligence Analyst Weblog. Visits to YouTube, where people could discover, watch, and share “The Chronicles of Narnia Rap,” shot up 83 percent in one week — and surpassed visits to Google Video.

Since then, YouTube has fundamentally changed the video industry and democratized mainstream media. It provides everyone the opportunity to contribute to the global exchange of ideas and offer ways for content creators and advertisers to build, grow and interact with audiences.

Considering all this, when would you choose to celebrate YouTube’s ninth birthday? Well, YouTubers have traditionally chosen May and that’s when you can expect this year’s celebration. Although it’s always hard to know what to expect next from a site with powerful effects which reach far beyond water cooler chitchat about the latest meme.

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