“Alright, so here we are in front of the elephants.” These famous first words were spoken by YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim in YouTube’s first uploaded video, “Me at the zoo”. Since this event in 2005 more than 100 billion videos have been uploaded. So where did the idea for YouTube come from and how did it get started? And how does YouTube function as social networking? We’ll first explore its background to help understand its functions.
The idea for YouTube came from three friends, all former PayPal employees, looking for an online business opportunity. Their original idea was to create a dating website, supposedly called “Tune In Hook Up”, that would be a video version of HotOrNot.com. Beyond this, there are conflicting versions of how the idea for YouTube came into being. One version says that it was born out of Karim’s inability to find a video clips of either Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the 2004 Super Bowl or the Indian Ocean tsunami of the same year. The other version says that the idea came after the founders had trouble sharing videos online that were taken at a dinner party; Karim says this never happened, while the other co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen say that the party happened, but Karim was not there.
Whatever the truth may be, on February 14, 2005 the domain name www.youtube.com was activated, and “Me at the zoo” was uploaded at 8:27 p.m. on April 23, 2005. While Hurley became the CEO and Chen, chief technology officer, Karim opted to forego a management position in order to pursue his master’s degree. A mere twenty-one months later in October, 2006, YouTube was purchased by Google for 1.65 billion dollars—not bad for three guys in their twenties. For more information on YouTube’s founders and history, check out these articles: “The YouTube Gurus” , “Brief History YouTube” , and “Surprise! There’s a third YouTube co-founder”.
According to YouTube, these are their some of their current viewership stats:
- More than 1 billion users per month—that’s unique users, not repeats.
- 100 hours of video are uploaded per minute.
- Over 6 billion hours of video are watched per month.
- 70% of their site traffic comes from outside the US.
To view the full list of stats, go to http://www.youtube.com/yt/press/statistics.html
So what makes YouTube so popular? Viewers are likely initially drawn to the plethora of videos available in every genre imaginable. Want to know what Walt Disney World looked like when it opened forty years ago? They have it: Walt Disney World Promo 1970’s. Need to know how to tie a necktie? They have that too: How to Tie a Tie for BEGINNERS. YouTube makes it very easy to search for videos, and after clicking on one it provides a list of related videos; this is helpful in finding the next part of a multi-part video, or if you are interested in seeing more videos on the same topic. YouTube also features live streaming of events in many categories, such as news, sports, and entertainment for up-to-the-minute coverage.
While the viewer can watch all they like without signing in, having an account provides additional benefits. Once logged in, the user can “favorite” videos for easy viewing in the future, and can also set up playlists which act as categories in which to place videos. Of course, the user can also become an active participant by uploading their own videos to share.
Another key feature is the YouTube mobile app, available for smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and smart TVs. These can be downloaded from YouTube’s website, through this link: http://www.youtube.com/yt/devices/. This makes it possible to take YouTube on the go. The mobile app works much the same way as the desktop version, so users can still favorite and add videos to playlists. Video upload can also be done from a mobile device using the app, email, or MMS. Here’s the how-to: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/57407?hl=en
Many of YouTube’s features also function as social networking features. As part of Web 2.0, the content of the site is created by its users, and it is in perpetual beta. Users upload their videos to their personal “channel” where other users have the opportunity not only to view these videos, but to like or dislike, and comment on them as well. Viewers also have the authority to moderate the site. Since YouTube staffers cannot possibly view the multitude of content that is uploaded every day, viewers can flag any video that they feel violates YouTube’s community guidelines. Staffers are on duty twenty-four hours a day to review any flagged videos and determine appropriate action, such as removal or adding age restrictions. (See the guidelines here: http://www.youtube.com/t/community_guidelines )
As mentioned earlier, if a viewer particularly enjoys a certain video they can “favorite” it, which adds it to their favorite list, or they can add it to one of their playlists. If the viewer finds a channel that they consistently enjoy, they can subscribe to the entire channel. Once subscribed, the viewer can choose to be notified whenever the channel owner uploads new content, and the owner can post messages to their subscribers.
Although YouTube does not have the reciprocal “friends” feature of Facebook, users can still share videos with their friends through a multitude of options. With the click of a button you can share to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and others. There are also options to send via email or embed into a blog.
The channel owner can add links to their other social networking pages (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and can feature other users’ channels on their YouTube homepage.
Another good social networking feature is the discussion tab, also found on the channel’s homepage. This is similar to the comment thread on individual videos, but this is discussion about the channel in general. YouTube is currently making changes to the comment process, and those changes are first being implemented here in the discussion threads. This is in response to the flaming that has become so widespread throughout the last several years; this is thought to be due, at least in part, to the anonymity provided by screen names.
In a nutshell, the new settings will be more personalized, allowing comments by the owner and their contacts through linked accounts like Google+ to be featured at the top of the thread. It will also allow the channel owner to personally input three things: approved users whose comments will always be shown; banned users whose comments will never be shown; and words that will flag a comment for review before posting. (Read more on the changes here.)
Unfortunately, with a technology like YouTube, there is always the potential for harming interpersonal relationships instead of building them. There have been numerous accounts of “revenge” videos (often posted by jilted exes) and videos classified as “cyber-bullying” posted to YouTube, leading to the embarrassment or mental anguish of the other party. This practice is so prevalent that legislature to prevent people from doing this and to punish those who do has already been enacted in some places and is being considered in others. There is also an activist website called endrevengeporn.org
Other issues are jointly defined as “YouTube effect”, a term that seems to be loosely used to cover multiple things. For the purposes of this discussion we will address two of these. The first is the phenomenon created by viral videos which are viewed by a massive amount of people in a relatively short period of time. Other viewers, often teenagers, see these videos and the perceived “fame” that comes along with them. This prompts them to record and post their own videos, hoping for the same results but often leading to disappointment. In the context of interpersonal relationships, the video owner equates number of likes with acceptance, leading to less satisfying relationships. (Read more about this here.)
The other version of the effect is that of decreased face-to-face communication. This can be caused by two factors: first, the user spending so much time posting and viewing videos that they spend less time with friends and family. The other factor is due to the nature of the technology itself; if a viewer wants to share a video with a friend, the natural inclination is to send it via email or Facebook, and then wait for an electronic response; this decreases the media richness of the interaction. (Read more about this here.)
YouTube and Google+ have developed somewhat of a solution to this, as Google+ users can use the Hangout feature and watch a video simultaneously with everyone on the video call. The problem with this solution is twofold: it is a feature accessed outside of YouTube, and not everyone is on Google+ or wants to be.
With a few recommendations, YouTube could make its popular service even better. The first recommendation would be to create a “friends” feature similar to that of Facebook. Right now, YouTube is more like Twitter in that you may follow someone but they might or might not follow you. Social networking could be increased by allowing the channel owner to decide, as on Facebook, if this is a personal channel that accepts reciprocal friend requests, or if it is more like a Facebook “page” to which people only subscribe.
This option would allow for a “feed”, streaming not only new uploads from channel subscriptions, but uploads, statuses, and comments by friends as well. Currently, each channel has a home “feed” tab that viewers can see by going to that channel; however, it is not interactive. The feed shows activity by the channel owner and allows the owner to post their status or comments, but viewers cannot respond. Social networking could be increased if this became an interactive conversation.
It would also be helpful to include a video chat/simultaneous viewing option within YouTube. If done this way, viewers would not have to switch from YouTube to Google+; they could click a button next to the video within YouTube and call their friends. Doing this would make use of the “friends” feature by establishing the initial connection, and then indicating which friends are logged in and available.
While the video chat/simultaneous viewing feature would help the second type of “YouTube Effect” by increasing media richness, there are really no recommendations directly to YouTube for the first. People craving the attention brought by viral videos is a personal issue, and has to be addressed on that level.
Similarly, revenge videos and cyber-bullying are largely handled on the home front and with legislature. Until highly sophisticated software is developed that can analyze the nature of a video during upload, YouTube’s system of flagging offensive videos and reviewing them swiftly may indeed be the best way to handle the issue on their end.
In summary, YouTube is an excellent vehicle for showcasing personal videos, and can even help foster interpersonal relationships; with a few improvements, it could become even better. In the meantime: sit back, relax, and enjoy the thirty most-watched YouTube videos of all time! At the top? The first video to reach one billion views—Gangnam Style!