It would be difficult to argue that social media has not massively and fundamentally changed our daily lives, society, international relations, and culture across the world. While social media may be primarily used for several hundred million people's daily updates, it has grown into something that can enact real effects and changes on society.
Take, for example, the Arab Spring; it was a massive societal and political revolution that occurred in several Middle Eastern countries. Those participating in the revolutions used Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to organize and educate the world about what was really going on. In short, social media has revolutionized the revolution.
While Twitter and Facebook definitely have important contributions to these revolutions, words on a page can only invoke an emotional response if one chooses to believe them. With the advent of YouTube, suddenly anyone anywhere, with a camera phone and a cellular connection, could upload footage for the entire rest of the Internet to consume.
A significant number of people visit YouTube to view original content, and companies use YouTube as a basic platform to host their newest promotions, trailers, music videos, or television content. As such, it is hard to argue against the fact that YouTube has become the premier location for online video viewing.
How did this come to be? Well, the story begins in 2005.
(From left to right: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, Jawed Karim)
Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim, and Steve Chen were all PayPal employees. Hurley was part of the team that designed the PayPal logo, Karim was helping install core components (including the real-time anti-internet fraud system), and Chen was splitting his time between working at PayPal and working at a new social media company called Facebook.
Karim and Chen went to the same alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and they met Hurley while all three are working at PayPal. They began to toss around the idea of a video hosting website, and the first concepts of YouTube began to form.
They activated the domain name “Youtube.com” on February 15, 2005, and began development of it over the following months. The first upload was made on April 23, 2005, titled “Me at the zoo." The video features Karim discussing what makes elephants cool for about 18 seconds. Little did they know that this video would one day be followed by “Gangnam Style," “What Does The Fox Say?,” and “Charlie Bit My Finger.”
"We're starting to see that anyone with an Internet connection, a digital camera, and computer can become a star overnight."
- Steve Chen
YouTube quickly gained traction after its launch. By June of 2006, it had forged a partnership with NBC. On October 9, Google bought YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars in stock (an astronomical amount of money at the time, and now it feels almost like they got ripped off). Hurley maintained his position as the CEO even after the Google buy, until 2010, when he stepped down to work on other projects. YouTube’s influence grew so much that Time Magazine made the 2006 Person of the Year ‘You,' with a photo mimicking the YouTube layout at the time.
From then on, YouTube only continued to grow. In 2007, the bandwidth that YouTube was using equaled the entire Internet’s bandwidth in 2000. CNN and YouTube partnered for the Presidential Debates in 2008, with users being able to interact and ask questions via the comments section (I can only imagine how much they had to dig through to find real questions). In 2010, the first VidCon, a convention dedicated entirely to Online Video Creators, was held in California.
"We want to entertain, inform, and empower people with video around the world."
- Chad Hurley
It is at this point that YouTube began to become an international tool for education and engagement. It gave a large, international audience a first person look. It had no mediation by any government or other media, at least in terms of uploading (some countries still attempt to censor as much as they can) and allowing people to obtain content and engage in it with other people globally.
‘New media’ arose with personalities like Philip DeFranco and John and Hank Green, or the vlogbrothers, who went on to create news-oriented programs on YouTube. DeFranco created his own “Philip DeFranco Show” and helped start “SourceFed.” The vlogbrothers made their own show that helped explain complicated current events, and also created and hosted “Crash Course," an educational channel that teaches History, Science, English, Math, Psychology, and a whole lot more.
Social media, as a whole, has suddenly changed so much about our lives. It is amazing to think about the creative ventures that so many people around the world are using it for. A Social Capital article articulates just the same, that: “…social media can be helpful in: a) mobilizing protesters rapidly; b) undermining a regime’s legitimacy; or c) increasing national and international exposure to a regime’s atrocities.”
"We feel this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Hurley, Karim, and Chen may all be working on new projects away from YouTube, but it was their ingenuity and creativity that sparked one of the largest changes in the modern era. YouTube is not a perfect system, as anyone who uses it semi-regularly will know, but there has to be a reason why it has persisted and permeated as one of the key social media platforms throughout the last six years. Being bought by Google definitely doesn’t hurt, but not everything Google does works magically (Google Glass ring any bells?)
Regardless, here we sit, 10 years later: after three PayPal employees decided they wanted to create something new and fun, they managed to change the contemporary world and society immensely.
But sure, all we do is watch cat videos.