YouTube, five years on

29 Apr 2010

Five years ago this month, a PayPal employee named Jawed Karim uploaded the very first video onto YouTube.

Lasting 19 seconds, ‘Me at the zoo‘ features Karim standing outside the elephant enclosure saying: “All right, so here we are, in front of the elephants, and the cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long, um, trunks. And that’s cool. And that’s pretty much all there is to say.”

But that wasn’t all there was to say. Together with his co-workers and partners Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, Karim watched YouTube quickly become an internet phenomenon, allowing anyone with a video camera to upload their home movies onto the web and broadcast themselves for all to see.

Today, YouTube is the third most-visited website in the world, surpassed only by Google and Facebook.

Karim and Chen had studied computer science, while Hurley was a design graduate. Legend has it that the trio came up with the
idea for YouTube when they couldn’t find web clips of pop star Janet Jackson’s infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at the 2004 Super Bowl. They decided to create a site where users could upload, share and view videos easily, and on Valentine’s Day 2005 they registered the domain name

Susan Boyle

Google gets in on the act

In little over a year, the Californian start-up had raised $11.5m in venture capital, and by November 2006 YouTube was bought by Google for a staggering $1.65bn.

Hurley is still YouTube’s CEO, while fellow co-founder Chen is chief technology officer. Karim went on to launch Youniversity Ventures, a venture capital firm that “focuses on the internet consumer space and works primarily with students and first-time entrepreneurs”, according to its website.

YouTube has given the world funky first-dance wedding videos, Keyboard Cat, the Numa Numa dance and more recently the Irish band Crystal Swing. It also made an international sensation of Susan Boyle, after her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, and teen music star Justin Bieber was discovered after uploading videos of himself to the site. Now all major organisations, from The White House to the Vatican, have their own YouTube channel.

The video-sharing site has caused plenty of controversy over the years, however, and has been banned at various times in China, Pakistan, Libya, Morocco, Iran, Turkey and Thailand. It has also been accused of copyright infringement, most recently in the case of the many Hitler parody memes from the film Downfall, which YouTube has been asked to remove.

Lady Gaga

YouTube by numbers

■ $1.65bn – what Google paid for the site in 2006
■ 91,214,703 – number of views of Susan Boyle’s first performance on Britain’s Got Talent
■ 187,502,188 – number of views of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, the most-viewed video on YouTube
■ 14 – number of languages the site is available in
■ More than 1 billion – number of views YouTube receives per day

By Deirdre Nolan