Ten years ago, a startup called YouTube uploaded its first video.
Co-founder Jawed Karim, in a private test of the fledgling service’s capabilities, posted a short video of himself at the San Diego Zoo. The 18-second clip shows Karim unenthusiastically noting how elephants have “really really really long, um, trunks. And that’s cool. And that’s pretty much all there is to say.”
Actually, there’s a lot to say. From that modest beginning, a mammoth has evolved.
It’s difficult to overstate just how big YouTube is: By the time you finish watching Karim’s “Me at the zoo,” other YouTube viewers around the globe will have collectively watched more than seven years worth of video. In the time it takes to watch that test video two more times, about 12 days of footage will have been uploaded to Google’s video site.
Today, YouTube attracts more than 1 billion unique visitors a month — or one out of every seven people on the planet. And that audience is helping create online stars. Today’s fastest-rising celebrities aren’t coming out of Hollywood. They’re teens hamming it up or breaking it down in front of the computer to create a new kind of entertainment.
That dominance wasn’t a foregone conclusion. In 2006, Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube, which was founded by Karim along with entrepreneurs Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. The sheer might of its parent, though, didn’t guarantee success. Several factors early in YouTube’s existence played out in its favor and set it on the path to becoming the biggest media platform on the planet.