Do you remember a time before YouTube? – I lived through the online video dark ages and can confidently say, YouTube paved the way for every major video service that exists today.
Great videos still existed on the web, back in my day. There just wasn’t a lot of it, and what few that were available could only be found on search engines like Alta-Vista (Google didn’t care much for video much back then…) or on the few websites with pockets deep enough to host videos for free. If you wanted to share a video with a friend, good luck. Facebook was for Harvard students only and Twitter didn’t exist. Shit, even the iPhone wasn’t a thing yet. The fastest way to share a video with a friend was to invite them around to your house.
There has always been demand for video online, and YouTube became a great innovation of our time because they solved the problem of meeting that demand with new technology that made watching and sharing video completely seamless. It gave online video a home, and with Google’s backing that home was rent-free.
Now, that home supports an economy worth tens of billions of dollars, the lifestyles of all your favorite YouTube celebrities, and communities shared by millions of people all around the world.
More than 300 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Yes, you read that right. To be fair, most of it is probably crappy cat videos fame-hungry vloggers, but they all represent people with something to say. Something to share with the world. Something that, even ten years later can only, really, be shared on YouTube.
In honor of YouTube’s 10th birthday, we’ve compiled the authoritative list of the most important videos from every year of YouTube’s existence.
We have to start with this iconic video. It seems insignificant, but this 19-second clip featuring YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim was the first video ever uploaded to YouTube on Apr 23, 2005. YouTube originally launched as a video dating site inspired by Hot or Not, the same site that inspired Facebook; which explains why YouTube was founded on Valentines Day 2005. It didn’t quite work out, to say the least, so after trying a few other concepts out in the months that followed they settled on allowing anyone to upload videos of anything.
This is the primordial soup. The missing link. This is where it all started.
A lot happened in 2006. You could say YouTube itself went viral in 2006 as “Numa Numa,” the first ever truly viral video, was uploaded to the platform. OK Go also laid the foundation Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus after uploading what would become the first ever viral music video. Oh, and this happened too, I guess. But what made 2006 really special was Ze Frank.
In my humble opinion Ze Frank, real name Hosea Jan Frank, is the most influential figure on YouTube. From the jump-cuts, to the camera angles, to the manner of speaking – Everyone that vlogs on YouTube took their cue either directly from Ze Frank, or from someone inspired by Ze Frank. Ultimately, he managed to spin his YouTube fame into a legitimate career consulting for, quite literally, everyone in the online video space before settling in as the Executive Vice President of Video for BuzzFeed.
2007 was the year of Chocolate Rain. Need I say more?
2008. The year music videos took over YouTube. For the first time, all the top-10 most watched videos on the platform were music videos by the likes of Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Rihanna. However, YouTube’s role in the 2008 presidential election has to win out here. If some of the more factually challenged liberal bloggers are to be believed, will.i.am’s use of YouTube to support Barack Obama won him the election. A more measured interpretation would see this year as a proving ground for YouTube’s value in the political sphere; paving the way for the platform to play a bigger political role in the years to come.
Somehow a 7-year-old high on nitrous managed to capture the hearts and minds of the entire world. After the infamous “Charlie bit my finger!” video, “David After Dentist” was the natural next step in ‘Cute Kid’ videos on the internet. For centuries to come, philosophers will still ponder the age-old question posed by the child: “Is this real life?”
You could say it’s in bad taste to ‘auto-tune’ a news segment about a woman getting raped, but the revenue it generated helped that woman’s family buy a house and move to a safer neighborhood – So that makes it OK, right?
The Gregory Brothers provided the soundtrack for 2010 with their “Bed Intruder Song.” The tune supercharged the sibling’s careers and made Antoine Dodson an overnight sensation.
In 2011, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” made bad the new good. Would you believe her parents actually paid Ark Music Factory to do this to their daughter?! Thankfully it worked out for her; otherwise, I imagine, child services would need to step in.
With cringe-inducing lyrics like “Gotta have my bowl / Gotta have cereal,” the suspect old man hanging out with children, and the in-car ‘dancing’ that would deeply concern any neurologist, this video was destined to go viral – and for all the wrong reasons.
Also in 2011, Nyan Cat happened.
Two billion views. TWO BILLION VIEWS. This is the most watched piece of video in human history. I’m not sure what that says about us, but damn is the song catchy.
“Gangnam Style” was an absolute YouTube powerhouse, spurring hundreds of thousands of covers and videos to people trying the ‘horse dance’ for themselves. “The Harlem Shake” was the natural next step to what Psy started with “Gangnam Style.” Even though its interest died a quick death, those that got in early enough enjoyed hundreds of millions of views. From students, to soldiers, to office workers, everyone got involved and offered their own interpretation of the first meme that anyone could try out.
2014 was a year of growing pains for communities on YouTube. As the website grew, so did some of the egos that make up the ecosystem, which sparked a large controversy which saw a shocking number of creators get accused of abuse and misconduct by their fans. These horrible behaviors had been the subject of rumor for a long time, but it was only in 2014 that fans started to gather the courage to come forward and pull the rumors out of the shadows to make fellow members of their community aware of the bad actors operating in this space.
In response, YouTube clarified their policies for protecting young people while events like VidCon, which inadvertently set the stage for some of these abuses to take place, introduced strict new measures to ensure they’re providing a safe environment for everyone that attends.
This was a turning point not for YouTube, or its creators, but for the fans. YouTube has become an extension of the real world and just as it is in reality, not everyone is good.
So, this is where we are. It took ten years to get from some guy in a zoo to POTUS, but we made it. These are unpolished interviews from real people, asking real questions that matter to them. This was the natural evolution of YouTube’s role in the political sphere and the events of 2008 which contributed to President Obama’s success. This is a powerful acknowledgement of online video from “the most powerful man in the world.”
YouTube already accounts for 20% of all internet traffic in North America, and its continued growth is assured. Here’s looking forward to 2016.