One Site can Lead a Cultural Shift
Every once in awhile, a rare website comes around that absolutely revolutionizes the ways in which we consume media. Napster, for instance, changed the way we think about monetizing media, ownership, Copywrite laws, and file sharing. It resulted in a huge challenge to the status quo, stripping power and influence over art from the few media conglomerates that run the world and returning it to the hands of the consumer. It, in other words, liberated media by presenting an alternate world in which it could be free.
Another site, though, that has had an equally crucial effect on the way in which we consume media, particularly video content, is YouTube. Prior to YouTube’s launch, our options were rather limited for what kinds of videos we’d have access to. People could basically choose from one of but a few choices.
We could either watch preprogrammed television shows whenever they happened to be on, go to the movie theater and pay to see a film, head on over to a video rental store like Blockbuster and rent a movie or, of course, use a file-sharing site like Napster to download a movie. Although pirating was a much less common practice back then due to the technical knowhow it required and the fact that a file as large as a movie, on older internet networks, took a great deal of time to download.
However, YouTube rose up, seemingly out of nowhere, and offered us not only a new way to watch videos but a new way to share our own, as well as a whole slew of previously impossible content for us to enjoy. I don’t think that YouTube gets nearly as much credit as it deserves for putting a spotlight on video streaming, proving that a video streaming site could be both practical, scalable, and profitable.
Someone always has to clear the path for the rest. Without YouTube, it seems plausible to say that there would be no Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, or Amazon Prime Video. YouTube had to lay down the technical groundwork … and thank goodness that they did. Because it has made possible so many streaming sites that we know, love, and enjoy on a regular basis today.
YouTube was founded by three people who’d previously worked together at PayPal. Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim created the video streaming service in February of 2005. Shortly thereafter, though, in November of 2006, Google bought YouTube for 1.6 billion US dollars … a very intelligent buy, if you ask me. Today, YouTube is still owned and operated by Google, as one of the company’s subsidiaries.
More than Meets the Eye
We are all familiar, I would think, more or less, with how YouTube works. But just in case there are some features or types of content that perhaps you were unaware existed on YouTube, let’s run through the gambit of everything this massive streaming site allows you to do and watch.
YouTube users can view, rate, share, and comment on videos – obviously – as well as create personalized playlists of video content … something that is still unheard of on most other video streaming sites. Another way that YouTube differs itself from its competitors lies in the fact that users can also upload an unlimited amount of video content, create live video broadcasts, and regularly video blog.
This user-generated focus that YouTube has made its bread and butter has also resulted in the production of tons of unique and previously unheard-of types of video content. For example, thanks to YouTube, we have seen the rise of the “unboxing video,” where YouTubers will order a product, open it up on video, and show how the product works, as well as give a review of their thoughts of it. This has resulted in companies finding new and creative ways to market products and contributed to the “influencer” culture that now dominates social media.
YouTube also inspired sites like Twitch, believe it or not. Before Twitch’s existence, people were uploading videos of themselves playing video games for years. YouTube was the original place where these kinds of streamers would post content. Twitch, after the fact, realized that there was a huge opportunity in this burgeoning market, of course, and swiftly capitalized on it.
Then, there has been a more recent phenomenon on YouTube of people simply reacting to new music, standup comedy, or movie trailers when they come out. They sort of function as reviews that you can watch. YouTube reviewers are by no means experts in their field or anything, but they can be highly entertaining to watch – especially if the YouTuber in question has an electric or quirky personality.
All of this new media content that YouTube has inspired has also resulted in the ability to make a living off of uploading videos to YouTube. With a complex and highly regulated system of monetizing videos, you can become a professional YouTuber if you get enough clicks and follows.
It is not merely amateurish user-generated content that can be found on YouTube, though. Professional videos abound here, too. You will (probably) not be able to find full-length movies or TV show episodes on YouTube (at least not anymore), but there are plenty of clips and the occasional company-sanctioned full episode of a series.
But there are also whole corners of YouTube that you may not have even known about. YouTube is the home to a plethora of music videos, documentaries, mini-series, short films, cartoons, and educational videos. Basically, if it falls within the bounds of YouTube’s strict Copywrite policy, you can find it.
A Staggeringly Large Video Streaming Phenomenon
YouTube is a site that has truly taken on a life of its own. It has far outgrown anything, I bet, that the three creators initially dreamt it would become. I mean, had they foreseen this, there’s a good chance that they would have passed on the offer to sell YouTube to Google. Along with its rapid growth and continuing expansion, though, YouTube has seen a lot of backlash and degradation.
We have already touched upon, at least abstractly, the enormous amount of video content to be found on YouTube. But let’s start talking numbers, just to give you a very concrete idea of just how shockingly massive this streaming site is. It is hard to truly nail this number down, as YouTube is literally constantly growing, by the minute. But perhaps these stats from Merch Dope can illustrate the point in more depth: “The total number of people who use YouTube – 1,300,000,000. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! Almost 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube every single day. In an average month, 8 out of 10 18-49-year-olds watch YouTube.”
There is truly no other video streaming site in the world with those kinds of numbers.
Iconic Site Design
But what about the site itself? How does it function? Is it designed well, easy to use? Let’s take a look and see for ourselves, shall we? YouTube’s site design, of course, is nothing short of iconic. It has inspired the layouts of nearly every video streaming service after it. And for good reason. It’s logical, effective, and intuitive.
You’ll find the search bar at the top of the page (which is probably how most people use YouTube most of the time). Below that, you’ll be given a bunch of videos to choose from, most of which will be based on your own viewing habits. They are separated into sections, starting with Recommended videos for you. Next, you’ll find news, latest posts, latest uploads by channels that you follow, YouTube mixes (popular playlists based on your viewing), and then even more recommended videos.
To the left of these thumbnails, you will find all of your personalized user features. This is where you can access your library, history, watch later, liked videos, your playlists, subscriptions, and a list of categories from which you can browse all of YouTube by tags like Fashion, Gaming, Sports, etc. Clicking on a video, too, keeps the viewing process streamlined.
Below the media player are all of the comments, where you can participate in a never-ending dialogue. And on the right-hand side of the screen are suggested videos for you to browse which are similar to this one. This is precisely how people fall into YouTube rabbit holes. This site is just too convenient for its own good!
Too Many Ads Nearly Ruin an Otherwise Perfect Site
There are some remarkable flaws to note about YouTube, though. The big one, at least for me, would be the number of ads you have to contend with. Many who have been using YouTube for a long time believe that the site has sold out, big time. If you have ever used YouTube before, you know just how obnoxiously long, frequent, and sometimes un-skippable these ads can be. Plus, oftentimes they will interrupt your videos multiple times through. YouTube is one of the most annoyingly ad-ridden sites on the web, no doubt.
That being said, there is truly no other site like it on the web … at least not of the same size. Love it or hate it, YouTube is here to stay and it will remain one of the top free video streaming sites in the world.