“YouTube, the Movie?” A short history of YouTube

The Social Network – the movie about the founders of Facebook – is currently number 1 in the Australian box office. When I exited the screening with some Adelaide Twitter friends recently, we joked that we’d catch up again when the Twitter Film was screened.

This got me thinking about other young founders of social media networks, including YouTube. How did it all happen? And where are they now?

How many of you have seen the very first YouTube video ? … Finished watching? Educational much?  It’s fronted by one of the three founders – Jawed Karim. He’s no David Attenborough  but this is clearly Beta territory so we’ll forgive him.


The best thing about this insightful elephant clip, is it’s a pithy 19 seconds long and amateur footage. This set the bar for what was acceptable, which sustains YouTube’s ongoing success.

It’s been said that the co-founders couldn’t even pay anyone to post on the site, in the beginning.  They advertised on Craigslist with no result. That’s what happens when you’re the new kid on the block. This official YouTube blog houses ‘The Real History of YouTube’.

And these days, the founding trio’s YouTube channel is not up to date. How sad.

So where are the founders now? Chad Hurley seems, incongruously, to have gone on to work with Formula One teams. Steve Chen seems to be focused on his golf swing (and why not indeed, after you sell to Google for $1.65 billion). The most recent video he’s “liked” is about learning to play guitar. Don’t you think it’s hilarious that he hasn’t branded his YouTube channel or uploaded a profile pic? Why do it if you created the darn thing, right?

Likewise Jawed Karim (the elephant specialist) doesn’t have any recent activity on his YouTube channel.

Back in October 2006, Jawed presented to the University of Illinois, talking about how YouTube came to be. It’s one of the worst pieces of footage I’ve seen on the site  . It does however relate why YouTube’s so successful now and the problems the trio had to overcome. And he shares what is one of his favourite clips – a Where The Hell Is Matt movie.

The  Jawed presentation is out of date and a whopping 50 minutes long, but Jawed does relate the basic premise of many successful YouTube clips which have launched the careers of their makers: “If you have a good idea, you can make a video that can get an audience of millions almost instantly for free”.

He says there were a couple of events in 2004 which fuelled a desire to quickly share footage. His first example is the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction. As Jawed points out, this only happened once on television and you could never see it again, thus people turned to online footage. He also spoke about YouTube’s ability to house mobile phone footage of the devastating 2004 Tsunami as another turning point.

Today, YouTube continues to be a repository for compelling viewing; the site we turn to when we’ve missed something on TV or for crowd sourced footage when somebody with a camera is in the right place at the right time.

But of course, YouTube is also the home of celebrities and funny videos that kill thousands of office hours around the globe every year.

Recently, ReadWriteWeb updated its ‘best YouTube videos of all time’ list. Not surprisingly, music clips from popstars were the most viewed, as well as videos of babies with a remarkable talent for chuckling or annoying their siblings. I was surprised at the lack of videos featuring cats, as these are the ones that seem to be sent to me the most (despite the fact that I’m a dog lover! Jeez, people!)

What’s your favourite YouTube video? Do you subscribe to a channel that you visit regularly?

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