Updated: February 18, 2015 12:00:44 am
YouTube, the audiovisual mirror of our digital times, was born on an otherwise unremarkable Valentine’s Day 10 years ago. A decade is a long time on the internet, and it can be difficult to remember that YouTube was far from a “sure thing” at inception. The first video, uploaded by co-founder Jawed Karim in April 2005, is inconsequential except for how utterly random it is, heralding the reams of home videos of loopy children after visits to the dentist and cats, animated or not, doing things that would come to find bafflingly large audiences around the world. Yet, despite its reputation as a home for amateur videos that go viral — “ultimate reality TV”, according to another co-founder, Chad Hurley — YouTube is also a staggeringly successful entertainment medium.
Purchased for a then jaw-dropping $1.65 billion by Google in 2006, YouTube is now valued at $40 billion. Some 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute. But 29 of the 30 most-watched videos are professionally produced music videos, and despite the mess of copyright infringement issues that occasionally lands the site in legal trouble — most memorably, its battle with Viacom, which threatened to kill it off and was only settled last year — YouTube is now a core component of any content creator’s marketing strategy.
Though it faces stiff competition from Facebook, Vine and Yahoo, YouTube retains something of the charming garage video aesthetic that made it so appealing — it is still the go-to for any amateur would-be internet star. YouTube remains one of the most diverse and, consequently, interesting repositories of the stuff people do. The comments, notorious for insults, nonetheless capture the underside of the Web. Consider that YouTube has gone from elephant videos to interviewing the US president, and the extent of its cultural import and influence becomes clear.
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