YouTube started in 2005. In 2006 it was the fastest growing website on the Internet, faster than even MySpace. It was a big hit, but it had no way to make money. Despite that Google bought it in November 2005, after trying and failing to build a better video website itself.
YouTube was a hit partly because it came along just when the Internet was becoming fast enough for video. But also because YouTube got some things right that no one else did:
- It was easy enough for anyone to use. Even your mother.
- It allowed anyone to put up videos on the website. So it grew quickly and soon became the most interesting place on the Internet.
- It just worked. You clicked on a video and then you saw it. No need to have a special video player, no waiting for ever for it to start, no strange messages about why it did not work.
The last one was huge. Before YouTube there were three video players: Windows Media Player, Real Player and Flash. You had to have all three on your computer if you wanted to be able to watch any video on the Web. Few had all three. But even if you did, videos still did not work half the time. Video on the Web was broken for the most part.
YouTube uses Flash because it is built into most web browsers, so you do not have to do anything special to watch the videos on YouTube. Because YouTube grew so fast – and because it all worked – Flash is now pretty much the only video player you need.
Now there is plenty of working video on the Web. That is YouTube’s doing. It is as if the Internet has been given eyes and ears.
An example of YouTube’s power came early on.
One night in December 2005 on the NBC television show “Saturday Night Live” the song “Lazy Sunday” appeared. Those who were home watching NBC that night saw it and had a good laugh. Before YouTube that would have been the end of the story. But then someone put the video on YouTube. Now far more people could see it. It was a runaway hit, making both the song and YouTube famous.
NBC, which owns the copyright to the video, made YouTube take it down. NBC put it up on its own website. But when you clicked on it you had to wait and wait. Maybe you would see something – or maybe not. It was just like the bad old days before YouTube.
NBC knew television, but it soon learned that YouTube knew something about Internet video that it did not. Google soon learned the same thing the hard way. It became clear that YouTube is more than just a website with some videos.
– Abagond, 2007.