Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the first video upload to YouTube, a site we all know and love and have wasted countless hours upon. It’s a site that has transformed immensely in its decade of existence to become much more than a hub for cute animal videos.
It’s become a place for independent programming.
It’s become an educational environment.
It’s become a diary.
It’s become a place to find DVD special features when you don’t feel like paying for another special edition box set.
And most importantly, it’s become a community.
… And yeah, sometimes it’s just a great place to find cat videos.
But where did it all start?
Well, back in 2005 three former PayPal employees – Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim – wanted to develop a place for simplistic video sharing. YouTube was one of many sites attempting to deal with the technicalities of streaming and ultimately won out as being the most user friendly and reliable so as to grow and maintain its audience.
In October 2006, Google acquired YouTube for about 1.65 billion dollars and once and for all separated it from similar start-ups. Fittingly, its founders announced this in a vlog titled, “A Message from Chad and Steve.” Only a year after this partnership, in November of 2007, YouTube became Britain’s most popular entertainment site, even above BBC. Two years later, the site was consistently on the list of Top 10 Most Visited, globally, in addition to hosting over 85 million videos.
Today the word “YouTube” is so commonplace that is has become a verb. According to the statistics section on its website, every month there are over 1 billion YouTube visitors. Additionally, more than “6 billion hours of video are watched… almost an hour for every person on Earth,” and, “100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.”
Many new media scholars like to discuss the topic of the quality of YouTube. If YouTube is a site of amateurs without a producer/consumer divide to police content, wouldn’t that mean video quality would suffer? Yes, in the beginning YouTube videos consisted mostly of people talking to their webcams. (Just watch A Message from Chad and Steve — look how far we’ve come!) But now a lot of the content produced for Youtube is done so on a professional level.
But the most impressive thing about YouTube is its participatory culture and what its level of audience participation has done for fan culture.
One of the main traits that separates a new media site like Youtube is digital interactivity. This is the notion of making media communal. It’s done through acquiring user feedback through comment sections, forums, video replies, and other assets the site may contain to increase audience participation.
Henry Jenkins is a media scholar who has written multiple books about fan culture. One of the main concepts he discusses is this idea of participatory culture. He uses it to alter the definition of what it means to be a fan of something. According to Jenkins, “one becomes a ‘fan’ not by being a regular viewer of a particular program but by translating that viewing into some kind of cultural activity, by sharing feelings and thoughts about the program content with friends, by joining a ‘community’ of other fans who share common interests. For fans, consumption naturally sparks production, reading generates writing, until the terms seem logically inseparable…” (excerpt from Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers).
It would make sense that new forms of media and new forms of distribution would create a new type of fan. A fan that is hyper involved in the media creation process due to the new accessibility provided by the Internet and various forms of social media. This is the aca-fan: an academic fan, someone who looks at the cultural object they are interested in, whether it be a television show, a film, a comic book, etc, and look at it analytically. Until recently, fandom was something frowned upon in our culture. What Jenkins has sought to do with his works like Textual Poachers and Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers is remove this stigma attached to the word fan and show how fans are actually contributing to the culture they’re obsessed with.
Fans help to create shows on YouTube. They back it with their own money, submit videos, fan art, animations, and (as was the case with The Guild) sometimes even donate their time to fill out a scene’s background as extras. A plethora of web series would not exist without their fans, TableTop included. This is why YouTube programming tends to have a huge respect for its fans. Something I feel has spread into TV and film culture, as fandom has become more readily accepted. Ultimately, I believe this is why YouTube is such a success.
And, of course, without YouTube there would be no Geek & Sundry. Our content isn’t exactly main-stream. As previously mentioned, it’s the fans that determine the success of YouTube content and Geek & Sundry has some of the most involved, friendly, supportive, and all around amazing fans on this planet.
On a more personal level, I’m glad to have found YouTube for the community aspect of it. I had always used YouTube casually, but when I got to college I was introduced to personalities like Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig. I was also introduced to The Guild. Not to get too sappy here, but finding that web series pretty much changed everything for me. It showed me that it was possible to make high quality web content. It inspired me to vlog. And eventually, it got me involved with Geek & Sundry.
So thanks for the past 10 years, YouTube. It’s been fun watching you grow up and I’m excited to see where you’ll be another 10 years from now.