YouTube: Its History and Impact on the Internet

YouTube is the de facto video-sharing platform on the Internet. But who founded it and why?

YouTube is the largest and most popular video distribution platform on the Internet. It has over 4 billion hours worth of video viewers every month, and an estimated 250 hours of video content are viewed every day.

Since its early origins in 2005, YouTube has transformed itself from a place for amateur videos to one that distributes original content.

It has also enabled the creation of an entirely new profession — YouTuber content creator, that can be a very profitable career for many YouTubers around the world. 

RELATED: YOUTUBE PLANS TO GIVE USERS MORE CONTROL OVER ITS CONTROVERSIAL ALGORITHM

What was the original purpose of YouTube?

YouTube was originally created as a platform for anyone to post any video content they desired. It was hoped that users could use the site to upload, share, and view content without restriction. 

It has since grown to become one of the foremost video distribution sites in the world. 

Today, many content creators make a decent living, creating, editing, and uploading videos onto YouTube.

Thanks to things like YouTube's Partner Program and Google's AdSense, people can actually create successful careers as YouTubers. 

YouTube was founded on Valentine's Day in 2005. It was the brainchild of Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, who were all former employees of Paypal. 

It began as an angel-funded enterprise that started out in a makeshift office, in a garage.

 

The idea was born, according to its founders, at a dinner party in San Fransisco, about a year before in 2004. The trio was frustrated by how hard it was, at the time, to find, watch, and share video clips online. 

“Video, we felt, really wasn’t being addressed on the Internet,” said Chad Hurley in an early interview, “People were collecting video clips on their cell phones… but there was no easy way to share [them].”

YouTube: Its History and Impact on the Internet
Source: Rego Korosi/Flickr

In May of 2005, the beta version of YouTube was up on the net, and within only a month, the very first video, "Me at the Zoo," a 19-second long clip, which was posted by Karim himself. The video did everything it said on the tin and featured footage of Karim at the San Diego zoo talking about elephants, and their trunks. 

By September of 2005, YouTube managed to get its first one-million video hit. This was a Nike ad that happened to have gone viral. 

This first YouTube viral video was a clip of Brazilian soccer player Ronaldinho receiving his pair of Golden Boots. Nike was also one of the first major companies to embrace YouTube's promotional potential. 

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The following month, in November of 2005, the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital invested an impressive $3.5 million in the business. Roelof Botha (who also formerly worked for Paypal) also joined YouTube's board of directors.

Sequoia and Artis Capital Management invested an additional $8 million, in 2006, as the website had significant growth in its first few months.

 

Who started YouTube?

As previously mentioned, YouTube was founded by:

All three were working for Paypal at the time of YouTube's founding in 2005. 

Chad Hurley studied design at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania prior to joining Ebay's PayPal division after graduating in 1999. At Paypal, he primarily focused on the UX of their interface. 

Steven Shih Chen was born in 1978 in Taipei, Taiwan. His family emigrated to the U.S. when he was eight years old. Steve studied but later left prior to graduating at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

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He later attended and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in computer science in 2002. He would later join Paypal after graduating.

history of youtube founders
YouTube's founders. Modified from Ianmacm/Wikimedia Commons

Jawed Karim was born in 1979 in Merseburg, East Germany. His father was Bangladeshi, and his mother was German. 

After experiencing xenophobia in Germany, his father moved his family to Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1992. Jawed would later attend but left prior to graduating, a degree in computer science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

After dropping out, Jawed would become an early employee of the fledgling Paypal. While at Paypal, he would continue his coursework and later graduated with a degree in computer science. 

He later earned a master's degree in computer science from Stanford University. 

How was YouTube created?

Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim met at Paypal.

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The concept of YouTube was inspired by, according to Jawed Karim, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, and the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean

 

"As a capital-funded startup, the idea for YouTube received an $11.5 million investment from Sequoia Capital in 2005. In February, the domain name was registered in the headquarters above a pizzeria in California. In April, the first-ever video was uploaded by Karim named 'Me at the Zoo.' After a Beta testing period, the site launched in December 2005, and a Nike commercial became the first video to receive one million views," according to Engadget

By February of 2004, YouTube's now-famous logo (since changed as of 2017) was registered as a trademark, and the website domain was also set.

The original idea for YouTube was for users to be able to upload videos, introducing themselves, and saying what they were interested in. This didn't really take off, and the co-founders soon pivoted YouTube to become a more general video sharing site.

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Since then, YouTube has grown exponentially. Here are some of the major milestones in their history (courtesy of inverse.com): 

  • April 2005: “Me at the zoo” becomes the first video to go up on the site. It is fairly self-explanatory.
  • September 2005: A Nike ad becomes the first video to hit 1 million views.
  • July 2007: YouTube partners with CNN to host its first presidential debate.
  • April 2009: YouTube wins a Peabody Award for its outstanding achievements in electronic media.
  • April 2009: Along with Vivendi, YouTube launches music video service VEVO.
  • Early 2011: YouTube proves instrumental in sharing footage of the Arab Spring move for Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • July 2012: The Olympics are live-streamed for the very first time.
  • October 2012: YouTube partners with ABC to live-stream a presidential debate for the first time.
  • December 2012: “Gangnam Style” becomes the first video to hit 1 billion views.
  • March 2013: YouTube reaches 1 billion unique monthly visitors.
  • January 2016: Adele’s “Hello” becomes the fastest video to hit 1 billion views in just 88 days.

How did YouTube get its name?

Unlike other company names, YouTube is actually quite self-explanatory.

"The name “YouTube” is actually pretty straightforward. The “You” represents that the content is user-generated, created by individual users and not the site itself, and “Tube” is a nod toward an older original term for television.

 

Back when TVs were new, pre-LCD display monitors used cathode ray “tubes” to deliver images. Early on in YouTube’s history, however, this caused a few problems, notes rewindandcapture.com

Interestingly, soon after YouTube's URL was registered, it came under immediate attack by another company called Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment. Their website address just happened to be very similar —www.utube.com. They filed a lawsuit against YouTube, but that appears to have been unsuccessful. Today their URL is www.utubeonline.com.

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Since its early days in 2005, YouTube has grown to become a behemoth of the Internet. It is now present in over 75 countries and available in 61 languages, and hundreds of hours of video are uploaded each minute!

Today, it has over one billion users and has become the de facto video sharing platform on the Internet. 

How much did Google buy YouTube for?

YouTube grew rapidly in size and popularity around the world, and this piqued the interest of Google, who saw the enormous potential for the platform.

 

In October of 2006, they approached YouTube with an offer to bring them under the Google banner with an attractive offer of $1.65 Billion

Calling YouTube "the next step in the evolution of the Internet," YouTube's founders accepted the generous offer. At the time, YouTube only had roughly 65 employees

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Google's investment was made in company stocks, and the transaction was completed by November 2006. At that time, it was Google's second-largest acquisition, after Applied Semantics and dMarc Broadcasting.

"Google's February 7, 2007, SEC filing revealed the breakdown of profits for YouTube's investors after the sale to Google. In 2010, Chad Hurley's profit was more than $395 million, while Steve Chen's profit was more than $326 million."

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