How did we ever manage before? How did we live without YouTube before the year 2005? One of the social networks that brought the biggest changes in the way we get our information, promote ourselves and have fun, YouTube turned 15 years old on Valentine’s Day, the day when the domain was first registered by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, three young people who worked for PayPal at the time.
A few months later, on April 23, 2005, Jawed Karin uploaded the first video. It was 18 seconds long, and showed Karin in front of an elephant at the San Diego Zoo. Just one year later, the three founders sold their creation to Google for $1.65 billion, and their days of posting on YouTube themselves are over. Chen uploaded his last video 10 years ago, and Hurley’s profile is completely blank.
Meanwhile, YouTube has become the second-most-visited website in the world after Google. With a billion videos watched every day and 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, it has become an unavoidable medium for aspiring singers, musicians, stylists, makeup artists, trainers, businesses, TV stations, private citizens, creatives, actors, cooks, local shops, and both well-known and unknown people who want to make themselves better known, get talked about or sell something.
To give an example, Despacito, the song by the Puerto Rican artist Luis Fonsi, is in first place with over six and a half billion views, followed by Shape of You by Ed Sheeran with two billion fewer, while Gangnam Style by South Korean singer PSY was the first video to reach the one-billion-views mark. No one would have even dreamt of such numbers before YouTube was born.
On the other hand, there’s also a “top of the flops,” and you’d never guess which video received the most “dislikes”—17 million—in the history of the site: it was none other than the video created by YouTube itself to celebrate its birthday in 2018, Rewind 2018: Everyone Controls Rewind, that fared worse than Justin Bieber’s Baby with its 11 million dislikes. As the saying goes, “no one is a prophet in their own land.”
While this enormously oversized container guarantees we’ll be able to find exquisite pearls, retrieve rarities from archives or get to know people and content hidden in the most far-off corners of the world, on the other hand, it also plays host to an ocean of drivel, badly made videos and depressingly self-promotional messages.
It is also a window into the tastes of the planet. YouTube’s own statistics reveal, for example, that in 2019, users created over 50,000 videos with the title “A day in my life,” demonstrating just how much importance people give to their own daily foibles. We also learned—but we already suspected—that there are no less than 8,000 channels dedicated to fitness, full of tutorials for how to flatten one’s belly and lift one’s buttocks.
Looking through the top trends in each country worldwide, it turns out that last summer, the Brazilians were glued to their screens by the videos made by two boys from Porto Alegre dancing and humming Ticolé (off key), or that in the Middle East, the channel with the most followers is that of the Mmoshaya family, who post domestic vlog entries about their lives, from travel to shopping. One cannot avoid the suspicion that people really have a lot of time to waste if they are spending it watching such things.
In Canada, the top spot is taken by the hilarious children’s hockey lessons filmed by Coach Jeremy, confirming that if you post videos featuring cats, dogs and children, you’re sure to find an audience. What can you do—the world is a softie at heart.
One needs to go all the way to Germany to find videos about politics or current affairs in top spot. Last year, the Germans were captivated by Rezo’s video entitled The destruction of the CDU, in which the 26-year-old vlogger, on the eve of the European elections, said: “I will show you how the CDU is lying, acting against the opinions of the experts and doing everything possible to destroy the future of the younger generation,” denouncing the gap between rich and poor, the failure of climate policy and the increasingly large arms spending.
Merkel’s party tried to stem the damage from this public unmasking by publishing an open letter, which was a bit like responding to a cannonball with a slingshot. We all know how things turned out. CDU lost 6.5% in that election. Of course, it wasn’t all YouTube’s doing, but we might say that Mr. Rezo did well in helping to tear that mask off. Let’s make the most of it, then.