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YouTube Turns 10 Years Old: What is Next for Online Video?

Updated on February 26, 2015
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In the modern world where social media websites seem to come and go with alarming frequency, there are few websites that can boast the kind of longevity to celebrate their 10th birthday. YouTube recently hit double figures, and so to celebrate, we’re taking a look at how it got to where it is, and what might be in the future for the service.

The History of YouTube

YouTube was founded in 2005 and, so the popular story goes, was originally created because of a lack of variety in online video. One of the founders had difficulty finding clips online of Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl. The site has gone from strength to strength since then, being acquired by Google for a cool $1.65 billion in 2006, and now boasts over 1 billion users and a staggering 300 hours of video being uploaded every minute. We’ve seen everything from marriage proposals, hilarious viral videos and, of course, endless cat videos.

But, more importantly, YouTube has gone from just being a repository of silly videos (although those, of course, still exist), to becoming a de facto industry in its own right. To supplement its practice of paying content generators purely for the advertising revenue their videos generate, YouTube now runs a partner system, which has launched entire careers, like those of iJustine, Ze Frank or the Vlog Brothers, and spawned entire YouTube based video networks, like Sourcefed or Geek and Sundry. YouTube has also made huge developments to its server infrastructure and has gone from the 240p videos with mono audio which it only allowed at its inception, to now offering up to 4k resolution uploads at 60fps, moving away from the now redundant Flash player to the more modern HTML5, and switching to a mobile and app based delivery system, alongside the traditional browser one. It even supports 3D video, and has an app on Smart TVs!

2015 & the Future

In 2015, YouTube offers a huge variety of content. There are gaming channels, vloggers, beauty reviewers, musicians, marketers, entertainers, and far more. It makes more sense now to see YouTube not as one cohesive website, but as a range of mostly discrete communities, organised around different topics or geographical locations. Ryan Stone of video production company, Lambda comments that big brands “go where the people are”, so as YouTube grows as a platform each day, more and more large companies will try to get their hands on a name for themselves on the site. We’re also seeing lots of YouTube content creators starting to embrace other online video websites, for example gaming channels starting to stream their content live on Twitch.tv, or vloggers using Snapchat or Vine to post shorter videos. Crucially, though, these content creators aren’t abandoning YouTube, just supplementing their videos by using different services to offer different kinds of content. Lots of channels, for example, might stream all day on Twitch and then post highlight videos to YouTube. What is clear, then, is that YouTube is still the first place people go to view, or upload, video, and this shows no sign of changing.

This trend of the online video space ‘fracturing’ onto multiple websites will probably continue into the future. A surge of YouTubers are also seeking alternative ways to generate revenue, most notably from Patreon (which was itself co-founded by a YouTuber, Jack Conte), but also from crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, through which the popular YouTube comedy channel 5 Second Films funded an entire movie. This doesn’t have to spell disaster for YouTube though, and, if anything, it should be seen as a good thing for the service — as YouTubers supplement their content using other sites and services, this should continue to drive traffic back to YouTube.

YouTube is, a journalist Alexis Madrigal has argued in a video (which was fittingly posted to YouTube), one of the defining cultural achievements of our time. He argues that in the future we might value YouTube not for the celebrities it has created, but as a huge repository of historical ephemera. Which is to say that in the future, the videos on YouTube may stand as a cultural record of our time, showing the music videos we loved, the things we laughed at, and the gadgets we unwrapped. This, perhaps, is the reason why YouTube is so important, and why it has stood the test of time. Long may it continue!

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