You Tube Our Tube?

It’s hard to believe, but yes, YouTube is six years old. What was life like before YouTube? Think about it. YouTube definitively changed media viewing on the Web. (remember the stuttering videos of the early 00s)? Remember renting bandwidth from servers? All of that changed with the arrival of YouTube, which Google purchased in 2006 for 1.65 billion. Just as “googling” has become a way of life for millions globally, so has watching videos on YouTube.

While YouTube is famous for comedic viral videos and hosting the first presidential debates online (in collaboration with in 2008), the first 2005 video posted by the founders of the site, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim was not particularly funny–a bit absurd, perhaps, but not breakout hilarious, informative or virus-worthy.

Take a look at this article from Wired Magazine’s April 2010 issue: “5 Secrets of YouTube’s Success”

and this 2009 piece from Mashable: “Top 20 YouTube Video Memes of all Time”

While many of these popular viral videos have served no other social change function than to provide an opportunity for millions to share a laugh, itself a valuable part of virtual “community”, there have been many viral videos without the same number of views as those mentioned in the article, but their impact still resonates.

For many in the music and entertainment industries, YouTube has provided a “discovery” channel for unknowns (hello Justin Bieber…) that has helped further the mythologies of fame which feed celebrity seekers with proof of against-the-odds possibility. The spin cycle for newsworthy stories is often fed and influenced by the viral power of a YouTube clip.

Wikileaks posted their “Collateral Murder” video of U.S. military mishaps in Afghanistan, which instantly went viral (now some 11 million views later). This video helped put Wikileaks on the map as a rogue source of information, pulling the rug out from under traditional sources of news like the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Collateral Murder – Wikileaks – Iraq


Six years later, YouTube is no longer revolutionary, but has become tightly woven into news and spin relay. YouTube viewers have yet to employ full media literate reframing, questioning and contexualization. Yet there’s no denying: YouTube’s impact on trending remains colossal.

Watch it: Here’s a site for live charting of viral video action:

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  1. Brian

    On the top 20 video article, the final video was a cat playing the piano. The only one I wanted to watch. But it has been removed because it violates youtube terms of service.

    Now what could that have possibly been? Some exaggerated issue of animal cruelty? Was the cat playing a protected song?

    Then it makes me think of other articles on the web with missing content; and then the inevitable Memory Hole.

  2. Kathleen

    It’s like a page being removed from a book, in a way, or a sudden channel of static. It’s a gap in the collective neurology….but there’s other cats out there, so that’s the good news…LOL.

  3. Stephanie Spiro

    Interesting how things are removed from the Internet. There will always be traces of these “missing pages” because nothing digital ever truly disappears.

    I was just reading about “The Meaning Machine” in reference to the new Facebook changes and the Timeline. This new Facebook does create a collective brain via connective tissue (our stories on the ‘feed), but the Timeline creates and *becomes* the meaning in our lives and everything else (what is left out, the missing page beyond the Timeline) is forgotten.

    This is the article, if you’re interested:

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