Yesterday, Mashable ran a long piece documenting the history of YouTube, a site so ubiquitous that I did not realize that it didn’t exist 11 years ago. I’ve been using the internet since I was 9, and while some things are easy to remember (AOL chat rooms, then instant messenger, the friendships ruined and started over LiveJournal, the days of Facebook before the Newsfeed, etc.) it’s actively hard for me to remember using the internet without YouTube. I did it, I know I did it, but it’s becomes such a natural part of the experience that it was genuinely shocking to find out how recent it actually is. You can read the piece on Mashable’s site, and there are some really interesting takeaways about how YouTube came to be. At first even the creators of YouTube were pretty fuzzy on exactly how it’d be used, and they were inspired by Hot or Not, which also inspired Facebook so it’s one of the more accomplished also-rans in internet history.
But it’s when they get to the current use of the site that I really see interesting things about the future of the internet and entertainment. Something that literally did not exist 11 years ago has become the primary entertainment outlet for a whole generation. When Obama was interviewed by YouTube stars a lot of people scoffed, but if you look at the numbers that some of those hosts are driving up compared to TV ratings it’s easy to understand why the President of the United States might think they’re the best way to reach teenagers. With YouTube entertainment changed from something made by few and consumed by many, to something made and consumed by anyone with an internet connection. And it’s been an incredibly rapid shift. Eric Schmidt famously said “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” With YouTube, you can be sure that the experiment will be thoroughly documented.