Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Ubiquity of YouTube...




Sounds Funny... What Is It?

Well, unless you’ve been entombed or something over the past couple of years you’ve probably heard of it… Headquartered in San Bruno, CA, just a hop, skip and a jump away from Silicone Valley, YouTube is that wee little, I mean, massively popular and dominant Kleenex brand of the video sharing community. It is also one of the most trafficked sites on the web.

Why Is It So Popular?

I’m not completely sure, but a “Google” of its name will yield you about 1,100,000,000 possible explanations…

With its extremely easy to use interface being available in 18 languages and its endless supply of weird, cool, inspiring and at times even educational content, it is positioned pretty much smack center of the new phenomenon referred to as the Web 2.0 Generation of Technology (the creative and sharing branch of the Web.) Unregistered users can watch every video on the site and a registered account allows a user to participate in all of the many interactive and social networking functions available, as well as upload any work of their own as if he or she was a television producer. (But we’ll get into more about that later…)

In line with the whole reality TV era, users can jump at the chance to share their every little thought, idea or creation with the entire world at only the click of a “submit.” One would be hard pressed to find a topic or public figure lacking an associated video on YouTube. Hobbies, newly developed products or services, expertise, events, clips of one’s family, friends or pets and well… a whole lot of other stuff that I’d probably better not to get into right now...

But best of all, it’s absolutely FREE. That is, except for all those minutes it may cost you at your computer, when you really ought to being doing something else… But who doesn’t have 60 seconds to watch a seven-year old play an amazing piano rendition of… The Minute Waltz? Although the September 11, 2001 home captured video might take you a bit longer.

And then, of course, there’s the unobtrusive advertising, which is also a huge plus for many (but we’ll get into more about that later as well.)

Technical Info (which is probably why we’re here I guess…)

Uploaded using formats such as .wmv, .avi, .mov or .mpg, videos are then converted to Adobe Flash, the standard format supported by most browsers and which can typically be viewed by anyone without having to download any specific software.

Its functions allow users to post text or video responses, subscribe to their favorite videographers, receive automatic content feeds and even embed videos on their own site.

YouTube’s original format made it possible to only view videos on a standard PC or Mac, but recent codecs and applications have now made them available for viewing on Apple TV, iPhone and iPod as well as on many 3G mobile devices.

A recent feature also allows videos to be viewed in High Quality Format. A user has the opportunity to select the “always show me higher quality when available” option from their video settings located in their account tab. YouTube determines which videos are capable of being upgraded based on the standard of the original upload.

There’s a ton more technical information out there which could be discussed, but with only four pages allotted, I better get moving…

Its Founders and Early History

YouTube was founded in a garage in San Mateo, CA by three former PayPal employees: Chad Hurley; then 27; current CEO, Steve Chen; then 26; current CTO and Jawed Karim; a past advisor who’s recently returned to grad school to pursue his Masters in Computer Science.

Chad: Raised in southeast Pennsylvania, the middle child of a financial consultant and a school teacher, this slightly introverted kid found his artistic interests colliding with technology and business. In ninth grade he won third place in a national electronics competition for building his own amplifier. The hours on-line during his college years dappling in web design, animation and gaming still allowed him to earn a degree in graphic design in 1999. “Computer science was just too technical and mechanical for him” says his dad. Shortly after graduation he landed an interview with a new company called PayPal and after demonstrating his skills by designing a company logo was hired as the company’s first designer. The PayPal logo remains to this day.

Steve: Born in Taipai, he moved to the States with his family when he was a toddler. After completing four years of High School at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (a state funded boarding school) he moved on to the respected Computer Science program at the University of Illinois Urbana, however left a semester and a half before graduating. A secured position at PayPal was the catalyst, where he soon became known as the person who could find the shortest yet cleverest route from point A to B.

Things picked up further for the two of them,along with their co-worker Karim during times on the job when they would kick back and kick around ideas.

There seems to be some debate over Karim’s involvement in the project though both Chad and Steve agree that much of the original goal stemmed from his idea to create a video version of the brutal singles site HOTorNOT.com. He felt it was an incredible pioneer of a website where anyone could upload content that everyone else could view. The idea was eventually debunked for being too narrow and it moved on to the broader spectrum of allowing people to share videos for on-line auctions of anything. But it seems the project really took seed after Chad and Steve had problems with the logistics of sharing a video on-line of footage taken at a dinner party one night at Steve’s San Francisco apartment.

Fast Forward

On February 15, 2005 the domain name www.YouTube.com was legally registered.

On April 23, 2005 the first “official" video was posted on the site when our friend Jawed shared his commentary Me At The Zoo.

In May the official public beta was launched with the promise to give away one free iPod Nano to one particularly noteworthy upload every day until the end of the year.

It was around this time that a slight scuttle occurred when users inadvertently shut down the website of a company called Universal Tube and Roll Form Equipment (http://www.UTube.com) unsure of the spelling of the name. That company has long since changed its URL…

And after that, the site just pretty much took off as a free-for-all as the founders could do little more than sit back and watch. Until October when the site hosted a video that would prove to become a huge copyright issue and one of the first of many brought to light. A CNN “Crossfire” segment with Jon Stewart received millions of views before it was finally taken down. But not before Sequoia Capital realized the potential goldmine in user numbers and invested $3.5 million to the cause.

By year end and with only a staff 20 employees, viewers were watching 25,000,000 videos per day and uploading 20,000. As bandwidth costs approached $1,000,000 per month, which was more than what was consumed by the entire Internet in 2000, Sequoia Capital came to the rescue once again with another $8,000,000.

Second Year

On April 6th 2006 comedian Judson Laipply uploaded what would soon become YouTube’s “Most Watched Video,”
Evolution of Dance.
To date this video has been viewed 95,326,047 times and retained the title until July of 2008 when Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend tipped the scales. This due, some say, to Avril’s fans setting up automatic refresher pages to game the system. Who knew that 14 year old girls could be so savvy? But I digress.

May of that year brought an even greater upsurge in popularity even surpassing daily views on CNN.com and outpacing MySpace. And in July its daily unique hits reached 100,000,000 with roughly 65,000 videos being uploaded every 24 hours. This is equivalent to approximately 10 hours of video footage being uploaded every single minute.

Google Purchase

The announcement came within only hours of YouTube unveiling three separate agreements made with media companies countering threats of copyright infringement lawsuits, but still Google bought in, and for only a mere $1.65 billion dollars. On October 9, 2006 co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen announced the buyout via, what you would expect, a home video.

Despite its huge user base, YouTube still remains an unprofitable startup even though the price was by far the most expensive purchase made by Google in it’s eight year history. Yet it was probably cause for Google to celebrate when two months later Time Magazine named YouTube the “Invention of the Year” as well as naming “You… Yes You!” the Person of the Year in recognition of the importance of user driven sites such as YouTube.

How Does YouTube Make Money?

It doesn’t. Right now, they say, it’s still more about building a community. Don’t expect me to understand that, I’m not a “Business Model” scholar, just a humble Graphic Design student doing this project for a required course.

The founders made a decision early on to not force viewers to sit through pre-roll advertisements and so far they have held firm to their commitment, which seems to have proved to be an element setting YouTube apart from its competitors. As of now there is little advertising on the site or at least not enough to be annoying. The video in the top right section IS, although it doesn’t always seem like one. It feels less like a commercial and more like a piece of entertaining content created for the viewers or more recently innovative contests as in the ones I’m about to share.

Chevrolet recently had a success story after asking users to create their own Chevy ads and placing them on YouTube, Chevrolet received over 4 million hits above normal on it’s home site.

Crest did the same thing.

Similarly, Sprint Nextel Corp invited young filmmakers to “sell out” their families by “shamelessly plugging” the Samsung Instinct into their next home movie. For this they paid $20 to the first chosen 1000 and $10,000 to a grand prize winner. And they didn’t even have to own the phone! The Sprint website offered a tool that would allow entrants to embed the image directly into their video.

Then there’s the 2006 clip that appears to be a home video showing a famous soccer star practicing his moves. But close-ups of the Nike Gold Shoes have now been marketed to viewers 24,624,517 times.

YouTube is also looking into major strategies for advertising with the creation of independent “channels” where official sources can sell their products, wherein YouTube then cashes in from the company’s purchase of the channel. Meanwhile, the public retains the privilege of watching all their favorite clips pre-roll-ads free.

According to one article, if even 10% of the annual $54 billion spent annually on TV advertising is directed towards viral marketing in the next few years, the $1.65 billion Google paid for it may end up feeling more like pocket change. It really could end up being a win-win situation for everybody right? Maybe…

The Larger Issue; Copyright (this could be it’s own research paper)

YouTube’s biggest liability is and always has been it’s seeming inability to control the content uploaded to the site. It’s slogan, “Broadcast Yourself” seems almost laughable at times since a huge part of the site’s popularity stems from users being able to re-broadcast videos on other sites and even more ironically, broadcasting material that doesn’t legally belong to them.

Copyright infringement is an issue of mammoth proportion. The site doesn’t prescreen uploads due to the insurmountable task, and because of that they are frequently criticized for not being more proactive in the enforcement of copyright laws. The site still remains an unmediated free-for all.

“Lazy Sunday,” a music video featuring Saturday Night Live cast members Chris Parnell and Any Samburg and which aired in the month the site went live was uploaded and then very shortly removed by NBC, but not before being viewed and forwarded millions of times. If you do a search for Lazy Sunday it’s not too difficult to find the remake of the acclaimed video which, though featuring unknown performers, is so close to the original that you might think it was the real deal. Perhaps many of the 709,780 folks who’ve viewed it DID.

In the spring of 2008, Viacom demanded $1 billion in damages claiming more than 150,000 clips of their unauthorized videos had been viewed an astounding number of times, including their documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” They also felt they were within their rights to be supplied with data regarding those users video habits in order to “compare the attractiveness” of videos that infringe upon content copyrights vs. those that don’t. Privacy advocates nipped that one in the bud but not before questioning why Google would retain all that information in the first place. (But that’s yet another paper…)

And big companies such as Viacom are not the only ones feeling incensed. In August 2006, an independent photographer sued YouTube for distributing his footage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Still, YouTube insists that it goes well beyond its legal obligations, leaning on the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that a company classified as an “On-Line Service Provider” retains safe harbor for simply transmitting information over the Internet and only needs to respond properly to a content owners claims of infringement. And YouTube delivers.

A copyright holder, or in fact any user at all, can issue a report of infringement directly on the site and a video will be taken down immediately, at least for review.

It also limits video lengths to 10 minutes to deter users from uploading television episodes.

As well, it has recently employed a back end tool from Audible Magic which allows a copyright owner to “digitally fingerprint” their material , thus preventing any duplicate “fingerprint” to be uploaded to the site to begin with.

And finally, though they feel that the rules regarding copyright are clearly posted some users don’t always realize that the content they are uploading is infringing. So an “educational” text is now sent to the user as well as being posted at the site of the removed video which has proven to sharply reduce the number of infringing videos being uploaded.

But face it, if all of the forbidden is removed, will the site still remain as attractive to the public? Not to mention, what would they do with all the material which is enhanced by copyrighted music, photographs or video clips. I mean, this brilliant and innovative offering of Where The Hell Is Matt? wouldn’t be nearly as joyful or inspiring without its soundtrack. Don't forget to view this one in High Quality...

On the other hand, what about the challenge for advertisers having their ads placed alongside infringing videos? I guess figuring all this out is the reason Google makes the big bucks.

Meanwhile, the executives of YouTube continue to strike deals with such companies as NBC, CBS, Warner, Universal Music Group and Sony to legitimately share their content on the site, in exchange for a portion of its advertising revenue.

Its Future

That will all depend upon YouTube’s ability to increase profits while at the same time decreasing liability. That is by convincing the major media as well as advertising executives of the huge benefits of connecting with the growing number of people who spend the majority of their free time on the Internet.

Will YouTube, as it continues to grow, become as important to the sharing of information as perhaps television and radio did back in their day? With the difference being in that the uncanny amount of information being shared in video clips is able to be accessed on demand. Any time of the day, 24/7. And all that is required to view them is an internet connection and a bit of an interest in just about anything.

According to Alexa, YouTube remains the 3rd most popular website.

Final Note

Although I realize that this may have not been the most “technological” subject I could have chosen I do have a great interest in multimedia and I found this research very fascinating. And besides, if I should ever find motivation enough to ever want to build my own computer or set up my own home network, it’s really good to know that I will always be able to find any of those step by step instructions on YouTube…

Resources:
Associated Press. “Google Buys YouTube for $1.65 Billion.” MSNBC 10 October 2006

Bangeman, Eric. “YouTube’s Future (or lack thereof). ARS Technica 3 October 2006

Boutin, Paul. “A Video History of YouTube.” Slate 18 October 2006

Cloud, John. “The Gurus of YouTube.” Time in Partnership with CNN 16 December 2006

Coyle, Jake. “Users Wonder About The Future of YouTube.” MSNBC 11 October 2006

Fisher, Ken. “YouTube and the Copyright Cops Safe For Now.” ARS Technica 16 July 2006

Holahan, Catherine. “YouTube’s New Deep Pockets.” Business Week 10 October 2006

Neumeister, Larry. “Viacom Alleges YouTube Copyright Infringement.” USAToday 27 May 2008

Press. “NBC to Test YouTube Copyright Monitoring.” Marketing VOX 24 April 2007

Robertson, Mark. “History and Detailed Overview of Google’s YouTube Video Sharing.” Ezine Articles 29 September 2007

Teeling, Erin. “YouTube:Show Me The Money!” The Bivings Report 19 September 2006

UCLA Online Institute for Cyberspace Law and Policy – The Digital Millenium Copyright Act

Vijayan, Jaikumar. “Privacy Advocates Question Google’s YouTube Monitoring.” Network World 7 July 2008

Wikipedia.

YouTube.


Whew!

Submitted for CO 110 on 8/12/2008

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2 comments:

Carolina Clay said...

Chardonnay,

WOW, just WOW!!!

So many interesting facts -- thank you for sharing all your research in your blog. You are the YouTube source. *g*

Have a great week!

Caro

Ondrea said...

Mom, you NEED to be a professional writer. Do you have any story ideas?