In 2005, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim launched what would become the most popular video sharing Web site ever created. In fact, until YouTube came along, there were few easy ways to share video on the Web—at least ways that were easy, free, and enjoyable, particularly for the average user. Apart from an inspired idea and creative coding, the success of YouTube was also made possible by the use of Adobe Flash (at that time Macromedia Flash), a plug-in for Web browsers, which has become the de facto standard for delivering multimediarich Web sites. With the efficient and ubiquitous FLV (Flash Video) file format as its standard for encoding movies uploaded by users, YouTube made millions of videos instantly accessible by the majority of people on the Internet. In addition to the technology that enabled it, YouTube enhanced the experience of watching videos with Web 2.0-inspired social networking features, such as comments, groups, home pages for members, subscriptions, and other community-based ideas made popular through Web sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster, to name a few.
As a result of its simplicity and solid feature set (all free of charge), YouTube’s subscriber base quickly grew, and brought with it many talented people who were looking for a place to exhibit their creativity. For the first time, anyone could upload a short film they had made, a video diary, or other home movie and share it with the world. The popularity of a particular video and its creator was bolstered by word of mouth, networking features, and rankings on the site, such as the number of views that a video received. No longer was the success of an individual with a good idea limited to those who could secure corporate sponsorship or large marketing budgets. Professional producers caught on shortly thereafter, and YouTube has since become a major stopping point on the marketing circuit, even for traditional media outlets. In fact, with Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006, monetary considerations and corporate partnerships are sure to increase. However, YouTube still retains much of its democratic appeal, since the majority of its content is gleefully low-budget, high-creativity material created by average citizens. Ironically, it’s this same aesthetic and do-it-yourself ethos that professional outlets have been trying to emulate, often with mixed results.