Happy birthday YouTube.com: How you've changed us in six short years
These days, the cool kids analyzing media are more likely to gush over the Google Decade or the Facebook Generation. But, on its sixth birthday, the third-most-visited website in the world demands a bit of attention.
That's right: It's time to talk YouTube.
The beta version of the video-sharing site launched months later, but YouTube's domain name was activated on Feb. 14, 2005, later becoming an instant favorite for anyone who enjoys home videos of people getting hit in the crotch or misusing Mentos and Diet Coke.
Sold to Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion and now featuring 2 billion ad-supported videos daily, it has changed us in ways we probably can't imagine.
Like becoming a vehicle for instant, worldwide derision -- which Los Angeles broadcaster Serene Branson is enduring right now, thanks to an unfortunate onslaught of aphasia during a live broadcast Sunday that left many viewers wondering if they saw her have a stroke on the air (A British newspaper and local shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge called it hilarious; will they think that if she's paralyzed or severely disabled in the aftermath?).
Here's a few other impacts from the site:
Impact No. 1: Kicked off the personal media revolution - We already knew anyone could create a website or online audio. But putting global video broadcasts in the hands of anyone with an Internet connection made it obvious: Any one of us could become our own TV network, whenever we wanted. Which means, at any moment, our media brand could capture the world's attention, elevated by the audience itself. (see how many people viewed this video of a guy's son recovering from dental surgery for proof).
Impact No. 2: Took some control from media companies and handed it to the audience - One big reason why the major TV networks created the video-sharing website Hulu.com was because YouTube was creating a user-generated marketplace filled with their stuff, anyway. Before then, big media companies could ignore the audience's desire for an online link to watch shows on their schedule. But YouTube forced companies to act before the audience stole their business from them (yes, music industry, we're talking about you.)
Impact No. 3: Exposed the knuckleheads - From failed U.S. senate candidate George Allen's "macaca" moment to former Seinfeld star Michael Richards' n-word rant, the long list of scandals memorialized on YouTube includes some of pop culture's most searing moments. The service allowed these images to speak from a thousand blog posts and Web pages at once, letting viewers judge for themselves when our most infamous knuckleheads crossed the line.
Impact No. 4: Redefined celebrity - Even now, there's a new category of notable in pop culture: anybody who can draw a crowd on YouTube. And that list ranges from oddball local TV news interviewee Antoine Dodson (click here and look at the 1-minute mark) to Grammy-dominating pop star Justin Bieber. In YouTube's world, the audience increasingly chooses its own pop heroes.
Impact No. 5: Spread user-generated video everywhere - By making its clips accessible on a host of other devices -- from iPhones and iPads to Google TV, Apple TV, Boxee, TiVo and Wii gaming devices -- YouTube ensured viewers saw their videos as just another entertainment channel. My daughters surf YouTube as quickly as they would call up Nickelodeon or ABC Family, with equal expectations for entertainment. AOL and MySpace wishes they could say that about their services.