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The Most Important Video on the Internet

Sort of.

This week, those of us who are enrolled in the online public relations class at IUPUI were given an assigned topic to blog about: “any web videos and their importance to digital media.” This request from our professor was both specific and vague enough that I was stumped at first. Then, a light bulb turned on somewhere and I thought to Google something:

“What was the first video ever uploaded to YouTube?”

Now, those who are better-versed in the history of social media or YouTube itself might have already known the answer to that question, but I certainly didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty sure it was going to be something kind of stupid (and I was right). The first-ever video on the YouTube, a company which is now estimated to be worth more than $10 billion, was just 18 seconds long. It’s called “Me at the zoo” and shows one of YouTube’s founders at the San Diego Zoo, babbling about elephants.

Let’s back up – how did we get to 18 seconds of elephant coverage?

YouTube was created by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim in 2005. Each born in the 1970s, the trio were in their late 20s at the time of YouTube’s creation. They met while working at PayPal, which was also very early in its existence at the time. According to this Mashable listicle, “10 Fascinating YouTube Facts That May Surprise You,” YouTube was funded by bonuses the three founders received after eBay bought out PayPal.

Supposedly, the reasoning behind YouTube’s creation came from Hurley, Chen and Karim experiencing a variety of World Wide Web-related issues, including being unable to send a video via email because it was too large attach. Jawed Karim has been cited as saying that he wanted to create a place for videos to be shared online because he was frustrated that he couldn’t find footage of Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction anywhere on the internet. (Real classy, Karim.) It’s also said that the trio originally considered making a dating site, which were becoming extremely popular at the time. I’m really glad they didn’t go with that idea; I’m not sure it would have been nearly as successful.

The YouTube domain name was registered on Valentine’s Day in 2005, but the aforementioned first video wasn’t posted until April 23. You can watch it for yourself, but it’s not much to look at. Basically, it shows Jawed Karim standing in front of the elephant exhibit at the zoo, saying that elephants are “cool” because they have long trunks. It was reportedly filmed by Karim’s friend, Yakov Lapitsky, and was uploaded by Karim under the user name “jawed.”

Why it matters:

Obviously, the content itself is not what makes this the most important video on the internet. What makes it important is that YouTube subsequently impacted our society in a number of ways. Although online video footage might have been available as early as the 1980s, 1994 was the first year that the internet became interactive, allowing users access to information displays. Even then, it wasn’t until YouTube came along in the mid 2000s that web videos became a commonly-used medium.

In March of 2017, NPR reported that people use the platform to watch 1 billion hours of video every day. Video is no longer limited to YouTube; platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are becoming increasingly video-focused, rather than relying on text posts or still images. In addition to getting more people to watch videos more often, YouTube has also changed the way that people learn. The site produces results for over 3 million searches per month, making it the second largest search engine in the world.

Was “Me at the zoo” particularly groundbreaking video on its own? No. But the fact that it was filmed, uploaded and viewed via a platform dedicated to video certainly was. 

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