Innovation in History — Impact and Change: YouTube – Creation of a New World Community

YouTube is to video browsing what a Wal-Mart Supercenter is to shopping: everything is there, and all you have to do is walk in the door. — John Cloud, Time Magazine, December 16, 2006

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The epigraph above is reflective of the positive commentary being published about YouTube in recent years. Although YouTube is only a few years old, it has already over 100 million video clips viewed and 65,000 new videos are uploaded on the site every 24 hours by people all over the world. YouTube has created instant groups of like-minded people around the world who share ideas, political views as well as being a rallying point for people concerned about causes they have in common. Some of the things that people rally around are as simple as a 60-second clip of humor. A lot of film is about music. Never before in history has the average individual been empowered to share this medium instantly, unedited and uncensored with free access to all. There has been a lot of political reaction to this innovation as well. It has been blocked by countries such as China, Morocco and Thailand who are concerned about some of its content. Although there are other video-sharing Web sites available, YouTube is a revolutionary step in human communication that represents a very good topic for an Innovation in History analysis. To this end, this paper provides an overview and history of YouTube, a description of how users create and upload videos to the site, and how the site has transformed from its relatively frivolous origins to become a serious contender among media heavyweights. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

There are several video-sharing Web sites available, including Google Video (http://video. google. com/?hl=en&tab=wv), Yahoo Video (, and MySpace (, and the number of such sites continues to grow. The most popular of such video-sharing Web sites, though, is YouTube ( (Bromley 2008). According to Haridakis and Hanson, just 15 months following its launch in February 2005, YouTube enjoyed 20 million visitors a day who watched 100 million videos, representing 60% of all videos that were watched online in 2006. Founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, former employees of PayPal, the site became enormously popular in an amazingly short period of time (McGivern 2006). In this regard, Haridakis and Hanson add that, “The most popular clips are viewed by millions of users, providing a new form of appointment television — one that is built around the calendars of individual users and not rigid network program schedules. The audience is now an integral part of the media distribution chain” (Haridakis and Hanson 2009:317). Just over a year from its inception, YouTube was purchased by Google, Inc. In November, 2006, making the young founders multimillionaires in the process and the site has expanded beyond the sharing of personal videos to include a wide range of professionally produced productions as well. For instance, health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Red Cross maintain educational videos on YouTube (Akagi 2008). Moreover, YouTube has quickly transformed from its original format to gain respected status among mainstream media as well (Wollheim 2007). For example, some of the videos posted on YouTube have been publicized and reviewed by mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times (Wollheim 2007).

Fortunately for its tens of millions of users, YouTube has also resolved the copyright infringement issues that have plagued the site since its inception. In this regard, Wollheim (2007) reports that CBS, NBC, Sony Music, and Warner Music have all reached agreements with the site’s owners following negotiations concerning copyright infringement. Likewise, following intense negotiations between YouTube and United Kingdom PRS for Music, a consortium of music royalty advocates, YouTube agreed to pay copyright owners for delivering their videos. According to a recent newspaper article, “During the six-month standoff, PRS for Music, representing 60,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers, served YouTube with notices to take down hundreds of promo clips and block music videos from the website” (Youtube Makes Deal with UK Music Group 2009). Although the site’s new owner, Google, has aggressively marketed YouTube in other countries, countries such as Iran, Morocco, Thailand, and Turkey have sought to prevent their citizens from accessing the site for both cultural and political reasons (Wollheim 2007). Accordign to Haridakis and Hanson (2009), “YouTube is one of the new forms of social network-oriented online communication that have emerged in the past few years. It exemplifies a social environment in which everyone has the potential to be both a consumer and purveyor of content and illustrates the speed with which social networking innovations can achieve widespread penetration and utility” (317). Indeed, the community aspects of the site are highlighted by the YouTube fact sheet (2010) which emphasizes, “Everyone can participate in the YouTube community by watching, sharing, and commenting on videos. People can see first-hand accounts of current events, relive their favorite TV moments, find videos about their hobbies and interests, discover new artists and filmmakers, and even uncover the quirky and unusual” (2). With more than 20 million visitors a month viewing 100 million video clips each day, YouTube has become a community forum of choice in which people from around the world can watch and discuss the 65,000 new videos that are posted each day (Naim 2007). Although the majority of the posted videos are created by young people with their peers in mind, a growing number of videos posted on YouTube are of a more serious nature. According to Naim, “YouTube includes videos posted by terrorists, human rights groups, and U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Some are clips of incidents that have political consequences or document important trends, such as global warming, illegal immigration, and corruption. Some videos reveal truths. Others spread disinformation, propaganda, and outright lies. All are part of the YouTube effect” (2007:105).

Although there are a growing number of video-sharing sites available, one of the key differences between YouTube and other social networking sites is the fact that YouTube does not require any community tagging for the videos uploaded by its users. Instead, the individuals who post the videos provided the requisite tags (Godwin-Jones 2007). In fact, YouTube does not provide any specific guidance or recommendations concerning what content tags should be applied by its users. In this regard, Godwin-Jones advises, there are some distinct disadvantages to this approach for serious researchers: “This makes searching for particular kinds of video clips or specific content very much a hit or miss enterprise. Searching on ‘Teaching English,’ for example, returns hundreds of results, most of them clips of teachers in action or class profiles, but the hit list also includes commercials that could be used in teaching English, as well as clips from commercial providers of language instruction” (16). The videos posted for educational purposes, like the other clips on YouTube, differ widely in their production values and the quality of the video and audio they contain. For example, Godwin-Jones notes that, “Some of the clips uploaded are just slideshows or videos shot with a static camera; others, however, are quite sophisticated in the use of lighting, captioning, camera angles, and transitions. Many come with a music soundtrack, often using commercially available songs” (2007:16). In addition, students and teachers alike are using the site for classroom projects and as a way of generating interest in a topic, with many educational videos from language classes being posted (Godwin-Jones 2007).

Part of the popularity of YouTube compared to other social networking sites is the ease of use that is involved. According to Godwin-Jones, “Uploading video clips to YouTube is a quick and easy process and works in similar ways on other video sharing sites. Video clips can be in avi, mov, or mpg formats (MPEG4 is recommended) and be a maximum of ten minutes long. At least one content tag is required, along with a specification of the language used in the clip, presently restricted to a choice among English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese, or German” (17). Videos can also be posted using a personal digital assistant or digital cameras with Internet access, and videos can also be posted directly to YouTube using a Web camera (Godwin-Jones 2007). After a video is posted to YouTube, it is converted to a Flash video format that the site uses for all of the clips it receives; the URL for the posting is provided to the individual uploading it, together with HTML code that can be used to paste into a Web page in order to display the video on one’s own page. This ease of use combined with the proliferation of video recording devices, including cellular telephones, has resulted in an explosion of video content being posted to YouTube and accounts for much of its popularity today (Godwin-Jones 2007).

Prior to the introduction of YouTube and other video-sharing forums, people could watch television, go to the cinema, or to some extent watch movies on the Internet, or at least excerpts and trailers. With YouTube, though, users can watch movies, TV programs, documentaries, sports events, home movies made in the far-flung regions of the world at any time they wish. In addition, users can join and converse with communities of people who are interested in the same category material as the filmmaker. One of the most attractive draws for YouTube is the price involved. YouTube is absolutely free to anyone with access to the Internet. This also means that a person in any part of the world could obtain an education online. In this regard, Akagi (2008) emphasizes that, “YouTube videos may never replace the types of educational videos and teaching resources supplied online by established entities like PBS Teachers / teachers, the Health Teacher site www., and other free and subscriber educational online organizations. However, carefully selected YouTube videos offer a new media source to utilize as a pedagogical tool in health education that connects with students through technology” (58). In fact, in March 2007, YouTube launched TeacherTube, to provide an online community specifically for sharing instructional and educational videos. This site is comparable to YouTube in “look-and-feel” and TeacherTube is also a free site that is promoted as being a safe Internet forum for educators, students, and schools alike (Bromley 2008). According to this analyst, “It appears to be used primarily to post video lessons in academic content areas such as mathematics, science, and history” (Bromley 2008:2). Likewise, another educator, Tarr (2007), points out that, “For teachers, the site is an absolute godsend: search for video on any topic you choose and you are usually presented with an array of high quality clips from documentaries, feature films and music videos. Other sites have followed suit-,, and being particularly worthy examples – but YouTube remains the first port of call for teachers and students seeking multimedia content” (28).

Beyond the strictly educational and instructional aspects of YouTube and its offshoot, TeacherTube, the ability of users to share videos with others who share their interests and concerns is indicative of the degree to which their social activities and interpersonal interactions with others in real-world settings may impact the social use of YouTube (Haridakis and Hanson 2009). In this regard, Wollheim (2007) notes that, “In such a wide-open ‘wiki’ situation, film studios and other accomplished media professionals compete for attention with the approximately 70,000 new video clips uploaded to the site daily by even school-aged youngsters from around the globe. Video-sharing draws in participants lured by the promise of a media commons in which all votes carry equal weight and value” (Wollheim 2007:22).

The extensive hyperlinked features of the videos presented are also a draw because people can quickly find related videos that they might not have considered. According to Wollheim (2007) “YouTube looks and feels like a casino or arcade, a highly distractive and infinitely hyperlinked environment without clearly marked entrances and exits. The screens-within-screens-within-screens format favors grazing rather than watching, as succeeding waves of images and captions incessantly vie for scaled down attention spans” (22). Indeed, even with the most serious presentations, the discussions that emerge between viewers is likely to be less formal. In this regard, Wollheim concludes that, “YouTube definitely moves video away from the standard top-down production model to a conversational one but perhaps more like the conversations one has at tailgate parties outside crowded football stadiums.” (Wollheim 2007:22)

A representative sampling of some of the commentary posted on YouTube concerning various educational videos supports this observation. For instance, in response to the video, “Learn English Vocabulary” available at & feature=pyv&ad=3538157700&kw=learning%20english&gclid=CNC11_rElp8CFR4Eagod-gqfmQ, the following commentary from English as second language learners (limited to 500 characters by YouTube) was provided:

1. Thank you. It’s really crazy but it’s really helpful. Good Idea.

2. Thanks AJ! Your lessons have helped me to speak a lot faster! I got 7.5? In my IELTS speaking exam!: DI was not even thinking about grammar rules or anything! I just went on and on until the examiner told me to stop talking lol!

3. I think your technique are very useful for me and? my friends. I will share this video with them. Thank you very much!

4. I was given this lesson a couple of years ago when I was at university. This way of teaching vocabulary is really effective. At the beginning it can seem to? be stupid and the students will make fun of you, but in the end, the kids will get the message across and they’ll realize it’s effective.

5. I think you should doing more of these videos. They help me much. You’re the best: ) Sorry for my terrible English but I’m try learn I hope that I can improve