Update 2: YouTube was just recently acquired by Google, so some of the sections in this article may no longer apply. I’ll try and update it accordingly when I get the time.
Update: As per some comments and suggestions I received, I've added a new "YouTube APIs and Codes" section. You can digg this story or add it to del.icio.us.
This post is a part of a series of immensely in-depth profiles and biographies I'll be doing here of the most successful Web 2.0 companies. If you like it, don't forget to subscribe to the RSS feed for more in the future!
One of the companies that would easily classify as a poster-startup for Web 2.0 is YouTube. Since its launch in February 2005, it's managed to attract crowds, cross milestones, create fads, top lists, and even get a mention at this year's Emmys! Founded by three early PayPal employees, YouTube is a free service that lets users upload, share, and view video clips. It's been the center of a lot of discussion lately, so I thought it would be interesting to profile YouTube from top-to-bottom and discover the ideas behind its history, business, features, culture, sections, and phenomenon.
The generation it has captivated, let's explore YouTube.
YouTube: The Company
First, we'll start by looking at YouTube as the startup-turned-company. We'll see how it got to where it is today, how it plans to make money, the acquisition rumors that have circumvented it for the past few months, its hasty bandwidth bills, and the legal issues the company has so far had to put up with.
Based in San Mateo, YouTube is a small privately-funded company with 60 employees. Chad Hurley, one of its co-founders, serves as the CEO with its other two co-founders Steven Chen, CTO, and Jawed Karim, Advisor. So far, the company has raised over $11 million of funding from Sequoia Capital, the firm who also provided initial venture capital for Google, Yahoo!, and Apple in their early days. Their tagline is "Broadcast Yourself" and this largely represents their goal.
YouTube was founded by three former PayPal employees, who, witnessing the boom of online grassroots video, realized the need for a decent service that made the process of uploading, watching and sharing videos hassle-free. They registered the domain YouTube.com on February 15th, 2005 and developed the site over the following months from a garage in Menlo Park. In May 2005 they launched in a public beta, and in November, YouTube made its debut with an $3.5 million of funding from Sequoia Capital.
To get a decent start and attract the initial crowd they were looking for — teenagers, college students, hobbyists, film-makers — they came out with a contest that promised to give out one iPod Nano to a random member each day, which ran for two months. This contest worked on a point-based system, for example one point was rewarded for signing up, one for inviting others, another one for posting a video, etc. The more the points you gained, the higher the chance of winning you had. This was a significant action that got YouTube noticed by the masses and gave it a headstart as per the signups. After all, if you knew you had a chance to winning a $250 iPod Nano just by signing up and posting that Uncle Bob's funny biking incident clip you've had on your hard-drive for the past few years, wouldn't you?
Now, after being the host (and former-host) of countless SNL segments, Superbowl ads, TV goof-ups, Anime mashups, Nobody's Watching episodes, Sporting segments, Shakira music videos, and most recently the Lonelygirl15 installments — which have managed to receive more than 90 million views in total — the result? World's fastest growing website at present, YouTube.
While the service is completely free for the users, the company's business model — which was put in place in March 2005 — is based on traditional banner advertising, sponsorships, partnerships and promotions, and even contextual advertising. So far, they've had numerous partnerships with traditional media companies, notably NBC and the Warner Music Group.
There has been a lot of debate over YouTube's business, with claims that it is purely based on copyrighted infringements. Billionaire Mark Cuban was recently quoted in a News.com article saying "anyone who buys YouTube is a moron." While it has only been faced with one lawsuit by Californian journalist Robert Tur over copyright infringement, it has had to take several videos down to settle matters, most notably the SNL skit Lazy Sunday over NBC's requisition.
On April 2005, a Forbes article cast a spotlight on YouTube's bandwidth bills and how much of a limitation this is to its business. The article claimed that the site uses 200 terabytes a day which easily approaches to a $1 million monthly bandwidth bill. What's surprising is that this was even before its peak in June/July in which the site doubled in traffic.
Ever since it began, the company has had a stronger goal to build a community than to make a lot of money. But with the growing phenomenon, now with more than 65,000 uploads daily and 100 million videos being watched, they've had to kick-start their business plan in-order to sustain the growth.
Valuation & Acquisition Rumors
Over the past, YouTube has been rumored to be in talks with many companies for a potential acquisition. In these, include Viacom, Yahoo!, Disney, and Sony. Most of them have turned out to be false, or have never panned out.
Recently, however, there were claims in the New York Post article (which has since been taken down) that they won't be considering any offers below $1.5 billion for a sellout. With the number of copyright infringements the company has dealt with, and the seven-digit bandwidth bills, it is unlikely that this pricetag will sustain at such a high value.
YouTube: The Service
Now, we'll look at YouTube as the service and the website. We'll explore what millions and millions of people see everyday, the unique approach they've taken toward making online video more accessible in today's culture, and the different sections of the site which form together.
The signup process for YouTube hasn't changed much since its launch and is fairly easy. According to their use of the site, users can join as different accounts. For general use and those who will use YouTube just to watch videos and perhaps submit the odd one, a traditional account is the way to go. For musicians, they have a specific type of Musician account, as is the case with Comedians and Directors. As the lines have cleared, they've been quick to accommodate each type of user. Also, it's worth mentioning that no matter what the account, YouTube clearly states in the terms that the uploader grants YouTube a non-exclusive access to the video to be watched on the Internet, and warns you not to infringe any copyrights.
Just like registering for YouTube, they've made the process of uploading a video incredibly simple. After giving it a title, description, tags, category, and language, you simply select your video file — YouTube accepts almost every type there is — choose whether you want it public or private, and your video is on YouTube, accessible by millions. One of the prime factors being their success is the ease of use which they've truly taken great care in providing.
Since day one, YouTube has used a tabbed navigation menu which can be seen at the top of every page. Their homepage contains 10 daily featured videos and one from their exclusive partner (presently NBC). Also featured are 'Active Channels' and 'Active Groups' which I'll go into later. It's noticeable that they don't have any advertising on their homepage, but choose to monetize each video alone and subsequent pages.
As I stated above, users can join as different types of accounts. By signing up for a Director's Account, you essentially become YouTube's content partner. Along with a 'Director' tag, you get to co-brand your logo, link to a URL and provide your company's description on each of your videos. You also get the ability to upload videos longer than the 10 minute limit they've set, and customize a lot of fields and values. The program is aimed at amateur film-makers and online content distributors alike.
With the growing number of amateur comedians that post videos onto YouTube, they've also made a special type of account for this user base. A comedian account is basically a lighter version of a Directors account, where, along with the 'Comedian' tag, you get the ability to customize your channel and videos. It is notable, however, that you still don't have the ability to surpass the 10 minute time constrain and post your logo to the videos.
Like the Comedian account, YouTube also provides Musicians with their own subset of an account. Musicians can signup for one and get an account which allows to them to post their own music videos and most importantly identify themselves as musicians. Also, they can customize their channel specifically with information like "Record Label." This is great for independent and amateur musicians.
A channel is YouTube's flash name for a user's profile. There are some exceptions, though. Like a MySpace profile, users can decorate their channels and insert information that describes themselves. A typical channel includes information about the user, the videos they've uploaded, their favorites, ways to get in touch with them, the subscribers to their channel, the channel they've subscribed to, bulletins, and comments. Users can subscribe to others' channels, meaning they'll be updated of any new videos from the user through the 'My Subscriptions' page, and even subscribe to specific tags, such as "Snowboarding" or "Basejumping."
One of the neat and handy features of the site, YouTube allows users to create their own playlists to better organize their favorites collection, give other users a grouped collection of similar kinds of videos, or to simply group together a parted segment of videos. The use of this feature is completely up to the user, and it's something the YouTube community has inferred to good use.
YouTube Groups is primarily the 'social' section of the site which allows users to group together as people and as their videos and have discussions on the topic. While it is widely used to hold video competitions and contests, the recent launch of Colleges has welcomed the Facebook audience to dawn upon and meet up with their peers.
YouTube Underground Contest
Currently the very hot section of the website, the YouTube Underground Contest is a contest they've held to find the best amateur, independent, and unsigned musician out there who can write, play, and make a good music video. The community will vote on the best one, and four grandprize winners will basically get their start in the industry — from being featured on ABC's Good Morning America and thousands of mobile phones via Cingular Video to a chance to perform live, and all the professional equipment they can obtain. The contest starts on October 2nd and finishes October 18th.
YouTube APIs & Codes
A key part in YouTube's phenomenon and growth (see comments below), this is something they've been credited to since day one. With YouTube, it's possible for anyone to embed a video onto a webpage, MySpace profile, or blog by simply obtaining the code and copying/pasting it onto an HTML file. With this model, not only does the power of user-generated content arise, but the other side of the story — user-promoted content — accompanies it. What's more, there's a whole lot of things for the developer community to build upon with YouTube's API set.
One of the great things about YouTube is that the concept — uploading, viewing and sharing videos — appeals to nearly every age, race, and nationality. Their growth has been truly phenomenal and they remain one of the prime examples of success in Web 2.0. Used by millions everyday, they’ve made an exceptional name for themselves in this new content distribution model and with certainly no doubt in my mind, will go on to be one of the companies that change the way the world watches content.
[tags]YouTube, Online Video, Social Networks, Startups, Profiles[/tags]