Before Feb. 14, 2005, very few people had ever even heard the name “YouTube.” Today it’s the most popular online video community in the world and the most visited website with more than 1.7 billion estimated monthly visits from organic search. And it has changed our world.
“Just three guys on Valentine’s Day that had nothing to do.” — Steve Chen
According to its founders, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim (who were all former employees of Paypal), the idea for YouTube was born at a dinner party in San Fransisco, back in 2004. As Karim told USA Today back in 2006, the three friends were frustrated because they couldn’t find footage of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl the same year.
So they decided to develop their own video-sharing site! (Thank you, Janet.)
YouTube.com was born on Valentine’s Day in 2005
Ever wondered how YouTube got its name? Although there is no official explanation from the company, Rewind & Capture says that the word “You” represents that the content is user-generated, created by individual users and not the site itself and “Tube” is an old term used for television when TVs had picture tubes.
After the trio had chosen a name, the exact brand match domain name had to be registered. Valentine’s Day in 2005 merely marks the day Hurley, Chen, and Karim registered the domain name YouTube.com (along with the logo, and trademark).
Interestingly, after YouTube’s domain name was registered, it came under immediate attack by another company called Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment. Their domain name (acquired in October 1996.) just happened to be very similar — uTube.com. Many of the users intended to visit the video-sharing platform and mistyping the name caused its web servers to crash. On October 30, 2006, the manufacturing company sued YouTube over the website confusion. The claims were dismissed and the company moved their domain name to uTubeOnline.com in April 2006.
YouTube was meant to be a video-dating website — but the trio ultimately decided not to go that route.
YouTube didn’t always plan on being an all-conquering video portal — the platform was originally destined to be a dating site with the slogan “Tune in, Hook up” for rating people’s attractiveness. However, no one used it.
On April 23 (2005), the site’s co-founder Jawed Karim uploaded an 18-second clip titled “Me at the zoo” that shows him enjoying a moment with some elephants at the San Diego Zoo. That was the first-ever uploaded YouTube video. Also, it was the day that the brand started allowing people to upload videos. However, no one was willing to make use of the service and the concept failed. Today, the Jawed channel is gone. He left the site when it was bought by Google on October 9, 2006, for US$1.65 billion in stock. The only one he left up, the only trace of Jawed on YouTube, is him at the zoo.
After five days no one had uploaded a single video, Steve and the other co-founders reconsidered the idea. They took out ads on Craigslist in Las Vegas and Los Angeles in which they offered to pay women $20 to upload videos of themselves to the site. Again, no one took them up on this offer. Instead, people began using YouTube to share videos of all kinds.
“We always thought there was something with video there, but what would be the actual practical application? We thought dating would be the obvious choice.” — Steve Chen, one of the co-founders and previous chief technology officer of YouTube
“Why not let the users define what YouTube is all about?”
By June, they completely revamped the website, making it more open and general. And it worked. YouTube has grown into a video empire. In September 2005, YouTube got its first one million-hit video, a Nike ad with Brazilian soccer player Ronaldinho (the original is no longer online). This commercial showed the power of YouTube’s promotional potential. YouTube has become insanely popular and the finances began rolling in.
Following a $3.5 million investment from Sequoia Capital in November 2005, YouTube officially launched out of beta in December. The first office was located above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California. Over time the number of employees increased, the desks multiplied, cables tangled into knots and from time to time, rats were discovered scurrying around. The time had come to move.
If you can’t beat them, buy them.
It didn’t take long for Google to see the potential in the site and the tech giant came knocking on the door in October 2006. YouTube’s founders accepted the generous offer and Google has acquired the rapidly growing video-sharing site for a then-hefty $1.65 billion. At the time of its acquisition, YouTube was one of the world’s fastest-growing websites and Google’s stock climbed to an all-time high shortly after. After more growth, HD videos were introduced in December 2008 and there were more people now finding different uses for the site. Over the following years, YouTube’s audience continued to grow at massive rates with the trend that has continued to this day.