Happy 5th Birthday YouTube – Holy Crap That’s A Lot of Views!

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It’s YouTube’s fifth birthday today.  The video site decided to celebrate their fifth birthday by launching a new YouTube Five Year channel, according to a post on their blog yesterday.  What is the YouTube Five Year channel?  I’m glad you asked.  It’s the home of the “My YouTube Story” project.

What’s the “My YouTube Story” project?  Well, it’s a way for the user community to help celebrate the birthday by uploading their own videos telling the story of how YouTube has changed their lives.  There’s a pretty snappy little interface (reminiscent of Bitly.tv) and users can browse through the many various stories in the filmmaker’s own words.  If you want to add your own story to the wall, you can do so here.

There’s also something very cool that they’re calling the Interactive Timeline, which charts the history of YouTube using significant events and memes as “landmarks” along the history.  This timeline is easily one of my favorite things YouTube has ever done.  It’s fun—remembering all the various viral hits.  It’s slick—the javascript work allows you to hover over a single video and click to play it, and the scroll from past to present is nifty as well.  And it’s comprehensive—YouTube’s blog says they had trouble choosing which videos to add to the timeline, but I think they pretty much got all the right ones in there; I can’t think of a single major meme or viral hit that deserves mention but didn’t get it.  It’s seriously cool.

Here’s a screenshot of the timeline:

Don’t miss the “Guest Curators” section below the timeline, where people like Conan O’Brien and Katie Couric share what they feel are the most essential videos on YouTube.

The sheer amount of research and effort behind this is staggering and impressive.  I’m also impressed that they would go to such lengths to create a community celebration of the anniversary date.  Most companies would simply post a special note on their blog, probably with a stock photograph of a wrapped present or some party favors.  YouTube creates a new channel, a new user-generated project, special celebrity curator sections, and a super slick retrospective on many of the YouTube-assisted Internet phenomena.

Oh, they even made a video about all this:

Now, I’m happy for YouTube’s success.  They created a service that many thought was silly and turned it into one that is darn near invaluable.  That’s impressive.

But beyond all the fancy birthday stuff they dreamt up, there’s something even more important in their blog post… something that is in danger of being overlooked if you’re not careful.  And it’s this:  YouTube now exceeds two billion views per day.  As they are so helpful in pointing out, that is more than double the prime-time audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined (actually, it’s gotta be way the heck more than double that… unless they mean annual numbers for those networks).  Considering they only reached the one-billion-views-per-day mark in October of 2009, this is extremely rapid growth.  That means they doubled their daily view count in about eight months.  Yikes.

That’s just… staggering.  It’s like what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says about space:  “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.”  That’s how big a number like two billion is.  We can’t even fathom it, really.  Imagine how hard it will be to fathom three trillion views per day when they cross that threshold.  At this point, they could almost start making up their own new names for gigantic numbers and it wouldn’t faze me.

For all the grief we give them about profitability—or lack thereof—this two billion views thing kind of adds a layer of perspective.  I mean, I don’t want to know what it costs to cover bandwidth costs on two thousand video views per day, let alone two billionThey have created a monster, and the fact that it continues to function and behave like a usable website service instead of crashing constantly is beyond remarkable to me.

Happy Birthday, YouTube.  Your rate of growth is astounding.  I hope I’m able to hit “publish” on this blog post before you announce you’ve passed the four-billion-views-per-day mark.


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