Ask an elementary school student what they want to be when they grow up and it’s highly likely they’ll say a YouTuber. And who can blame them? YouTube is the second-most visited website in the world, and some of its biggest stars earn more than $20 million (¥2.2 billion) per year. But it hasn’t always been this way.
YouTube started as the brainchild of three PayPal employees in 2005. Initially, the founders had hoped to start an online dating site, but they soon recognized the potential of video-sharing and released a rudimentary version of today’s YouTube onto the internet in April 2005.
YouTube’s easy-to-use interface made it an overnight success and by the summer of 2006 it was receiving over 100 million views per day, making it one of the fastest-growing websites ever.
However, with popularity came complications. More and more equipment had to be acquired to handle the big user numbers, and the company ran into legal issues due to copyright infringements.
To avoid further issues, YouTube made agreements with several large media companies and started running advertisements. As a result, the site began to feature professionally made media, as well as the amateur content it had become known for.
YouTube’s success drew the attention of Google, which acquired the site for $1.65 billion (about ¥200 billion) in the autumn of 2006. It was Google’s second largest acquisition at the time.
With Google’s support, YouTube has evolved from an amateur video-sharing site to a comprehensive media company in its own right. Users can now stream music, rent full-length movies and television programs, and watch livestreams of major sporting events all on the one site.
Nonetheless, like many top-performing websites, YouTube is no stranger to controversy. Complaints about the website are wide-ranging. Though it has been instrumental in shaping politics, the website has been criticized for its tepid response to extremist videos. Similarly, though it has helped forge many careers, it has also been condemned for how it monetizes its videos. Both have caused advertisers to withdraw from the site.
Regardless, YouTube’s enormous influence is clear. Love it or hate it, it has quite literally changed how we view the world.