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A brief history of YouTube: From Me at the zoo to Gangnam Style

We were never convinced by the so-called Mayan Prophecy that the world would end on 21 December this year. Nevertheless, there was one event that day that made us think there may have been a grain of truth in that ancient stone carving – Gangnam Style became the first YouTube clip to hit one billion views.

The triumph of Korean pop sensation Psy and his all-powerful novelty hit marks a huge milestone for YouTube in a year when the web’s favourite destination for video pushed ever further into the people’s living rooms on Smart TVs, consoles and mobile devices. But how did YouTube go from a tiny startup to Gangnam greatness in just seven years? Here are some of the high points in YouTube’s history.

April 2005 Me at the Zoo

The very first video posted to YouTube was ‘Me at the Zoo’ on 23rd April, 2005. Shot by Yakov Kapitsky, the 19-second clip shows YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim  standing in front of some elephants and informing us that, “The cool thing about these guys is that.. they have really, really, really long trunks.”

With insight like that it is hardly surprising Karim was one of the razor-sharp brains behind YouTube. Together with fellow ex-PayPal employees Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, Karim started what was to become in possibly the most cliched location possible – a garage.

The trio quickly secured $3.5 million in startup cash to spend on bandwidth, servers and office beanbags/skateboard ramps and the site began to grow rapidly.

September 2005 Ronaldinho’s Golden Boots

In September 2005 a YouTube got its first 1 million hit video in the form of a Nike ad that went viral. The short clip of Brazilian football sensation Ronaldinho shows the then-Barcelona Midfielder receiving his Golden Boots, painstakingly putting them on (seriously, he seems to take ages) and then treating us to an epic keepy-uppy session. We are no experts, but he should probably turn professional.

December 2005 Lazy Sunday

Viral comedy songs are ten a penny today but Lazy Sunday, a track recorded for Saturday Night Live by comedy trio The Lonely Island, was one of the first to be uploaded to YouTube by fans and catch the public imagination. Five million views later, it was also one of the first to be pulled off YouTube by its owners – broadcaster NBC – who were a little annoyed that YouTube’s freebies were eating into its iTunes sales.

Thankfully, a version of it has since been reinstated.

October 2006 – Google buys YouTube

Just as YouTube looked like it was going to be squashed by various lawsuits relating to copyrighted material being posted by users, Google bought the company for $1.65 Billion. True to form, Hurley & Chen announced this to the site’s users in a short clip in which they promised to put their new found fortune to good use.

May 2007 Charlie bit my finger

Nobody other than the family themselves know exactly how much money the Davis-Carr’s of Buckinghamshire have earned from this clip of brother-on-brother violence but it is estimated to be over £100,000.

A 56 second clip of two admittedly cute kids seems an unlikely global hit but three year old Harry having his finger bitten by one-year-old Charlie is now the most viewed non-music-video clip on YouTube, notching up an amazing half a billion views. Despite their assumed sizeable earnings from YouTube’s ad programme Charlie & Harry’s parents have been careful not to exploit their offspring’s fame.

Christmas 2007 The Queen’s Christmas Message to the Commonwealth

In 2007 the Queen gave the first of her Christmas Messages to be shown on YouTube as well as on television. Since then the Royal Channel on YouTube is host to all 61 of Her Majesty’s messages including this year’s, which is elsewhere available in 3D.

April 2009 Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent

Britain’s Got Talent? Britain’s Got Videos That Look A Bit Staged To Us Although This One Definitely Certainly Wasn’t If Simon Cowell’s Lawyers Are Reading This, more like.

People blame Britain’s Got Talent for the rise and rise of Susan Boyle but, really, it was the 80 million-odd hits on YouTube that sewed up her global stardom. The video also helped to cement YouTube usage among those who wouldn’t previously have searched online for content like this.

December 2012 Gangnam Style hits one billion

What is there to say about Gangnam Style other that “No more, thanks”? Psy’s song has proven more infectious than herpes and has been associated with at least one death.

Although on the surface a silly novelty record about trying to cop off with a pretty rich girl in the Korean equivalent of Knightsbridge, Gangnam Style may actually be a subtle piece of satire about contemporary Korean mores. Or it might just be that thing about the posh girl.

Either way, this video has struck a nerve with people all around the world to become the first YouTube clip to hit one billion views.

What this means for the future of YouTube, were aren’t sure. Certainly there will be more novelty hits, no doubt from even more unexpected sources. As YouTube tries its best to push its way into our living rooms with smart TV apps and as an ubiquitous presence on tablets and phones, it is likely to be just as important as broadcast TV in terms of breaking news stories and as a channel for entertainment. It could even be all about you.

For the one person who still hasn’t seen the video, here it is.

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