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In just five years, YouTube became the go-to video site

February 15, 2010 | 12:36 pm

YouTube had an extra-special Valentine's Day this year. Youtube

Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder and current CEO, announced that on Sunday, the site officially turned 5 years old.

"When we registered the YouTube domain on February 14, 2005, we set out to create a place where anyone with a video camera and an Internet connection could share a story with the world," Hurley wrote on the company's blog. "Five years into it, we're as committed as ever to the core beliefs and principles that guided YouTube's creation."

Those core principles, Hurley said, revolve around allowing users to have a voice through video, working with Hollywood and other partners to help content succeed online, and setting "the standard" in online video.

When YouTube first started five years ago, achieving those core principles was much more difficult. The company was competing in a space where uploading video to the Web was considered more of a headache than a desired practice. Worst of all, inherent startup costs related to video were extremely high, which meant YouTube was forced to secure venture funding to get up and running.

In November 2005, it did just that with the help of Sequoia Capital, a well-respected venture-capital firm. With funds finally procured, YouTube officially launched in December 2005.

YouTube grew at an astounding rate. Web users uploaded personal videos to share with friends. As they did so, several videos went "viral," a Web term that grew in popularity, thanks to YouTube. By July 2006, more than 65,000 videos were added to the site each day and over 100 million videos were being viewed.

As successful as user-generated content was, YouTube's popularity and explosive growth was due in main part to the copyrighted material that users uploaded to the site. Everything from "Saturday Night Live" skits to movies were added to YouTube, giving viewers their first opportunity to have all their favorite professional content at their disposal whenever they fired up their computers.

Meanwhile, copyright holders were seething. They could have sued YouTube and requested their copy-protected clips be taken down, but the video site was losing money at an astounding rate as bandwidth costs continued to pile up. Suing YouTube at the time would have cost copyright holders huge legal fees and would have likely ended in no financial gain.

All that changed in November 2006 when Google announced that it had acquired YouTube for a whopping $1.65 billion in stock. It was one of the most talked-about acquisitions in Web history. But it also put YouTube in unsafe territory, since Google, unlike the site's previous owner, had cash that copyright-holders could target.

Almost immediately, those copyright holders started suing YouTube. They were led by Viacom, which sued the site for more than $1 billion, alleging copyright infringement. In its suit, Viacom identified over 100,000 clips on YouTube that it said were viewed more than 1.5 billion times. That legal battle continues today.

In an attempt to cut down on lawsuits and make YouTube a better revenue generator than it was in the past, Google has spent considerable time over the last few years entering into partnerships with major entertainment companies.

In late 2008, Google announced that YouTube would start hosting full-length movies and television shows from several companies, including MGM and Lions Gate Entertainment. Thanks to those agreements, the site currently boasts hundreds of legally uploaded television shows and films.

Criticism follows YouTube

All of YouTube's success hasn't come without some criticism. The site has most often come under fire for its copyrighted material. Google has done a better job at cleaning it up and requesting users don't upload material they don't own, but it still persists on the site. Those looking to see clips of practically any film, song, or television show will have little trouble finding it.

YouTube has also been home to "inappropriate content." The site has had several objectionable videos uploaded by users that included insulting and hate-filled remarks.

For its part, YouTube strictly prohibits objectionable material. But since so many videos are uploaded each day, it's impossible for the company to see them all. 

To limit the outbreak of inappropriate content, YouTube relies on users to "flag" those videos they deem inappropriate. But like any site, some fall through the cracks.

YouTube recently announced a Safety Mode feature that users can turn on to hide any material that some might find "objectionable" to further reduce the availability of inappropriate content on the site.

Still going strong

Today, YouTube is still home to interesting, outrageous, hilarious and sometimes touching content. Its top videos have been viewed hundreds of millions of times. And according to Google, the site's growth is still on the rise. 

Google claims YouTube users upload 20 hours of video to the site every minute.

YouTube's importance to the Web can't be understated. Before its launch, no other video site so easily allowed users to upload video to the Internet. Today, it's a common practice on the Web.

From a social perspective, YouTube has changed everything. Some celebrities have YouTube to thank for their success. Folks that might have otherwise stayed anonymous have enjoyed 15 minutes of fame, thanks to a video that went viral on the site.

Even President Obama has YouTube to thank after the Obama Girl stole headlines for her gushing and oddly catchy tune that showed her support for his candidacy.

Simply put, YouTube has become the go-to video site for millions across the globe. And for now, it doesn't seem that any other site on the Web will be able to achieve the kind of importance and success it has in such a short amount of time.

-- Don Reisinger