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The History of YouTube: the beginnings of the biggest video platform in the world

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of online videos? Learn about the history of the largest platform for online audiovisual content.

The history of YouTube

Nowadays, it’s practically impossible to think about online videos without YouTube coming to mind. But 13 years ago, the largest video platform on the internet simply did not exist. From its launch in 2005 to the present day, the site created a veritable revolution in how we consume content on the web. Discover the history of YouTube!

As the second largest internet search engine, surpassed only by Google, YouTube has over 1.5 billion active users every month. And each one spends an average of one hour and fifteen minutes watching videos on the platform every day.

400 hours of new content is posted on the site. And 2 billion monthly users. That’s a lot of videos!

But, besides being an entertainment channel, YouTube has become one of the best marketing and advertising platforms. Thousands of companies invest a large part of their budget towards the posting of videos on the site.

Despite all of these numbers, it’s hard to remember that YouTube hasn’t always been like this. A little over a decade ago, the platform was merely a small startup, unknown to the general public. Would you like to learn more about YouTube’s trajectory? Well then, keep reading!

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The history of YouTube: the beginning

The year is 2004, a time when a lot of people around the world were using dial-up internet access, there was no Facebook and everyone was chatting on MSN Messenger. Silicon Valley, California, was already in full swing and business ideas were emerging all the time. Among them was YouTube.

Good ideas are born when you least expect them. Chad Hurley, a former PayPal employee, knows that very well. He found it very difficult to share a video he recorded during a dinner party at a friend’s house. That’s when he has an insight, “How about creating a service that would allow you to upload videos and share them easily?

It didn’t take long for Hurley to join two other PayPal colleagues, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, and on February 14, 2005, the trio created the youtube.com domain.

YouTube creators, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen e Jawed Karim

YouTube creators, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen e Jawed Karim. (Photo: Reproduction)

The first video in the history of YouTube

The possibility of posting videos was only added to the platform on April 23rd, which was when the first video was uploaded.

The first video in the history of YouTube is only 19 seconds long and shows one of its founders, Chad Hurley, during a visit to the San Diego Zoo, in California. Check it out below:

Although the content is irrelevant, this video is a milestone and launched a new way of relating to the web. Since then, we have never stopped sharing our lives on the internet.

The first viral video

At the time, the creators of YouTube had no idea that their startup would become one of the most important sites in the world. For them, the platform would be more private, where users could post videos and only share them with their acquaintances.

For this reason, during the first two months of existence, the site only hosted 19 videos and had very few views.

This was when the spotlight was turned onto YouTube, on June 25, 2005, when the 20th video was uploaded. The video, with two kids overdubbing a Backstreet Boys’ song, became the first viral video in the history of YouTube.

The video was a huge hit at the time and has already accumulated over 6 million views. It might not seem much, especially if we compare it to today’s most popular videos with billions of views and comments. But we have to remember that YouTube was still a site unknown to many people and social media was still in its infancy.

The first major brand to post on YouTube

It was during this period that the platform started gaining more attention, including from certain brands. At a time when video monetization wasn’t a reality yet, Nike was the first company in the history of YouTube to invest in it as a promotional tool.

You probably remember the video, in which Ronaldinho Gaucho puts on a pair of Nikes, does a few keepie uppies, and then kicks the ball towards the goal so that it hits the crossbar and bounces directly back to him. The feat made many people believe that the video was fake. If you don’t remember it, check it out:

Besides not being fake, the soccer star’s tricks became the first video on the platform to reach 1 million views. That’s quite a feat!

The beginning of success

By 2006, YouTube was already a veritable phenomenon and one of the fastest-growing sites on the internet. During the first semester alone, the platform went from 4.9 million to 19.6 million users, a growth of almost 300%!

To give you a better idea of the growth of this speed, in July 2006 alone, YouTube increased its global internet traffic share by 75%. 65,000 videos were posted during that month, generating millions of views.

At the time, the average profile of an internet user accessing YouTube consisted mostly of male teenagers. Even with such a restricted audience, the site was responsible for 65% of the audiovisual content market on the internet and was beginning to show its full potential as a marketing and business platform.

The Google era

But even with all this success, YouTube was facing a serious problem: the site had no source of income. And to make matters worse, it became involved in several lawsuits for copyright infringement.

Without any physical and monetary infrastructure to deal with obstacles of this size and global reach, it was looking like the history of YouTube would have a tragic ending and bankruptcy would be inevitable.

Fortunately, the brand’s rapid rise and its financial difficulties attracted the attention of Google, one of its main competitors. At the time, the company was concentrating its efforts on Google Videos, a service that was later discontinued.

It was then that, in October 2006, Google acquired YouTube for US$ 1.65 billion.

The transaction proved to be a great deal. YouTube is currently worth over US$ 100 billion. Approximately 20% of Alphabet, the world’s largest company and the controller of Google and all of its services.

The billion-dollar purchase was a milestone in the history of YouTube, Google, online videos, and the internet as a whole.

The consolidation of the brand

After being acquired by the search engine giant, YouTube became an indispensable tool for those who watch online videos. And numbers don’t lie. According to Google data, 99% of internet users who watch videos online, access YouTube.

From this moment on, the platform started to develop solutions to make money and also allow content creators to make money also.

One of them is Content ID, a tool that analyzes content posted on the platform searching excerpts of audiovisual works that are copyright protected.

YouTube also launched the Partnership Program, which allows YouTubers to use their own content to generate revenue. This makes it possible to earn money with ads on the videos.

After that, the site became one of the best marketing tools for video content. Many companies invest part of their budgets to advertise on the platform and increase their brand reach and visibility.

The possibility of earning money with online videos attracted a growing number of content creators and consequently, users interested in consuming online videos. YouTube just kept growing!

Change of command and new features

And in order to keep users happy, the platform invested in new features and improvements to existing ones.

2008 marked the emergence of 480p videos and the site’s mobile version, while high-definition (720p) content would only be available the following year. In 2009, the site also launched automatic subtitles through an advanced speech detection technology.

During the same year, YouTube surpassed 1 billion videos watched per day.

In 2010, the platform launched the like option (the famous thumbs up) and the rental of full movies. This was when the first change in command took place.

Iranian Salar Kamangar becomes the company’s CEO, after being one of Google’s first employees to run the web application division. During the same year, YouTube became the world’s third most accessed site, only behind Google and Facebook.

Salar Kamangar - history of youtube

Salar Kamangar (Photo: Reproduction)

But the following year, 2011, was crucial for the history of YouTube. The platform launched a live streaming tool, YouTube Live. At the time, the Middle East was rocked by the Arab Spring. Millions of protestors from countries in the region began to use this feature to show the protests in their countries, moving the entire world.

Global domination and the rise of gameplays

The platform kept growing and surprising everyone. In 2012, the site launched a new interface, with a design that was more responsive and focused on mobile devices.

It was during that same year that the “Gangnam Style” clip, from South Korean Psy, was posted on the platform. The video became such a huge pop phenomenon that it “broke” YouTube’s number of views counter, surpassing 1 billion views.

After that, the site had to change how it counted content views.

At the same time, the platform changed the ranking algorithm of videos in the suggestions for users on the site’s home page. It now focused on the time web users spent watching the videos, and no longer the number of views.

In other words, the longer the video, the more time users spend watching it, and therefore, the better it’s ranking.

And suddenly, the top 10 videos and compilations became a huge hit on YouTube, as well as gameplays.

And then the Minecraft videos went viral. Minecraft is a sandbox Lego-style video game where players create virtual worlds by using blocks.

Millions of young people around the world started recording their adventures in the game, showing their virtual creations and reactions. There are millions of videos on the subject, accumulating over 40 billion views.

It was within the same gaming context that the most popular YouTuber in history appeared: PewDiePie. The Swedish young man revolutionized the gameplay universe, with funny videos of horror game Amnesia – The Dark Descent. His unparalleled charisma made him reach over 60 million subscribers a few years later.

More new features

In 2014, 60 frames-per-second videos were launched and 360º content was launched the following year. The company also tried to create new forms of monetization, such as YouTube RED (currently YouTube Premium), the paid version of the site, without any ads, and with offline videos.

Also in 2014, the last change in management took place. Susan Wojcicki, one of the most important women in the advertising world, and a key person in Google’s history became CEO.

She gave up her home garage to serve as the company’s first office. The executive has already worked as Google’s advertising and business manager and developed products such as AdSense, one of the company’s largest sources of income.

Susan Wojcicki - history of Youtube

Susan Wojcicki. (Photo: Reproduction)

A success that is far from over

The YouTube we have today is quite different from that of 2005, when the first video was posted on the platform. In addition to dozens of changes to the interface and new features being implemented, the site has adapted to the development of the internet itself.

As the web gained space in the world, reaching every continent, the online video site changed in order to increase its global reach. Nowadays, YouTube is available in 76 languages and has local versions in 88 countries.

With this, the platform has already reached 96% of all web users and just keeps growing. YouTube is already the favorite place for many people around the world to watch videos, surpassing traditional television.

YouTube’s popularity has also influenced a new generation of young people who want to be successful on the web and become famous. The dream of becoming a YouTuber and making money with online videos can be compared to becoming a famous soccer player in the past.

Content producers, such as Jake Paul and Jeffree Star have become real idols. Encouraging millions of people to create their own channels and post video content on the most diverse subjects.


The history of YouTube gets mixed up with the history of the internet itself. We can’t talk about the internet without mentioning this powerful platform.

And the future of videos is even more promising. A Cisco study indicates that the consumption of online videos will be responsible for 82% of all internet data traffic by 2021.

At a time when the internet was still in its infancy, YouTube was a pioneering idea and practically launched the consumption of videos on the web as we know it today.

The platform has created opportunities for millions of people to become content creators, democratizing information, and culture. Besides, of course, revolutionizing content marketing forever.

And that’s the history of YouTube! Would you like to learn more about this incredible tool? How about creating a channel? Find ou how to create a YouTube channel!


This post was originally written in 2020 but has since been updated to contain more complete and accurate information.