YouTube’s First-Ever Video Was Posted 15 Years Ago Today
It’s difficult to recall a time before YouTube. A time before you could watch five-minute snippets of news stories or interviews again and again, encased in amber for future commenters.
But as there is with all things, there was a beginning, with the very first video being uploaded exactly 15 years ago today on April 23, 2005.
This was a time before Twitter and Instagram, when we ‘web-surfers’ were figuring out how to present ourselves online. How to shape a page in such a way that it could present a piece of yourself to the world beyond your school, and beyond your family.
The very first video uploaded to YouTube was unbelievably wholesome by today’s standards: an 18-second clip by the then 26-year-old co-founder Jawed Karim about his trip to the zoo.
Speaking to the camera in front of an elephant enclosure, Karim remarked upon the ‘cool’ nature of these animals:
Alright, so here we are in front of the elephants. The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long trunks and that’s cool. And that’s pretty much all there is to say.
The cloudy footage – captured by a friend from high school – has around 90 million views at the time of writing, with many contemporary viewers still holding affection for this simple beginning.
You can watch the history-making clip for yourself below:
Just one year after his ‘Me at the zoo’ clip was uploaded for the world to see, Karim and his fellow co-founders sold the platform to Google for a huge $1.65 billion. Karim, who had remained relatively unknown until the sale, received 137,443 shares of stock, which was worth approximately $64 million in 2006.
YouTube has moved on significantly since that first initial clip. Becoming a YouTuber has become something to aspire to, giving anybody with a camera the chance to share their creativity and their opinions.
From makeovers to mental health, cookery to gaming reviews, YouTube offers people the chance to share their talents and expertise, and in some cases it has launched extremely lucrative careers.
As reported by Medium in January 2020, Daniel Middleton is the world’s richest YouTuber, with his gaming channel DanTDM earning him a cool $16.5 million.
Middleton is closely followed by Evan Fong of Vanoss Gaming ($15.5 million), and the five-member team behind Dude Perfect ($14 million).
High-profile YouTubers are now held to the standards of role models and opinion formers, with their controversies, downfalls and donations pored over in traditional media outlet think pieces.
In many ways, they are the new rockstars or supermodels; the darlings of brands looking to appeal to a young, on-the-pulse consumer market. But unlike the celebrities of old, they remain approachable, interacting with users as community members rather than an adoring fanbase.
It’s no small wonder then that many young people aspire to build widely-watched YouTube channels of their own, with the lure of views proving to be just as captivating as the thrill of a packed-out stadium.
According to a 2019 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Lego, kids in the US and the UK between the ages of eight and 12 were found to be three times more likely to aspire to be YouTubers or vloggers than astronauts.
The career of a YouTuber was also found to be more appealing to those within this age group than the traditional daydreams of becoming a musician or a professional athlete.
But on a day like today, you can’t help but think back to the early days of YouTube. Before the glossy book launches and the videoed spats. Before you could even conceive of building a name for yourself as a YouTuber.
A few months after Karim uploaded that now famous video, a Nike advert became the very first clip to get one million hits – small fry by today’s standards, but more than enough to demonstrate its potential to advertisers and users alike.
Pretty soon it became a common pastime to browse for funny or cute videos on YouTube, sending the best ones on to your friends via Hotmail or MSN. ‘Have you seen this video yet?’ became a suddenly popular refrain – a way to bond, connect and laugh with others.
We also got slightly more intense videos, with the YouTube user speaking directly to the camera. With the widely shared and much parodied ‘Leave Britney Alone‘ (2007), we can already see the soap opera rivalries, apologies and pointed lectures about ‘haters’ that would arise in the years to come.
Check out one of the most iconic early YouTube videos, ‘Shoes’ (2006), for yourself below:
And then there were those who managed to get in early and cultivate their own YouTube brand and persona from their teenage bedrooms, paving the way for the next wave of slicker influencers and content creators.
In 2005, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla — best known for co-founding YouTube comedy group Smosh — uploaded a clip of them dancing away to the Power Rangers theme tune, complete with mid-noughties emo fringes. Their net worth is now estimated to be around $15 million.
In 2006, Grace Helbig earned an audience through her comedic lip sync videos. Now a popular podcast host, Helbig has penned two New York Times bestsellers, Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-Up and Grace & Style.
It was just a few years ago in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like a very different time indeed. A time when the path to YouTube stardom was unmapped, when early users had to learn their craft through trial, error and perseverance.
To get a better idea of what this would have felt like, UNILAD spoke with author, podcast presenter and model Scott McGlynn. An early YouTube user himself, Scott has seen how things have changed rapidly in the years since he rose to prominence.
A well-known LGBTQ+ activist – with his self-titled podcast having previously reached number one in the Apple Podcasts charts – Scott is a man people listen to, with a career built on being a great communicator.
However, Scott first began to hone his craft as a shy 19-year-old in the early days of YouTube, using the platform to document his coming-out journey as well as to share male grooming videos – two things that just weren’t being discussed so publicly just over a decade ago.
Scott told UNILAD:
It helped me in many ways, from talking in front of a camera giving me confidence and also editing skills – learning and educating myself about how to edit and how things work.
There’s always space to make someone’s story and voice be heard on YouTube, but I do feel there’s a lot on there. You have to make sure you know what your niche is and where you would like to go with it. […] I really went in there blind. I didn’t know who was really doing videos like me at the time. Now I know there’s a lot out there, but back then I didn’t.
Though Scott also admitted, if he was to start a channel these days, it might be a bit more difficult: ‘If I was to start fresh now I would have hard competition because there’s incredibly talented people out there.’
For people like Scott, noughties YouTube provided a practice ground for a career in the media and production, allowing young people without experience or credentials the space to prove themselves without being tempered or reined in by professionals.
In 2020, with more than two billion monthly users, we’re looking at a very different – and far bigger – beast.
However, for those who are looking for their community online, YouTube can still provide an enduringly tantalising opportunity for them to carve out a little space for their own, unrestricted, voice.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]