Until recently, nobody took YouTube seriously. A book that traces his chaotic rise to world domination | technology

March 15, 2019 was the biggest day in YouTube history. A terrorist was about to enter a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. That day he was going to kill 50 people, but before he started the massacre, while still in the car, he hooked up his camera. Before leaving, he said, “Remember, guys, sign up for Pewdiepie.” This phrase was a meme about who was the biggest at the time Youtube from the platform. But what a terrorist said before the shooting was not funny. Not only that: YouTube has long been the site killer’s favorite platform to learn.

“Until not so long ago, almost no one took YouTube seriously,” writes American journalist Mark Bergen in his book. like, comment, subscribe, which has a subtitle Inside YouTube’s chaotic rise to world domination, at the moment without translation into Spanish. It’s the closest thing yet to a platform story. In March 2019, the platform got serious: “One employee told me the world will see YouTube history before these reviews the way we look at cars before seatbelts,” says Bergen. Until then, YouTube had been playing vaguely with the videos it allowed on its platform. A revision of the rules changed and the company began to take red lines more seriously. Racial extremism will not be so easy anymore.

“It was one of his biggest calls for attention in terms of content moderation,” Bergen told EL PAÍS via video call from London, where he has just moved. Maybe it’s the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd and the movement The Black Lives Matter movement In the United States, the other two were important. They really changed their rules and system. Today it feels like a completely different platform.”

What was YouTube like and what was its impact? In his book, Bergen traces the path since the platform was founded by three young men in 2005, who created something that seems obvious today (a page for posting videos), but was much more complex at the time. They didn’t do it out of the garage, but they had quite a few mice among the pizza boxes.

In 2006, Google was trying to outdo Youube with Google Video, but it was never quite successful. It was easier for them to buy it. At just over a year old, YouTube has had its own stamp, almost all of its users have uploaded videos: “Years ago influencers Instagram and TikTok stars, these young creators have created a new paradigm for fame, appealing to audiences not yet accustomed to spending hours of their days abstractly navigating the Internet,” Bergen writes.

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Google in 2006 was already a millionaire giant. YouTube was hard. From the very beginning, it began its complex, contradictory, and wrong decisions that have led the platform to what it is today, the level of audiovisual competition that it derided in 2006. Few would have thought that the combination of online video and unleashing the creativity of millions of people in front of the camera could change the trajectory of Entertainment: “It was a radical change in the way we think about entertainment. There’s no denying the fact that it gave jobs to people who didn’t have those jobs and probably didn’t exist in traditional media,” says Bergen.

These were some of his decisions, milestones and findings in the rise of YouTube in these 18 years:

1. YouTubers access

“It’s hard to imagine CBS or Netflix broadcasting a video of a trans woman tearing Hegel in lingerie or the Code of Hammurabi with cat-eye lenses,” Bergen writes. the YouTubers It is something that would not exist without YouTube. Few executives would have thought that a kid telling jokes in front of a screen or talking about obscure theories for two hours could interest millions of people.

The biggest day Youtube It’s Mr. Beast, who barely made it into the book because of his recent success. His videos are amazing (“I Survived 50 Hours in Antarctica” and “1,000 Blind People Watch for the First Time” last two) and are somewhat closer to his original YouTube video, which Bergen has described several times as “dogs on planks”. Skiing” era. , with the feel of funny videos and little else.

“Mr. Beast is cool and I don’t think I get him very well,” says Bergen. “You have to talk to 12-year-olds to understand that. It’s like he’s a little charismatic, but not quite. He basically works like a machine: he studies all the data and optimizes from the thumbnails to how the videos are made,” he adds.

2. YouTube isn’t just made of YouTubers

YouTube today is an amazing repository of human memory, the book says. It’s hard to remember a World Cup play, youth song, someone playing video games, or a funny video and there’s no YouTube version. Its search engine is the second most used search engine in the world, after Google, the company that owns YouTube.

But there are two other categories that are of particular interest to YouTube, according to the book: kids and educational channels. Some children’s channels earn more than YouTubers Traditional: At the end of 2020, the five most watched channels were for preschoolers. YouTube, for example, has discovered that millions of children can watch videos of anonymous hands opening surprises or another child playing the games they want. On Ryan’s World, probably the most popular children’s channel, there is a video featuring surprise eggs and a slide that has been viewed 2 billion times. Mr. Beast’s most popular video has been viewed 378 million times.

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This mega babes produced highly successful channels featuring bizarre adult relationships in celebrity costumes and other shady variants, in some cases with lewd comments below the videos. Here too, YouTube had to take decisive action. But it wasn’t just YouTube. The US government has also implemented a law that limits the advantages of these channels for advertising: “The only real regulation in the US is COPPA, which stands for children’s privacy. Everything else has been recent so far. Those channels rare It was something they had to see from the inside. As far as I understand, there are CEOs who were surprised by what was happening and I think that speaks to them being very naive about how the world works and how their platform works with us,” says Bergen.

The educational part of YouTube was, according to Bergen, a “missed opportunity”. “They tried so many times to become a big brand in the education market, to get into the CV, but they just couldn’t,” says Bergen. “There are a lot of educational content creators who make a lot of money from ads, but they haven’t really gone mainstream or invested in it,” he adds.

3. The two most important decisions

When YouTube was a few years old, its management made two decisions that set off a chain of events and what it is today: changing the metric from clicks to “time watched” and paying creators half of the ad revenue generated by their videos. . Suddenly it ended clickbaitwith misleading titles, and millions of people tried to create content that might be of interest to the platform’s audience.

“Maybe people think time is a better measure, but they haven’t thought about the consequences or side effects, like safety or content modification,” says Bergen. “The problems were of a different category: before that they were Spam emailsNow hate speech or misinformation,” he adds.

Something similar happened with paid creators: YouTube suddenly had white supremacists and suspected pedophiles as “business partners”. “It’s what’s happening now to Spotify with Joe Rogan, albeit in a different order,” says Bergen.

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4. A celebration of geometry

In 2010, 100 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. No one imagined this was technically possible a few years ago: a popular joke on YouTube at the beginning was that the platform was going to break the internet. In 2020, that number has multiplied by five. Bergen explains that YouTube’s servers are so reliable that companies upload entire hidden camera episodes and leave them private. The success of YouTube was a major factor in its success.

“It wasn’t their only priority because for the first decade they were also interested in the business side, but they were primarily interested in making it work,” says Bergen. Larry Page obsession [cofundador de Google] It is to limit the download speed, and to ensure that it can be viewed immediately, without delay. “

5. Why it was underestimated

Susan Wojcicki, leader of YouTube for ten years until February 2023, has never been to Congress to testify. After the election of Trump, in the midst of the networking crisis, YouTube has not gained traction. White and Islamic extremism, misinformation, and hate speech have quietly lived on the web for years. His motto was that the audience judges and that if someone wanted to watch a video saying unpleasant things, it would be for a reason. “It is a ship without a rudder and without a clear view of its very important role in the general geo-socio-political landscape,” one employee said at the time.

Why was YouTube maintained? Bergen sees several reasons. First, videos are much more difficult to analyze than Facebook or Twitter posts. Second, it’s part of Google, which was already struggling with other, more serious antitrust problems. Third, politicians have used it more as a service, like maps or searches, so it doesn’t seem so dangerous. For the youngest, on the other hand, it’s their TV. And fourth, Wojcicki’s judgment was significant. “For a senator, he had better have a pass messing with Mark Zuckerberg because he sold more. Most of them had an opinion of him. But the average voter doesn’t know who Wojcicki is. I say in the book someone in Washington wanted to schedule some meeting.” him, but no one knew who he was, ”the journalist explains.

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