Ten years of YouTube: everything you need to know

Happy birthday YouTube - we lift the lid on the decade-old video sharing website

What have you dragged me out of bed for? I was trying to watch animals falling over on the Internet.


Well then, you’ll be pleased to hear that YouTube – the video uploading website – is 10 years old today. Hooray!

Wow – the cats who run it must be getting on a bit by now!

I understand why you’d assume a shadowy cabal of felines owned YouTube considering their dominance on the site, but it’s actually owned by Google, who bought the site in 2007 for £1.07 billion. Now the site clocks up a billion users each month, and is a worldwide phenomenon.


But it is just cat videos, right?

Not at all – there’s home video stuff like that but there are also video blogs (where people talk about their lives or test products), Let’s Plays where people play video games and react to them (they’re among the most popular), comedy sketches, song covers, book reviews, short films, parodies as well as all the official film trailers and music videos you’d ever need.

And that’s all just the tip of the iceberg – 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute, including stuff made by big media companies and established celebrities. It’s a creative place.

Why would people do all that for no money?

Well they don’t have to – videos can be monetized and with the YouTube partner programme, video creators get a bigger cut of advertising revenue when more people watch their videos and “subscribe” for updates from said creators.

People also sell merchandise, or use it as a platform to sell things they’ve made like computer games, or get sponsorship through schemes like Patreon where you can help YouTubers fund their output for special perks.

Brb – I’m gonna shoot a video of me talking about Doctor Who and buy a boat

Sadly it’s not quite that simple – while anyone can make a channel and upload a video it’s hard to get much interest. A lot of YouTubers say that it’s more difficult than ever for new people to break through now that there’s so much competition, and even if you did become a success you wouldn’t necessarily make much money – most YouTubers have other sources of income.

So it’s not just a handful of kids in their bedrooms?

Not exactly – YouTube’s the second biggest search engine in the world after Google these days, and it’s generally a lot more corporate than it was when it was founded back in 2005.

A lot of channels are run by companies, or established media networks, and even the original low-fi vloggers have mini-business empires now. Just look at makeup blogger Zoella, who’s on the Comic Relief Bake Off this year and constantly in the news lately.

Some YouTubers have agents, production teams, editors, and can be part of larger networks that help support their efforts – for example ChannelFlip, who work with a lot of big names.

Big names?

All sorts of mainstream media personalities use YouTube as an outlet – David Mitchell has a regular series and Russell Brand does his “The Trews” show on there among others. But most of the “big names” you get on YouTube haven’t been on traditional media much at all – they’re homegrown from the site itself.

How can you call amateur video-makers “big”?

Well, if they get more views than a BBC drama that seems pretty big to me – plenty of people have millions of subscribers and get hundreds of thousands of views for every single video.

There’s a lot of variation in numbers even between the “big” YouTubers, but the most popular could fill stadium after stadium with their fans. It’s actually becoming a bit of an issue of late – because YouTubers aren’t famous traditionally fans have a lot more access to them and a false sense of knowing them personally, which has led to creators being swamped at conventions and accusations of impropriety between YouTubers and impressionable fans.

Wow – guess there’s an awful lot more to YouTube than ninja cat…

We’ve barely scratched the surface – there’s a million things about YouTube too complicated to go into detail with from the subs bar, the YouTube documentaries, viral videos, promotional videos, ukuleles, Daily vlogs, VEDA, the subscriptions bar, nerdfighteria, tag videos, the YouTube conferences and whatever else to all the millions of people who watch, comment and take part in discussions without making videos at all. They’re part of the YouTube community too.

But I can still watch cat videos on there, right?

Well, of course – wait, did you say there’s a ninja cat video? Uh-maz-ing.