17 years ago on Sunday, a 25-year-old guy named Jawed Karim uploaded the first video to YouTube, launching a service that later became the go-to place for video streaming and giving anyone with a camera and a good shot of their own content to earn a living.
The first video was, it has to be said, nothing special. The low res 19 second clip (below) called me at the zoofeatures YouTube co-founder Karim at the San Diego Zoo helpfully pointing out that elephants have remarkably long trunks.
Like most videos that landed on the streaming site in those early days, the clip lacks the highly produced touch that’s so heavily featured in much of the content that fills the platform today.
“All right, so here we are in front of the elephants,” Karim says to the camera in the very first YouTube video. “The cool thing about these guys is they have really, really, really long trunks and that’s cool and that’s pretty much all there is to say.”
Of course, when he recorded and uploaded the clip, Karim knew that YouTube would become the phenomenon it is today. Nor that his video was viewed hundreds of millions of times in the years that followed.
A month after Karim’s video hit the site in April 2005, YouTube launched a public beta of the service before officially launching in November of that year. Around the same time, Karim left YouTube to pursue a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford University, but received tens of millions of dollars worth of stock when Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006. Karim later co-founded a venture fund called Youniversity Ventures (now YVentures), with Airbnb and Reddit benefiting from the investments.
The creator of the first YouTube video occasionally edits the clip’s description to express his opinion when the company makes a change to the platform that he doesn’t like. For example, last year Karim criticized YouTube’s removal of public dislike counts.
As of April 2022, the elephant clip has been viewed more than 228 million times and received more than 11 million comments. One recently said, “Let’s face it, one day we’re all going to show our kids this video.”
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