YouTube: In the Beginning

I’m teaching a mass media course this quarter, and while doing class prep recently, I needed to look at something in the internet archive, aka the “Wayback Machine.” (Wikipedia article here)

Have you used this super cool  site before? You can enter any URL, and the Wayback Machine will take you there . . . transported back in time to the way it was at some point in the past.

Anyway, because I’m also teaching my film studies course this term, I’ve been using YouTube a lot for film clips. And suddenly I wondered: What did YouTube look like when it started?

The answer: a lot like the old personal ads you used to find in those free tabloid-style newspapers on the giveaway racks near the front doors of hip businesses in happening areas of town. You know, “men seeking women,” “men seeking men,” etc.

It was an easy click to find the first-ever archived version of YouTube’s website. You can do it, too, with any website. Just go to the Wayback Machine and plug in the URL of the site you’re looking for, as if you were doing a Google search. And presto! You’re transported back in time to the cheesiness that was once a state-of-the-art website 🙂

Here is what YouTube looked like in the beginning, on April 28, 2005.

The first thing you were supposed to do once you got there was log in (or create an account) that was geared to set you up . . . with something that looks a lot like a date.

I am a Male/Female seeking Everyone/Males/Females between [ages] 18 and 99.

No videos on the landing page. Just these boxes/menus to log in and indicate your preferred sex and ages for online YouTube friends. Looks like YouTube also allowed you to save your “favorites” and check for “messages” from your new online friends, too.

And look at what happened when I hovered my cursor over the URL bar.

That little slogan, “YouTube – Broadcast Yourself,” intrigued me. I skimmed through the archived site to see how long it hung around. It remained in place for several years, but by the end of 2012 it was gone. I’m glad I noticed this because it helps me to understand why the site is named “YouTube.”

The logo itself clearly refers to television, right? TV was once known as “the tube” (still is) because of the vacuum tubes (that used to be) inside.

Affixing “You” to “Tube” turns the user into a broadcaster. It’s not two words (You + Tube) but one. “You Tube” as two words might have prompted associations with the derogatory “boob tube,” with “You” being an adjective similar to “boob” in describing “Tube.” But “YouTube” as one word becomes an entity in and of itself. And kind of a hip entity, at that, creating a compound word that keeps its separateness intact. Kind of like “iTunes” and “iPod” (no iPhone yet, though, LOL) and fitting right in with the new-media, new-millennium 2000s.

So isn’t it kind of interesting to see that in the beginning YouTube was trying to be a truly social network, like a Facebook or Myspace (which is still around, by the way, but now part of the People / Entertainment Weekly Network)? A place where you went to meet new friends online, yet also a creative space where you were encouraged to express yourself and “broadcast yourself” out over the internet airwaves?

I looked at some other snapshots of the YouTube site in 2005 and 2006, and indeed it looks like the main content is home-movie type videos that people are uploading primarily for their real-life friends but also for their online friends, and not to mention for the novelty of knowing their video might be seen by a worldwide audience.

Although I just randomly stumbled across all this by virtue of getting distracted while doing my actual work, I think I’ll take the time to work through more of the archived YouTube site, just to see how it’s changed over time. If I do, I’ll write about what I find here to keep you posted 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
This entry was posted in Creativity, History, Learning, Life, Popular culture, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to YouTube: In the Beginning

  1. Sally Cissna says:

    I love this!! And thanks for the lead on the Wayback Machine. I’m going to check that out for sure. Also should look at myspace as an alternative to Facebook for group activities. Thanks so much for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, and thank you, too! I found Myspace but didn’t explore it. The landing page is covered with entertainment news, but it also says something like “join the writers, artists, musicians” who use Myspace, so there may still be a social angle. Let me know what you find out, okay?


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