The fact that the company was sold to Google Inc. for almost $2 billion is mind-numbing. The way it has impacted society as we know it today is probably even more astonishing.
Whether it's used as a political weapon, a platform to launch a career, or simply as a place to store memories, YouTube has, in less than a decade, ingrained itself as an integral part of society.
Many artists, both musical and visual, have used YouTube to get their name out there. It is a place where, it can be argued, that fame has been democratized. A viral video can get you a front page splash on a news website more than winning a Nobel Prize these days. Justin Bieber has gone from this preteen jamming on guitar to possibly winning a Grammy award. Whether YouTube has served as a tool to trigger a cultural renaissance or if it is an insult to creativity is a whole other debate.
YouTube has also served as an important political tool. Both parties have used the website to broadcast whatever they need to with limited cost. It was an important part of the last Presidential and midterm elections, as people were able to watch interviews, speeches, and even smear campaigns on their own time. It has made information readily available in a matter of clicks.
Still, majority of the material on YouTube is a potpourri of user-generated-content ranging from laughing babies to how-to videos to short films. It is a place to, pretty much, escape reality by living vicariously through other people's realities. We can be at a Lady Gaga concert one minute, to watching the first ever Superbowl the next, and finally swimming with some sharks the next.
YouTube has proven to be a very important part of our lives. Whether we've wasted hours watching people eating hot peppers or getting information about the war in the Middle East, it is tough to deny that we haven't integrated the website into our day-to-day living.
It is not without controversy, though. As usual, copyright issues are at the forefront. Luckily for the entertainment industry, they were a lot quicker in responding to this than when they were pushed (and eventually crippled) by Napster. The use of online advertising and required prerolls before watching videos have become important parts of any entertainment company's business model.
YouTube has pushed the boundaries of what we can watch and when we can watch it. They have even integrated 3D technology. The company has been able to create a powerful tool that is readily available to all of us, and it is exciting to speculate on what more is to come.