I’m currently in Poland, where I’m giving a talk to Blog Forum Gdańsk, the city’s annual confab of the country’s bloggers and youtubers. While having lunch with Arlena Witt — who runs a terrific channel explaining the cryptic nuances of English pronunciation — I told her the story of how I may have played a small bit role in inspiring the creation of Youtube.
It begins back in January 2005, when I published in Wired a profile of Bram Cohen, the creator of Bitorrent. Jawed Karim, one of Youtube’s cofounders-to-be, read the Wired piece — and what happened next is recounted in an old Gigaom story:
Karim traces the idea for YouTube to a Wired Magazine article about BitTorrent by Clive Thompson in the magazine’s January 2005 issue. The story included the calculation that 867,000 people watched Jon Stewart’s brilliant on-air harangue against Crossfire, while three times that many saw it online. Karim, recounting the online reach of the Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” and camcorder/cameraphone videos of that winter’s Asian tsunami, says he was captivated by the idea of an emerging clip culture.
Heh. So, if you’ve wasted half your workday today watching cat videos, you can, in part, blame me. (Personally, I prefer to waste my workday watching faked UFO videos. Speaking of which: Man, the quality of the homebrew CGI in those things has become superb! Industrial-Light-And-Magic quality, my friends. I also love the fact that there are now Youtube tutorials on making your own fake UFO video.)
By the way, it’s worth noting the other two Youtube cofounders — Chad Hurley and Steve Chen — tell a very different story, one where Karim’s role isn’t so important. (They say the idea began after “they had trouble sharing videos online that had been shot at a dinner party at Steve’s San Francisco apartment.”) Karim soon left Youtube to go to grad school, and didn’t become as famous as the other two. The origins-of-Youtube tale has thus become a peculiarly modern trope: The memetic war over who controls a company’s mythic origin-tale. Joseph Campbell arrives in Silicon Valley.
Either way, there’s a lovely irony at the end:
Once they had the site up and running, Karim and partners Steve Chen and Chad Hurley set about pitching the site to every Wired writer they could find. Nobody bit.