YouTube, the most popular video-sharing website has, incredibly, only been around for eight years. Users can upload, view and share videos. It really does seem as if all life is on there; from famous TV clips, any music video you care to mention, demonstrations of putting on a condom or making fairy cakes right through to ukulele tutorials. As Time magazine wrote, “YouTube is to video browsing what a Wal-Mart supermarket is to shopping: everything is there and all you have to do is walk in the door.” Most of the content has been uploaded by individuals, although media corporations such as the BBC and CBS have offered some of their material. Registered users can upload an unlimited number of videos; those which contain potentially offensive content are available only to registered users who are 18 years old or over. In November 2006, less than two years after its conception, YouTube was bought by Google for over US$1.65 billion. YouTube is now the second largest search engine. YouTube is huge, with over 800 million unique visitors each month, 72 hours of video uploaded every minute and 4 billion hours of video viewed each month.
Like everybody else with an internet connection, I have used YouTube. When somebody gave me a baby sling without instructions I was able to find a video in which a mother demonstrated using that exact sling. I have looked up pop groups, shown my children piano tutorials, watched lectures and looked at ‘viral’ clips (such as the deer-chasing dog Fenton) to see what all the fuss was about. It can be an invaluable resource. Underneath the video clips, viewers have a chance to leave comments; these are often harmless and banal and Time magazine praised the idea for enabling “community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.” It also added the perceptive rider that, YouTube “harnesses the stupidity of crowds as well as its wisdom. Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity, just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.” For good measure the Daily Telegraph in 2008 commented that YouTube was notorious for “some of the most confrontational and ill-formed comment exchanges on the internet.” Personally I think it is probably better never to get involved in forums like this.
Piracy is a huge problem for YouTube; when a user uploads a video they are given the warning, “Do not upload any TV shows, music videos, music concerts or advertisements without permission, unless they consist entirely of content that you created yourself.” This is clearly flouted all the time. For most people there is nothing immoral in illegally uploading or downloading music. YouTube has been at the centre of many controversies including film, record and television companies. There is also a massive question about YouTube and privacy laws. With an ever increasing chance of being captured on video whilst going about our business, any one of us could find ourselves on YouTube. Would we have any recourse? Would we know how to get the video taken down? YouTube is here to stay getting bigger and bigger and altering massively the way we communicate and learn.