YouTube Marks Five Years Of Homemade Stars

The website that helped turn ordinary folks into superstars — and made watching homemade video clips of kittens hip — turns five years old this month. Guest host Allison Keyes talks with tech guru Mario Armstrong about the anniversary, and what’s next for YouTube.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

Now, a celebration of sorts. The beginning of this week marked an important anniversary for something two billion of us around the world turn to daily. That's two billion people with access to the Internet. Here's a hint.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Unidentified Child: Ow, Charlie. Ow.

(Soundbite of crying)

Unidentified Child: Charlie, that really hurt. Charlie, you bit me.

KEYES: Up until earlier this year, that was the most popular video on the now five-year-old YouTube, a home movie of a British toddler biting the finger of his older sibling. But, if anything, YouTube has proved that it's more than just a video collection of dogs on skateboards and that cat jamming on that keyboard. It was the centerpiece of presidential debates and a way for protestors in Tehran to share their plight with the world.

To mark YouTube's fifth anniversary, we've called on Mario Armstrong. He's the regular technology commentator here, and joins us from WEAA in Baltimore. Hey, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Allison. How are you?

KEYES: I am good, and so lucky this doesn't exist when I was a little girl, 'cause my sister would be dogging me every day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: And the thing is, you probably would've been caught on camera not knowing, and you would've been on YouTube.

KEYES: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: So, talk to us about how this turned from just the toddler biting thing to this big, giant thing that it is now.

ARMSTRONG: Well, you know, it's because when you look back over the last few years - they've now turned five - it's the right type of evolution, Allison. Because we were just getting to the point a few years ago where blogs were becoming popular and people were taking their personal diaries and then sharing that with the world. And they were now having a community built around that. And blogs were becoming way more popular and a great experience. And so that was just text, and maybe some pictures on the screen.

Now that's evolved to people being able to actually take video, which is, in many ways, in some cases, more compelling - or at least more visual, for sure. And that has now been able to share those videos with the world very easily. I mean, it used to be very cumbersome to do this. And now with the advent of cheap technology, digital cameras all have video-taking capabilities, and the ability to upload it quickly and easily online has really made for this explosion to take place.

KEYES: And now I can watch more than 14,000 videos of kittens. Yay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: But what is YouTube doing to make it more attractive to people that don't live in the U.S.?

ARMSTRONG: You know, that's a great point, because I think there's two things that you're stating there. Number one, they're creating localized versions of YouTube. So, for example, South Africa was one of the most recent places where they have launched YouTube. And what that means is if I live in South Africa and I upload a video to YouTube, you can see related videos, videos that are similar to mine or similar from a content perspective to mine.

And instead of those being from the U.S., they could be from South Africa. And that introduces you to other people from within your community that are also uploading and sharing videos, not to mention it also loads faster.

KEYES: It's also been doing some interesting things for communities of color. I know that there are a lot of Asian videos on there, but what about black and Latinos?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, there are a lot of black and Latinos, and just minorities in general are really leveraging YouTube for a lot of different reasons. It's funny. You bring up the 14,000 kitten videos earlier. And, you know, and I think that's part of what the mentality is still, of what people think of YouTube, to some extent. But YouTube has grown so much into be - a do-it-yourself tool, sharing how-tos, teachers using it in the classroom, nonprofits using it to build volunteer and advocacy and get their message out.

And so I think I've seen, certainly, celebrities in African-American and other minority - other minority communities using it. But that's trickled way down to the average person, who is now either just sharing some fun, entertaining video, or really sharing something that's of meaning and a passion to them with the hopes of building community and other interested supporters around that.

KEYES: Briefly, Mario, it's also opened up some opportunities for political empowerment, has it not? I mean, there's the infamous Obama girl from the last election. But people are really using this in political campaigns now, aren't they?

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. You better, if you want to be elected, you better understand how to use this. And that's a bigger discussion around social media, in general. But clearly, Allison, what I think this says about our culture is that we want to see more. Video is really the killer app. People want to be able to feel that there's some transparency. When you go behind words, you may not be able to see those nonverbal communication - that nonverbal gestures. But with video, I get to see if you're frowning, if you're smiling and what you look like and how that appeals or affects me. And I think that will certainly continue to be needed and necessary in the political process.

KEYES: Mario Armstrong is a regular technology commentator for TELL ME MORE. And he also blogs about technology at MarioArmstrong.com. Mario, thanks so much, and don't be watching all those trampoline videos.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: I've spent too many hours on there, Allison. I need to get off of YouTube. Help me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Thanks, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: Take care.

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