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YouTube launched 17 years ago today with this video

It was 17 years ago on Sunday that a 25-year-old guy called Jawed Karim uploaded the first video to YouTube, kickstarting a service that went on to become the go-to hub for video streaming and giving anyone with a camera and a good idea the chance to make a living out of their own content.

The first video was, it has to be said, nothing to write home about. The low-res, 19-second clip (below), called Me at the Zoo, features YouTube co-founder Karim at San Diego Zoo, helpfully pointing out that elephants have remarkably long trunks.

Me at the zoo

Like most videos that landed on the streaming site in those early days, the clip lacks the highly produced touches that feature so heavily in much of the content that fills the platform today.

“All right, so here we are in front of the elephants,” Karim says to the camera on YouTube’s first-ever video. “The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long trunks, and that’s cool, and that’s pretty much all there is to say.”

Of course, when he recorded and uploaded the clip, Karim had know idea that YouTube would go on to become the phenomenon that it is today. Nor that his video would rack up hundreds of millions of views in the years that followed.

A month after Karim’s video hit the site in April 2005, YouTube launched a public beta of the service before an official launch in November of that year. At around the same time, Karim left YouTube to study for a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford University, but received shares worth tens of millions of dollars when Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006. Karim went on to co-found a venture fund called Youniversity Ventures (now YVentures), with Airbnb and Reddit among those benefiting from investments.

The creator of YouTube’s first video occasionally edits the clip’s description to express his opinion if the company makes a change to the platform that he doesn’t like. Last year, for example, Karim criticized YouTube’s removal of public dislike counts.

As of April 2022, the elephant clip has been viewed more than 228 million times and received more than 11 million comments. A recent one said: “Let’s be honest, we’re all going to show our children this video one day.”

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Trevor Mogg
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