Skip to main content

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.”

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
YouTube to overhaul channel names with @ handles for all
Youtube video on mobile. Credits: YouTube official.

YouTube is launching “handles” to make it easier for viewers to find and engage with creators on the video-sharing platform.

The change means that soon, every channel will have a unique handle denoted by an "@" mark, "making it easier for fans to discover content and interact with creators they love," the Google-owned company said in a post announcing the change.

Read more
Searches for health topics on YouTube now highlights personal stories
The red and white YouTube logo on a phone screen. The phone is on a white background.

Google and TikTok aren't the only places people look for information on health issues. YouTube is another resource people look to for educating themselves on health-related topics. Now, YouTube has launched a new feature in an attempt to further support those queries in a different way.

On Wednesday, the video-sharing website announced its latest feature via a blog post. Known as a Personal Stories shelf, the new search-related feature will yield a "shelf" of personal story videos about the health topics users search for. Essentially, if you search for a health topic, a Personal Stories shelf may appear in your search results and it will be populated with YouTube videos that feature personal stories about people who have experienced the health issue you searched for.

Read more
YouTube’s dislike button is barely functional, says Mozilla
Person Holding Tablet Computer Showing Videos

YouTube's dislike button does nothing for the algorithm, a new Mozilla study has found. We continue to see content we don't want no matter how much we mash that thumbs down. The same goes for "Not Interested" and "Don't recommend this channel" options.

The report, titled Does This Button Work? Investigating YouTube's Ineffective User Controls, comes after a months-long study of YouTube behavior by the Mozilla Foundation. They enlisted the help of 20,000 volunteer web users through an extension on Mozilla's Firefox browser, the RegretsReporter.

Read more