YouTube: Broadcasting Yourself

It's hard to imagine there ever was a world without YouTube (www.youtube.com). The video-sharing site is just a few years old, but it has already woven itself into the fabric of our media-centric society. Rare is the newscast that doesn't show a YouTube clip or two. The late-night talk shows love them. And there are even a handful of mainstream cable shows whose content is derived almost exclusively from them.

YouTube was founded in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, three former employees of the PayPal online payment service. (For those of you keeping track, that makes three social media companies founded by former PayPal people: YouTube, Yelp, and LinkedIn.)

By mid 2006, YouTube was reporting that videos were being uploaded to the site at the rate of 65,000 per day. In July of that year, USA Today reported that 2.6 billion videos had been watched on YouTube during the previous month, and the company was claiming 100 million video views per day. In 2008, web watchers at comScore ranked YouTube as the top “U.S. video property,” with 3.4 billion videos viewed in January. The company's Video Metrix service found that YouTube accounted for one-third of the 9.8 billion online videos viewed by U.S. web surfers that month.

By then, Internet search-giant Google had already snapped up the nova-hot video-sharing service. Less than two years after it was founded, YouTube sold for a reported $1.65 billion. Today, the service operates as a Google subsidiary.

The web info experts at Alexa.com rank YouTube among the top three most visited websites today, behind only Google proper and Facebook. In 2009, comScore's Video Metrix service found that 120.5 million viewers had watched nearly 10 billion videos on YouTube.com in August alone. You-Tube, itself, claims that fifteen hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute.

Signing Up

You don't have to be a registered member to watch YouTube videos. The content is open to any visitor to the site. But you do have to join if you want to upload anything. YouTube members are free to upload an unlimited number of videos to the site.

Signing up for a YouTube account couldn't be simpler. Just point your browser to the YouTube website, click on “Create Account,” fill out the form (user name, age, zip code, gender), and accept the Terms of Service (which you should read). Completing this form takes you to a page that allows you to sign up using an existing Google account. If you have Gmail, you just sign in using your existing password and user name. If you don't, you create one in the form provided.

In 2008, the UK Telegraph reported that YouTube had consumed as much Internet capacity in 2007 as the entire network consumed in 2000. People were actually talking about the potential of user-generated video taking down the entire Internet.

Once you've signed up, you'll have a chance to customize your account. Click on your name in the upper right-hand corner to open a drop down menu. Click “Account” and you'll open a My Account page. The menu bar on the left displays a number of options. Edit your profile on the Profile Setup page. Here you can add a picture, a personal description, a link to your own website, and fill out lists of personal details, location, career, education, and interests — all the standard social networking stuff.

Customizing Your Home Page

“Customize Homepage” provides you with a number of modules for displaying YouTube-chosen “Spotlight Videos,” the latest video from the channels to which you subscribe (more on this later), videos that the site recommends based on your activities, subscriptions, and recent activity, top videos being watched right now, the most popular videos, “Videos Near You,” and others. Click these boxes if you want these items displayed for you on your home page.

“Playback Setup” provides options for video playback, including “I have a slow connection. Never play higher-quality videos” and “Always choose the best option for me based on my player size.” The “Captions” option allows you to choose whether you'd like to see captions in videos generated by speech recognition programs. “Annotations” allow you to display or hide annotations (more on these later).

“E-mail” options allow you to enter a new e-mail address. “Manage Account” allows you to change your password and delete your account, and it shows you account status items, such as the standing of your account in relation to community standards and how many third-party sites are authorized to access your account.

In 2006 CNN Money.com reported that Universal Tube and Rollerform Equipment Corp. of Toledo, Ohio, which sells used machinery for making tubes, was seeing millions of visits to its website, utube.com — 68 million hits in August of that year — by people looking for YouTube. The traffic jammed the site and kept Universal Tube's customers away. The owner sued YouTube for the trouble, and eventually changed the website's name to utubeonline.com.

There's also a Mobile Setup page, where you'll find an e-mail address that you enter into your smart phone's contact list, and which you use to upload videos directly to YouTube. You'll find a couple of videos there explaining how to play YouTube videos on your phone, and how to create them with your phone.

YouTube Channels

The YouTube platform has a lot in common with other social media sites, but one thing that sets it apart is the concept of “channels.” A YouTube channel is the page that displays the information you've decided to share with the public from your account, including your profile, your favorite videos, your subscriptions, etc. When you manage the details of your account, you're setting up your channel.

Clicking on the “Activity Sharing” link, for example, takes you to a page where you can tinker with the visibility of your “activity feed,” which includes things you might be doing on YouTube, such as favoriting, rating, or uploading a video. You can decide to show your activities to the world, or keep them private. You can also choose to share or hide specific activities. And now there is an option that allows you to post your activities on YouTube automatically to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, and to an RSS feed reader.

This is what people see when they subscribe to your channel. To see your channel, click on your name in the upper right of the YouTube page. To see another member's channel, click on that person's username wherever you find it and you'll be directed to her channel page.

Whatever else you decide to do, be sure to take a moment to consider your privacy settings. You have the option of deciding who sees what, and you should make a conscious choice here. You can decide to allow only friends to send messages or share videos with you; to let others see your “channel” on YouTube if they have your e-mail address; to allow your account info to be used to provide advertisers with “relevant advertising” based on your YouTube interests and activities; and to share or hide “interesting statistics” about each of your videos with your viewers.

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