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So, in part one of my series charting how social networking sites have visibly changed (and the impact of these changes) over the past few years, we discussed Twitter, a website that was born-and-bred to be a social networking / communication site.

In this edition, we’ll be looking at a website that wasn’t always heading down the ‘social networking’ route, before it got caught up in the crossfire.

YouTube! Whether you, like me, often get sucked into the trap of clicking seemingly never-ending links to videos about cats, or whether you use the site to watch brilliant independent and informational films, it’s undeniable that it has impacted our lives massively.

History

YouTube was founded in February 2005 by three ex-PayPal employees, as a simple video sharing website, enabling people to easily upload footage to show to other individuals in an asynchronous fashion, without having to go through the usual hoops of either attaching a video file to an email, embedding a video manually on a webpage with HTML, or uploading it to a filesharing website in the hope that the other person would download it successfully.

In November 2006, as announced in none other but a video on YouTube itself, Google acquired the video sharing site. For a while things remained largely stable, but as Google decided that it, too, wanted a slice of the social networking pie, things slowly began to change.

Ch-ch-changes!

[Click and drag the line left or right to switch between 2008’s YouTube page and today’s, and click here for a larger version]

Like most Web 2.0 homepages, YouTube survived a rather clunky-looking childhood / puberty, and matured into a beautiful and well-functioning page, thanks to new web design technologies. It’s obvious that a change in hardware trends has dictated the page’s design too – where the old homepage was tall and skinny, the current one is designed to accommodate and utilise all the widescreen space we’ve become used to, and offers the user links to personalised functions, as well as promoting videos.

As can be seen at the top of the current page, YouTube has evidently been pushing to earn more money through corporate videos and advertising, with a link to an advertising video being placed as the top piece of content on the page [though sadly, the video itself sounds as entertaining as undergoing dental surgery without anaesthetic].

Interestingly, and in stark contrast to many other websites that ensure that this content is front and centre, ‘trending’ videos are not on the homepage of the modern YouTube, and are instead viewable by clicking the ‘trending’ links in the sidebar or in the top navigation bar.

The pictures above also appear to show a distinct difference in what YouTube is used for in the two contrasting eras. While the screenshot from 2008 has what would be considered ‘typical’ user-generated content [i.e. vlogs by humans, vlogs by sock puppets and even vlogs reviewing other vlogs], the current page is littered with links to videos from professional production companies, in an attempt to refocus people’s attention on what was once the most popular screen in the house – the television. YouTube, it appears, used to be filled with the faces of those who wanted to be famous. Now it’s just yet another platform for the stars to remind us that they want a bit more money. Also worth mentioning is that there is a link to uploaded TV Shows, which are yet another monetised element of the ‘new’ YouTube / Google.

Speaking of different screens, it is interesting to note that the ‘old’ YouTube had a separate section on the right hand side for videos that were popular on mobile devices. Given that the ‘age of the app’ had not yet completely fl0urished, I presume that videos were being watched in often slow and not completely user-friendly browsers, and pointing users to videos that would function and suit that particular form factor would do much to lessen abandonment.

No matter what sized screen you watch your favourite viral videos on, it’s clear that the production values of YouTube videos have increased. Where, on the 2008 page, screenshots are relatively low-quality [and are actually screenshots from the video that is linked], some of the videos on the current page make use of specifically created thumbnail images to attempt to attract viewers. Interestingly, one thing that hasn’t changed is the small section of each thumbnail that shows how long each video is, allowing potential viewers to see how much time they would have to invest  to absorb a particular piece of content. Videos themselves also now appear in higher quality [given developments in camera technology and codec / video player technology], and advances in editing capabilities mean that the old ‘jump-cut vlog’ style is rarely used.

 

The Social Side

At first, when YouTube became one of the bricks in the Google Castle, there wasn’t much of a change. Sure, the video player got a redesign, and Google video search quickly and mysteriously improved significantly, but there wasn’t a sudden and shocking change to YouTube’s modus operandi. This was until Google decided to enter a horse into the social networking race under the name of Google +. Keen to ensure that it had a big userbase, Google+’s tentacles [yes, a horse with tentacles. Stick with me here…] reached right across the Google empire, and YouTube comments became linked to an individual’s Google + account.

WARNING: The video below includes NSFW language.

The move was met with widespread criticism from the YouTube community, with individuals criticising Google both in YouTube videos and on other websites. The site, however, remains strong, with the number of people watching YouTube videos increasing 40% year on year since March 2014; quite possibly thanks to the broader range of content available, the range of devices to view content on, and the fact that YouTube has almost become synonymous with ‘online video’.

 

In summary: it’s easy to see that YouTube has managed to adopt a more professional and polished approach, in part due to the push for ‘corporate’ / paid content, but also due to the ever-developing creativity of users who upload content to the site. YouTube has, for now, seemingly managed to weather the storms of Keek, Vine, and Snapchat with their video offerings, and is still the go-to site for professional and amateur video content on the net.

What do you think about the changes that YouTube has made over the years? Should they have changed more than they did? How will the YouTube of 2025 look like, do you think? Drop me a comment below!

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See also: Our Changing Web – Part 1 – Twitter

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