Despite the fact that 2006 isn’t technically over yet, and the fact that YouTube was actually founded in 2005, TIME Magazine has dubbed the video sharing site the best invention of 2006
. And you know what? I agree. YouTube detractors have a lot of fodder for their criticisms, and YouTube is far from a perfect product or a perfect company, but in one fell swoop the company did what much bigger companies have been trying, and failing, to do for more than a decade: It brought video to the web. Now wait a second, I’m not saying that the web was videoless before that. I don’t know when the first video went on the web (if anybody does, I’d love to know what it was), but it was probably about 15 years ago. But YouTube made web video truly ubiquitous. Two years ago if you saw a video on the web, you knew that, with few exceptions, its creator had made a significant investment of time, money, technology, or all three. Now literally anyone with enough cash for a nice cell phone or a cheap digital video camera or video capture card can put video on the web with just a few clicks, and–the is the kicker–for free. YouTube did that. If YouTube hadn’t come along, someone else would have shortly and the web video revolution would still be upon us, but the history books never remember the guy who comes along and says, “well I could have done that.”
The TIME article cites the confluence of three “revolutions” that YouTube’s founders, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, stumbled into as being integral to its success: Cheap video production tools (the aforementioned cell phones and cheap, if not free, editing software), the ubiquitous buzzword Web 2.0, i.e. the social web “exemplified by sites like MySpace, Wikipedia, Flickr and Digg-hybrids,” and the cultural revolution of customers “impatient with the mainstream media.” On top of those factors and Chen, Hurley, and Karim’s epic luck, I think two other factors deserve top billing: Broadband and Macromedia/Adobe. The lack of bandwidth and the lack of a browser-embedded video player that “just works” limited the success of YouTube’s predecessors, and broadband finally fulfilling its promises–or some of them at least–and Flash getting robust video support and finding its way into 97-point-something percent of Americans’ web browsers were integral to YouTube’s success.
At any rate, congrats to YouTube for this deserved accolade (do you think they get a trophy or something?). And if you’re into inventions of all kinds, TIME’s Best Inventions 2006 is a great read.