Want to know what’s trending now? Check videos on YouTube

Logo of YouTube

Nowadays, YouTube has become one of the most popular video watching and sharing platform because of its giant user base. Thousands of videos were uploaded on it everyday while thousands of viewers who are ready to view them, its rich resource base and huge traffic make it a trend leader. Based on research of internet features and user behaviors, this article will critically analyse YouTube’s internet ecology and its transformative effects on people’s internet use.

Firstly, the article will introduce YouTube generally and how is its historical development with innovations to achieve such a magnate. Secondly, the business model and internet ecology which it involves will be demonstrated. Finally, a specific analysis will be drawn to state how YouTube make vital effects in our internet use and digital daily life.

What is YouTube?

YouTube is a digital media platform that allows users share videos online with comment function which leads to a social networking purpose (Burgress & Green, 2018). This genius innovation could be seen as a combination product of video streaming service and social media platform. There is no limit on number of videos users could upload on YouTube and it gives everyone the same priority to watch and download these uploaded videos as long as users search them out. Moreau’s article described features of YouTube and what users can do with it.

In general, there are two types of users on YouTube, users who upload videos on YouTube and users who watch videos on it, of course, you can be both of them, uploading videos on your own channels doesn’t affect you watch videos from others (Moreau, 2019). Video viewers can leave comments under the videos or reply to others comments to have  social interactions on YouTube. You can also click like or dislike under a video to contribute to its popularity degree, if you really enjoy a video’s content, you can share it with others on other social platforms like Twitter through share function. Furthermore, if you are interested in certain people’s videos and want to watch more videos from them, you can subscribe their channels to keep up with their video updating. Subscribing function is one of the main feature of YouTube that allow users to follow trending topics and it also produces some web celebrities.

Genesis and development of YouTube

As Wooster’s book notes, YouTube was founded by three former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim in 2005 in San Mateo, California. When they found there was no straight way to share a video from their friend’s party on web, they had the initial idea letting users who have no web technical knowledge are able to share videos on web (Wooster, 2014). The official website of YouTube first launched at February 2005 and the first video uploaded on it is called “Me at the zoo” by one of the founder Jawed Karim. Since YouTube and its video upload function faced the public, it had quickly caught the attention of internet users and other companies (Rowell, 2011). Smilley’s article recorded that the Nike video featuring Ronaldinho uploaded on YouTube in 2005 is the first YouTube video to reach one million views and the concept of “viral video” was emerged at that time, this just happened four months after YouTube was founded (Smilley, 2016).

Original YouTube homepage
Image: First Versions, All rights reserved

While YouTube was becoming increasingly influential at a fast rate, it’s great potential values attracted many investors, as an internet giant, Google purchased YouTube for US$1.65 billion in 2006 and owns it until now, the interesting thing was that YouTube had only 65 employees at that time (The Age, 2006). Obviously, Google made a wise decision, in the following years, YouTube had extreme rapid developments, it cooperated with governments and companies in various fields in order to provide congress videos, music videos, movie streaming service etc, it becomes a real trend indicator and reveal trending topic videos to the public. Also, after Google purchased YouTube, this video web site was transforming from user-generated content (UGC) focused into professionally generated content (PGC) focused, this means YouTube users could see more professional videos in different fields (Kim, 2012).

The business model of YouTube

As an online video website, the most important element of YouTube’s business model is user flow and number of visits, because it mainly makes profits from advertising revenue. This is talking about attention economy, as Havalavais stated, attention economy refers to a special economic model in which enterprises can attract the attention of users or consumers to the greatest extent in an environment full of information and obtain maximum future business benefits by cultivating potential consumer groups (Havalavais, 2013). As long as YouTube remains it’s popularity and giant user flow, investors are willing to pay for advertisements they put on YouTube. Actually, YouTube has become the most widely used online platform in U.S., 73% U.S. adults say they ever use YouTube, this ratio is much bigger than other trending social media like Intstagram and Twitter (Pew Research Center, 2019). It also has earned a lot of advertising revenue worldwide, and the revenue will continue to increase in estimates, furthermore, the percentage of revenues from non-US countries was obviously increasing, it could say that YouTube has higher impact worldwide, the statistic data is shown below (Medium, 2018).

YouTube net ad revenue from 2016 to 2020
Source: eMarketer (via Medium)

Besides the revenue from advertiser, YouTube has another subscription service called “YouTube Premium” to make profits, the subscribers need to pay $12 per month, but with this service, they have prerogative to watch videos without advertisements and some exclusive content on YouTube called “YouTube Originals” (McCamy, 2019). Although the revenue from “YouTube Premium” is much lower than advertising revenue, it reveals YouTube’s attempt to enter the premium, subscription video market which Netflix is dominated at present.

YouTube’s internet ecology

After a 15 years development, YouTube has already taken a leading place in online video industry, the internet ecology it involves is complicate and with a rat race. As mentioned before, giant user base and traffic is the key element of YouTube’s business, the diversity of video types and rich content makes YouTube gain users easily from net citizen. Therefore, YouTube spent a lot of resource to enrich it’s video library, the first hand video provider could be individuals or business, YouTube would pay to video providers as long as their videos attract enough user attention (Miller, 2011). For professionally generated content (PGC), YouTube cooperated with business in different fields like NBA, UFC, Fox News etc, these business upload videos up to date on YouTube and join YouTube’s streaming TV service to provide live shows(Hayward, 2018).

Exclusive live show on YouTube
Exclusive live show on YouTube
Image: SHACKNEWS, All rights reserved

However, YouTube is not the only company who has video streaming service, Hulu and Netflix is two strong competitors to YouTube in video streaming service marketing, actually they provide more professional content than YouTube because they have more cooperation with TV show business (Artero, 2010). In Spangler’s post, his research revealed that Netflix was the most popular platform to view video content on TV, YouTube was at the second place while Hulu was the third one in Feb 2019 (Spangler, 2019). The strength of YouTube is on it’s  user-generated content (UGC), there already are many online celebrities emerged on YouTube, the popularity of their video content is even greater than some professional video content (Raun, 2018).

Therefore, the traffic of YouTube is much more than Netflix or other video streaming providers who can’t get such great advertising revenue as YouTube. After Google purchased YouTube, the advertising business of YouTube became more efficient with Google’s another product called “AdSense”, it encourages every YouTube video creator to put advertisement on their uploaded videos and get paid from AdSense (Helft, 2007). Rosenberg’s article specifically explains how YouTube video creator could make revenue from AdSense, it’s very similar with how website owners put advertisements on their websites (Rosenberg, 2018). The diagram of YouTube’s internet ecology is shown below:

internet ecology of YouTube
Ecosystem of YouTube

YouTube’s transformative effects on digital life

In an era formed by the digital revolution, YouTube is absolutely one of the key element transforming our lives. In terms of social interaction, YouTube enhances people’s social connection with each other online, since it’s a perfect platform to share and communicate information through videos, online social networks is much more simple than offline social networks due to social media platforms such as YouTube (Lange, 2007). On YouTube’s interfaces, it clearly classifies trending videos into different category like music, sports etc, users could easily find out what’s new and popular. Based on it’s powerful algorithms supported by Google, the recommended videos on homepage are always new and may fit user’s interests. These features make people are able to closely connect with society through YouTube in this  information explosion age.

Additionally, YouTube has formed its own online community, Hillery defined a community as “a collection of people engaged in social interaction, within a geographic area, that has one or more additional ties”, online community replaces the “geographic area” into cyberspace (Hillery, 1955). For YouTube’s online community, people express their opinions and communicate with each other under video’s comment area, this helps them find like-minded group which usually among subscribers of the same channel, probably making new friends through this way. Through the interaction in YouTube’s online community, it enhances user’s self awareness as well, they understand who they are and how they relate to others when they upload videos and get comments from others (Wesch, 2009).

YouTube Comments
Comments under YouTube video
Image: NBC NEWS, All rights reserved

In terms of economy, popularity of YouTube gives younger generation more chances to build their business and even provides a new business model for them. As mentioned before, YouTube video creators could earn money with Google’s AdSense, the program is called “YouTube Partner Program” which is actually a win-win program, YouTube gets more advertising revenue from advertisers and the video creators get part of the revenue as rewards to help promote advertisement (YouTube, 2019). Thus, video creators who have lots of subscribers could make huge profits through this program, besides this, the impacts of YouTube celebrities among younger generations bring them extra income from product promotion (Westenberg, 2016). For instance, YouTube’s beauty vloggers who often upload make-up tutorial videos and have huge numbers of subscribers are able to promote cosmetics and they indeed do so to earn money from cosmetic company (Lancaster, 2018). The video shown below reveals the Top 10 highest-paid YouTube stars of 2018 and all of them is not more than 30 years old.

Meanwhile, such powerful online media like YouTube has the ability to make political impacts. Video clips often produced by individuals on YouTube and freedom of speech is highly encouraged on it, the videos which state common opinion of the public will be widespread and going viral such as protest video of certain government policy (Trottier & Fuchs, 2014). It could be said that anti-Trump sentiment is a common phenomenon in U.S. now, the main reason is that social media spread Trump’s actions too fast and the voices of doubt is common online, it’s easy to find negative comments about Trump under videos related to him on YouTube. Furthermore, during the election period, video clips of candidates on YouTube would influence the result to some extend, any negative or positive information of candidates being revealed online would lead the public’s reaction (Church, 2010).


To sum up, YouTube is a great innovation in this social network era and has been an indispensable element of internet transformation. The development of YouTube is incredibly rapid while there are numbers of strong competitors such as Netflix in it’s video streaming industry. The impacts of YouTube is not only on leisure, but also on the terms of society, economics and politics deeply, people could even make a living through it’s advertising business. In the future, YouTube may bring more transformative effects to our digital life and the chance to taking advantage of it is equal for everyone.


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