It was 17 years ago on Sunday that a 25-year-old guy named Jawed Karim uploaded the first video to YouTube, kicking off a service that went on to become the preferred hub for video streaming and providing everyone with a camera and a good idea of the chance to make a living from their own content.
The first video was, it must be said, nothing to write home about. Low resolution clip, 19 seconds (below), called Me at the Zoofeatures YouTube co-founder Karim at the San Diego Zoo, who helpfully points out that elephants have remarkably long proboscis.
Like most videos that landed on the streaming site in the early days, the clip lacks the highly produced details that are so heavy in much of the content that fills the platform today.
“Okay, so here we are in front of the elephants,” Karim tells the camera on YouTube’s first video ever. “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.”
When he recorded and uploaded the clip, of course, Karim knew that YouTube would continue to become the phenomenon it is today. Nor that his video would win hundreds of millions of views in the years to come.
One 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. Around the same time, Karim left YouTube to study for a master’s degree in computer science at Stanford University, but received tens of millions of dollars worth of shares when Google bought YouTube for $ 1.65 billion in 2006. Karim co-founded an enterprise fund called Youniversity Ventures (now YVentures), with Airbnb and Reddit among those benefiting from investment.
The creator of YouTube’s first video occasionally edits the description of the clip to express his opinion if the company makes a platform change that he does not like. Last year, for example, Karim criticized YouTube’s removal of public antipathy figures.
As of April 2022, the elephant clip has been viewed more than 228 million times and received more than 11 million comments. One recently said, “Let’s be honest, we’re all going to show our kids this video one day.”