YouTube Explained - Overview of Google's Video Platform

YouTube Watch Page
A YouTube Watch Page. Screen capture

As you probably already know, YouTube is a video hosting platform. It evolved from a simple video sharing site to a powerful platform that can be used by amateurs and professionals alike.  YouTube was originally purchased by Google in 2006 after Google failed to gain inroads with their competing product, Google Video. YouTube lets users view, edit, and upload video files. Users can also comment and rate videos along with subscribing to the channels of their favorite video producers.

In addition to viewing free content, the service lets users rent and purchase commercial videos through Google Play and offers a premium subscription service, YouTube Red, which removes ads, allows offline playback, and features original content (much like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Play.) 

Registration is not required to view videos, but it is required to comment or subscribe to channels. Registration for YouTube is automatic with your Google Account. If you have Gmail, you have a YouTube account.  

History

YouTube, like many successful tech companies today, was founded in a California garage in February 2005 and officially launched in December of that same year. The service became an almost instant hit. YouTube was purchased by Google the next year for approximately 1.6 billion dollars. At the time, YouTube was not earning a profit, and it wasn't clear how the service would become a money maker until Google bought it.

Google added streaming ads (which share part of the revenue with original content creators) in order to generate income. 

Watching Videos

You can watch videos directly at www.youtube.com or you can watch YouTube videos embedded in other locations, such as blogs and websites. The owner of the video can restrict viewers by making a video private to only select viewers or by disabling the ability to embed videos.

YouTube also allows some video creators to charge viewers in order to watch videos.

Watch Page

On YouTube, the watch page is the home page of a video. This is where all the public information about a video resides.

You can either link directly to the watch page of a YouTube video or if the video creator has allowed it, you can embed the YouTube video directly on your own website. You can also watch YouTube videos on your TV through a variety of devices, including ChromeCast, Playstation, Xbox, Roku, and multiple smart TV platforms. 

Video Format

YouTube uses HTML 5 to stream videos. This is a standard format supported by most browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera. YouTube videos can be played on some mobile devices and even on the Nintendo Wii game system.

Finding Videos

You can find videos on YouTube in one of many ways. You can search by keyword, you can browse by topic, or you can scan the list of the most popular videos. If you find a video producer you enjoy, you can subscribe to that user's videos in order to get alerts the next time they upload a video. For example, I've subscribed to the excellent Vlogbrothers channel. 

YouTube Community

One of the reasons YouTube has been so popular is because it fosters a sense of community.

You can not only view videos, but you can also rate and comment on videos. Some users even respond with video comments. In fact, the premise of Vlogbrothers is really a conversation two brothers have with each other.

This community atmosphere has created countless internet video stars, including mentions in magazines and television appearances.  Justin Bieber owes much of his career to YouTube. 

YouTube and Copyright

Along with original content, a lot of videos uploaded to YouTube are clips from popular movies, television shows, and music videos. YouTube experimented with a lot of different ways to control the problem.

Originally video uploads were limited to 15 minutes, other than certain special "channel types" (Director, Musician, Reporter, Comedian, and Guru) deemed to be more likely to be generating original content. 

Many years and a few high-profile lawsuits later, YouTube now has automatic copyright infringement detection for a lot of content. It's still bypassed, but the amount of pirated content on YouTube has dwindled. You can also rent or purchase legitimate movies and commercial TV series from YouTube, and YouTube is directly paying for some original content to compete with Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix. 

Uploading Videos

You need to register for a free account in order to upload content. If you have a Google Account, you've already registered. Just go to YouTube and get started.  You can upload most popular video formats including .WMV, .AVI, .MOV, and .MPG files. YouTube automatically converts these files as they're uploaded. You can also record Google+ Hangouts on the Air directly to YouTube or use other methods to live stream video content from your laptop or phone. 

Putting Videos on Your Blog

You are free to embed anyone's videos on your blog or web page. You don't even need to be a member of YouTube. Each video page contains the HTML code that you can copy and paste.

Be aware that embedding too many videos can create slow load times for people viewing your blog or Web pages. For best results, only embed one video per page.

Downloading Videos

YouTube does not allow you to easily download videos unless you subscribe to YouTube Red, which allows for offline viewing.

There are third party tools that allow you to do so, but they are not encouraged or supported by YouTube. They may even violate YouTube's user agreement.

If you've rented or purchased a video through YouTube or Google Play Videos (they're really the same thing, just different ways to get there) you also can download the video to your device. That way you can play a rented video on your phone during a long airplane flight or road trip. 

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