What if YouTube was simply lucky?

The post I wrote yesterday YouTube, Lazy Sunday, and Elephant Math is still bothering me.

This is why: the insane growth of YouTube had a definite starting point…the release of Lazy Sunday. I knew that Lazy Sunday was a factor in their growth, but I didn’t realize how big a deal it was until I graphed it out on Alexa. (not that Alexa is the end-word, by any means, but even if it is somewhat accurate the graph it would still show Lazy Sunday as the starting point).

Lazy Sunday

What if it was Simply Luck?

What if the viral growth of YouTube was luck? What if, for example, someone had uploaded Lazy Sunday to some other video service? Would that service have taken off and become #1 instead of YouTube? Was YouTube just the product of serendipity?

The post I wrote yesterday YouTube, Lazy Sunday, and Elephant Math is still bothering me.

This is why: the insane growth of YouTube had a definite starting point…the release of Lazy Sunday. I knew that Lazy Sunday was a factor in their growth, but I didn’t realize how big a deal it was until I graphed it out on Alexa. (not that Alexa is the end-word, by any means, but even if it is somewhat accurate the graph it would still show Lazy Sunday as the starting point).

Lazy Sunday

What if it was Simply Luck?

What if the viral growth of YouTube was luck? What if, for example, someone had uploaded Lazy Sunday to some other video service? Would that service have taken off and become #1 instead of YouTube? Was YouTube just the product of serendipity?

If the answer is yes, then that suggests there is another social component to viral growth of web services. A social component that goes beyond just the inherent capability of the system: beyond the features. It may have something to do with ease-of-use…the person who uploaded Lazy Sunday chose YouTube because it was easy. Or maybe they chose YouTube because they could share the video on their blog. It could have been the design of the site at its most basic.

Or, it could have been some other factor. Maybe the person had a cousin who worked for YouTube. Maybe they liked the color scheme. Who knows? We’ll probably never know…so where does that leave us?

I think it leaves us with the notion that social sites like YouTube are ecosystems…places where growth is possible but not guaranteed, and success usually depends on care and feeding over time vs. creating a fully-formed success. The best we can do is provide an environment where growth and sharing can occur with the best weather possible.

3 Primary Video Activities that YouTube Got Right

Here are three ways in which YouTube created an environment for growth:

  1. Uploading: Everything to Flash video.
    Plays everywhere. No platform issues here. YouTube sucks up whatever format your video is in and transcodes it to Flash.
  2. Watching: Videos play by themselves.
    The easiest activity is the one most done. Ever notice that YouTube videos play without you doing anything? Talk about making the primary purpose of the site easy…it just happens. I love this.
  3. Sharing: Super sharing features.
    YouTube has always had great sharing features. They include the code to share on your blog right alongside the video. Again, you don’t have to do anything for the code to be there. You just copy it, and it just works.

I don’t want to play armchair quarterback and say “YouTube’s design was what led to their dramatic growth”. Obviously, the release of Lazy Sunday had a lot to do with it, so it wasn’t just their design or their marketing or their investors. None of those single factors made YouTube the success that it is.

But I do want to know why someone might choose YouTube over its competitors early on in the game, before network effects started to take hold. And, given the way that YouTube has really made the three primary video activities easy, I am willing to say that YouTube created a fertile ecosystem in which growth could happen…by tearing down the boundaries to uploading, watching, and sharing videos. And that’s probably the most we can ask of any social site these days. Create an ecosystem in which things can grow, and with a little (or a lot) luck it might just grow like YouTube.

Published: August 30th, 2007

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