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A new history of YouTube argues that the video-streaming service created the template for the online attention economy

The New Yorker – “…According to the company, the site has more than two billion monthly “logged-in” users. In a given twenty-four-hour period, more than a billion hours of video are streamed, and every minute around five hundred hours of video are uploaded. The torrent of content added to the site has helped establish new forms of entertainment (unboxing videos) and revolutionized existing ones (the mukbang). YouTube is a social network, but it is more than that; it is a library, a music-streaming platform, and a babysitting service. The site hosts the world’s largest collection of instructional videos. If you want to fix a tractor or snake a drain or perfectly dice an onion, you can learn how to do these things on YouTube. Of course, these are not the only things you can learn. Anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, live-streamed acts of mass violence—all of these have surfaced on YouTube, too. “No company has done more to create the online attention economy we’re all living in today,” Mark Bergen writes at the start of “Like, Comment, Subscribe,” his detailed history of YouTube, from 2005, the year it was founded, to the present. Among the titans of social media, YouTube is sometimes overlooked. It has not attracted as much adulation, censure, theorizing, or scrutiny as its rivals Facebook and Twitter. Its founders are not public figures on the order of Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey. Aaron Sorkin hasn’t scripted a movie about YouTube. But Bergen argues that YouTube “set the stage for modern social media, making decisions throughout its history that shaped how attention, money, ideology, and everything else worked online.” It’s one thing to attract attention on the Internet; it’s another thing to turn attention into money, and this is where YouTube has excelled. The site, Bergen writes, was “paying people to make videos when Facebook was still a site for dorm-room flirting, when Twitter was a techie fad, and a decade before TikTok existed.” Posting on Facebook or Twitter might net you social capital, an audience, or even a branded-content deal, but the benefits of uploading videos to YouTube are more tangible: its users can get a cut of the company’s revenue…”

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