YouTube has been in the press recently. It has taken off in the last three months to take a commanding lead in the Flickr For Video sites, including catching up to Google Video. Flickr itself set off the Web 2.0 craze, encouraging a legion of other Flippr companies, designed to get bought. YouTube was able to grab Web 2.0 frothy values in its funding. It has spawned its own legions of video Flipprs. And they keep coming. What was it about YouTube that led it to take off?
This is not an idle question. A lot of ink is spilled on discerning why a winner. Why did VHS beat Beta? Lots of theories, including the porn argument (Sony did not allow porn on Beta, VHS did) and the ecosystem argument (VHS had more brands/models). In the end the winning reason is the simplest: early on, VHS had a 2 hour tape, Beta a 1 hour tape. Hard to record a movie with Beta. Why did MySpace beat Friendster? Again, lots of theories, the best captured by cultural anthropologist Danah Boyd: it allowed the members more flexibility. Since more than 300 social networks got funded, and only MySpace has (so far) had an exit, figuring the formula ahead of time is massively valuable.
Theories are beginning to crop up on YouTube. The most prevalent is the illegal content argument: YouTube has allowed illegal stuff to permeate. Is it more a Napster For Video than a Flickr? It had to take down some Saturday Night Live pieces recently. Yet all these sites have some level of unpoliced content on them. How is this the differentiator?
The simplest answer seems to be the best: YouTube was the first that just worked. It made it easy to upload. It converted into Flash, which meant it could play in 98% of the browsers out there. It starts up in the web page - no need for a player. And it starts up pretty fast.
Lesson for consumer products: First make it easy to use. Then cool. Then cheap.