Thursday, December 3, 2015

A history of my time and experiences with YouTube (2006 - 2015)

Nearly all the icons I used for my channel over the years. Not pictured: My first icon which was of my RuneScape character doing a special attack animation, an icon from fall of 2009 picturing the TF2 Medic
Another random post I felt like making.

I'm fairly certain that by this point in time, anyone who uses the internet to any degree knows of YouTube, the extremely popular video sharing site. Though it's seen a decline in recent years (in fact I predict this trend will continue, but I'll get to that), it's always been one of my main go-to websites. I've been active on-and-off on YT since 2006, and I'd like to share my experience and history up until now. So, let's get started.

Also, just a disclaimer, I'll be going into a lot of detail, so this will be a rather long post. Excuse me if I ramble a bit. I'll also be mentioning a lot of YouTubers you may or may not have heard of; they're definitely worth checking out!

My earliest memory of anything related to YouTube would have to be very early 2006. Now, YouTube had launched in April of 2005, so I'm quite surprised that it was incredibly popular even early on. I had recently started playing RuneScape and heard a lot of the community talking about "YouTube" or telling me to check out some video. I eventually tried to access it, but for some reason, videos wouldn't play. Oddly enough this didn't have anything to do with my PC (it was from 2001, but yeah), rather the ISP I had at the time. If you can believe it, I was still on dial-up internet in 2006. My family was pretty behind-the-times and thought anything related to computers or gaming was a waste of money, or whatever. I knew nothing about computers back then, so I still don't know all the technical stuff behind it, but my ISP, CompuServ, sort of had its own browser that you had to open and use. I could play Flash games and what have you, but any time I would go to a YouTube video, it told me to "Download Adobe Flash Player", so I did, and it would just keep telling me to download it. I got really frustrated that I couldn't watch videos and even put "I hate YouTube!" on one of my RS community profiles just because of how jealous I was that everyone else got to watch videos and I couldn't.

Anyways, in mid 2006, we finally switched to high-speed internet and behold, YouTube suddenly worked. I immediately started watching damn near every video I could find. I was 14 at the time and would get lost in YouTube for hours on end just watching random videos. Eventually I decided I wanted to start subscribing to users to see what they would make next, as well as add favorites and comment on videos, so I signed up for YouTube with my first ever account, "D00pliss". I was obsessed with Paper Mario 2 at the time, hence the name. I mostly watched Pokemon and other gaming related videos, and favorited a ton of them. Oh yeah, I should also note that YouTube was rather poorly moderated at the time and people would often upload porn and shock videos that would be up for months before they got removed. Lol.

Considering the fact that I was only 14 at the time and rather immature, I quickly learned that I enjoyed trolling on YouTube. The anonymity of the internet meant no one could really do anything to me, so oftentimes I would go on random videos and post comments insulting whoever made the video, saying "wow this vid sucks" or something like that. Other times I would post comments that had nothing to do with the vid. At this time, I would get tons of angry replies in the comments and even on my own channel, which only served to fuel my trolling further. A lot of the times, I would just play along and reply to the comments to keep it going. Eventually, a lot of people who owned the videos would end up blocking me because their comments section got so out of hand.

After early '07, I more or less stopped trolling or cut down on it at least, but I would still occasionally revisit videos to turn their comment sections into a warzone. I remember watching a lot of Arby n the Chief and other Halo-related stuff in early '08 when I finally fixed my PC that had been non-operational since October of 2007. After that, I mostly kept the account to subscribe and favorite vids. One day during the Summer of '08, I got on the account and saw that all my favorites were deleted and my account info was changed. Realizing I'd been hacked somehow, I had a small freakout. I remembered that I had logged in at the public library once and set my account to stay logged in, so someone must've gotten on it for shits and giggles. They didn't do too good of a job of hacking it though, because the password was still the same. At that point I pretty much said "fuck it" and deleted D00pliss.

Nothing interesting happened for the rest of 2008 in terms of YouTube. I made 2 accounts, "AvoidSpiltJuice" (an internet name I used pretty much everywhere back then), and "EliteBounc3r" (an account I planned on making into a let's play channel after being inspired by Spartan31590, Chuggaaconroy, and Cauchemar89), but I quickly forgot the password to those. Still, after becoming more mature and wanting to put my trolling days behind me, I swore off YouTube for the rest of the year. I used my mom's account to watch videos on for the rest of '08 and rarely left comments.

In early 2009, I'd moved to a new apartment with my dad and taken interest in RuneScape again. This was ultimately what lead to my decision to come back to YouTube. I had a good friend called Chiafriend12 who regularly made high-quality RuneScape Music Videos, or RSMVs. Seeing what he could produce made me want to do the same thing with my own songs of choice. Also, there was a user on YT who was flaming RS and criticizing its quality as a game. As defensive as I was back then, I had a strong desire to make an account just to flame him back. On February 20th, 2009, after getting home from school, I created Petey1Piranha, my current YouTube account.

I used this account pretty heavily from the get-go. Many people I knew from other communities had YT accounts, and I was quick to add them all. It quickly became tradition to look forward to checking my comments and messages every day when I got off of school, and I'd usually have plenty. YouTube became the primary method of communication between my friends and I, as we commonly used its private messaging feature, channel comments, and streams. I was still very new to making videos, and hardly had anything worth watching during my first year on the site. My earliest uploads were short RuneScape vids recorded with an unregistered Hypercam 2 and didn't have sound in them because I didn't know how to add it. After that, my good buddy Quinn directed me to a site called Animoto, which would make flashy-looking slideshows of whatever pictures you put in. You had to pay a fee for any videos longer than a minute, if I recall correctly. I pretty much only used that site for my videos in 2009.

A somewhat-accurate depiction of my channel, circa March of 2009, courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. Seriously, what was wrong with this design? It was perfect!

YouTube remained my favorite go-to site for just about anything throughout 2009 and 2010. I made a ton of new friends there and got extremely involved in the community. YouTube was where I first discovered Lady Gaga. I found her Poker Face video a day after I signed up and I've been in love to this day. It was also where I got into competitive Pokemon. Watching let's plays of Pokemon games (particularly Chickenfajita12 and Battlexon's run of Pokemon Gold) got me back into the franchise and it didn't take me long to learn of the existence of the competitive scene and its mechanics. I quickly became skilled at competitive Pokemon, even winning an online tournament with a very unorthodox team.

But yeah, the good times were rolling, especially during Summer of '09 and even into the rest of that year. To elaborate, YouTube had a "Streams" feature for many years up until early 2010. It wasn't a stream in the sense of and the like, rather it was a "chat room" of sorts where you could queue up several videos to play in a desired order. Many of my days were spent waiting in a stream listening to Lady Gaga, Jennette McCurdy, hip hop, or VGM while I waited for Jack, Quinn, or somebody else to join. Sometimes my competitive Pokemon buddies would hop in to discuss strategy and teams or exchange friend codes, and we'd usually add the latest uploads from our favorite Pokemon-centric YouTubers like SuperSkarmory and Chickenfajita12 to the stream. If I wasn't private messaging someone, I could usually be found chatting in my stream or someone else's. Since I generally disliked IM services such as AIM and MSN and everything they stood for, YouTube's streams were essentially my substitute.

Even though I lacked the tools to make videos back in '09, I was extremely involved with the community itself. I commented on just about every video I watched, made somewhat of a name for myself in competitive Pokemon, and would often go around introducing myself to random YouTubers through comments. Though I wasn't incredibly popular, I definitely had at least some presence on the site. Every time I woke up or got home from high school, I could easily expect around five to ten new private messages and several new comments on my channel, not to mention people sharing videos with me, replies to my video comments, friend requests out the ass, and even the rare, occasional video response. One of the biggest things I would look forward to upon turning my computer on was that little red spark graphic greeting me in the top-right of my screen. By the end of '09, I had obtained around 150 subscribers before I'd ever made a "real" video.

Speaking of subscribing, I did a lot of that in my early months on the site, and it pretty much ensured that I always had something to entertain myself with if I was alone. Thinking about it now gives me such a warm, nostalgic feeling. During that Spring and Summer, and even well into the school year and holiday season, uploads from my favorite subscriptions were incredibly consistent. If there was ever another thing I looked forward to on YouTube, it was checking my subscription box, and that thing was always full. If it wasn't a new let's play episode from Chickenfajita12, Battlexon, Cauchemar89, Chuggaaconroy, gnrfan53404, yuyuhakushox or any of the other LP channels I was subscribed to, it was a new rant video from Muesproductions, an episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd, Lil' Flip's latest song, or some random video from Bigthecat69, let's plays included (yeah, I know, that's a lot of usernames and I even left a few out).

Things continued pretty much the same for the first few months of 2010. The biggest new change was that in February of that year, nearly a full year after my initial signup, I obtained a microphone and screen recording software. I was able to finally carry out my initial plan to produce let's plays. Though I had wanted to do Pokemon Gold back in '09, I chose Ruby for my first LP instead. It was decent for a first let's play but I couldn't record ingame sounds normally because I was on Windows Vista, so my only solution was to record game sounds by playing them through my speakers directly into my mic. It sounded okay unless I sped the game up. Still, I had tons of fun making this project and got lots of support from my YouTube friends during it. Sadly, just a day after I had uploaded the eleventh part, my old PC had its final bluescreen and died for good. I lost my Ruby save file and put that LP on hold indefinitely.

Unfortunately, those good times I mentioned before just weren't meant to last. I had the bad luck of joining the site right around when the internet tyrant known as Google began to tighten its proverbial grip on YouTube. This, at least in my opinion, spelled the beginning of the end for the site. The first noticeable change was that they were suddenly out for blood when it came to copyrighted material. While it was true that in past years, you couldn't upload, for instance, an entire song and outright claim it was yours or make money off of it, copyright claims were all over the place at this point. Having so much as five seconds of a licensed song in your video would often result in the entire thing being muted or blocked altogether. However, this was a minor inconvenience compared to what was coming up later. Let me just say this now: generally speaking, I hate updates, and nearly every site update that happened since I joined YouTube was a bad one.

Most of these horrible updates were a direct result of Google's takeover. Even during 2009, YouTube began experimenting with the infamous "beta channels", a complete overhaul of the channel design. It wasn't that bad compared to the absolute bastardization it would get replaced with later, but it was, in almost every facet, a downgrade from the old channel design. This design was originally optional, but late in the Summer, it was revealed that this new design would be forced in the coming months. This caused one of the biggest outrages within the YouTube community I've ever seen. People gathered in the thousands to voice their negative opinion on this change. Even though it was almost universally disliked, the change was still forced. I managed to keep my old channel until September of 2009. This essentially became the trend; a new update would be announced, to universal negative reception, and still be forced later on. Who the fuck makes these decisions?

Perhaps the biggest crushing blow was in early February 2010, right after I started my LP. The long-standing Streams feature was finally removed without any real reason other than YouTube feeling it was outdated and needed to go. Again, the community outraged, but nothing came of it. Admittedly I wasn't extremely pissed about this because I'd mostly moved onto Skype and iMesh for my chatting needs, but it was still basically destroying a great tradition. Thankfully, InstaSynch would later be created by dedicated users in an attempt to emulate what the streams were. But yeah, that's basically how the update cycle went for the rest of YouTube's lifespan so far. Rather than introduce anything new or innovative, the updates always centered around removing more and more features. The new homepage was also awful. My friend once even joked that they'd just outright remove videos one day.

All that aside, I ended up getting a new PC in April of 2010. Re-doing my Ruby file seemed like a big task at the time, so I decided to start a new LP. Inspired by the likes of Datai, I planned to do a run of Pokemon Crystal using only a Sneasel. I got one of my best friends, Oscar (the same guy I mentioned in that earlier post) along for the ride too. The project only lasted three episodes, half due to loss of interest, and the other half due to Oscar being banned from YouTube. After that, I made a few other random videos, but nothing too noteworthy. Overall 2010 was definitely a year of decline for me in regards to YouTube. I still made videos, but the depression I went through that year made me far less active within the community. I almost never received private messages anymore unless it was from some weird spammer. Even when I did return to finish Pokemon Ruby, it just wasn't the same. Even though the videos were of better quality, I was doing this during the absolute height of my depression and it showed. I tried a couple more LPs such as Mega Man X, but never finished those either. Since I was basically only known as "that guy who's obsessed with Jennette McCurdy" at that point, I largely kept to myself and often tried to change the subject when she was brought up.

I didn't do much in 2011 except finish Ruby. Early that year, multiple PC issues I won't even go into caused me to be absent from most of the internet until September of that year. I came back and started regularly making videos again, as well as catching up on all my subscriptions. Needless to say, I'd long since gotten over my depression after putting all that Jennette stuff in the past. I basically reinvented myself upon my return. All the Jennette videos that weren't deleted got unlisted. Anyways, I decided to start an LP of Pokemon Yellow to give myself something to do. To clarify, I had been promising a let's play of BioShock, my all-time favorite game, right after Ruby. I in fact did purchase a capture device, but using it on my old clunker of a PC proved difficult, with the editing software in particular running at a choppy rate beyond usability. But once again, at the end of the year, the atrocious updates reared their ugly heads.

YouTube revealed their new channel designs, and they were by far one of the ugliest, most unintuitive designs for a user page on any existing website. Customization was nonexistent. Everything was a range of boring slate-gray and blinding white, and the feature to add a description and profile info was removed altogether. Like the "beta channels", this was originally a toggle option (as it should've stayed), but one of the first things they did was remove the Friend List feature. One of YouTube's oldest, most integral features. It allowed users to communicate without subscribing and gave the site a social aspect. And it was gone in an instant. This infuriated me so much that the fourth (and ultimately final) part of the Yellow LP consisted entirely of me ranting on this awful design choice for about half an hour and barely paying attention to the game and playing like shit.

Just like all the other updates, users gathered in the thousands to voice their overwhelming universal negative feedback, but YouTube- sorry, I mean Google, didn't take any of this into account. Much to the surprise of no-one, it was announced in early 2012 that this ugly, user-unfriendly channel design (coined "Cosmic Panda") would be forced upon all users effective March 7th, 2012. This was the last straw. As such, I declared this to be "the day YouTube dies" and prepared to end my YouTube "career", as it were. In my final days on the site, I uploaded a few random videos, but nothing in the way of LPs or anything serious. At the time, I had a brilliant backup plan, however. Thanks to my long-time internet buddy, Trevor, I discovered an alternative video hosting site called Zippcast. Built from the ground up almost entirely by fed-up YouTube "veterans" like myself, ZC essentially emulated the "old" YouTube circa 2009 with several of its own unique features to boot. The rules were even a bit less strict than YouTube's thanks to some clever legal loopholes.

Though I would later learn that this was already the second or third launch of the site, ZC thrived during the early months. I created a video profile, uploaded a few humorous cut-together clips from Dragon Ball/Z, and even prepared some Let's Plays. Eventually though, ZC began to crumble. Its owners were using a very expensive hosting service that would often go down for maintenance, and they struggled to keep the bill paid, even turning to crowdfunding in its final month. To make matters worse, there was a group of YouTube loyalists who were gunning to bring ZC down, citing it as a "knockoff" YouTube and using the site's poor management as fuel to hurl insults toward it. They eventually resorted to DDoS attacks and hacking. After over a month of ambiguous updates, shaky support, and dormancy, Zippcast closed down in April of 2012.

The only other thing I was doing around this time was preparing to leave YT. When that dreaded date of March 7th arrived, I recorded, edited, and uploaded what was, for the time being, my "farewell address". I explained that although I was done with YouTube and had grown tired of fighting against their continual downgrades, I wanted to leave on a happy note and, though my subscriber base was fairly small, thank everyone for their support over the years. Fittingly, this was backed with Pokemon DPPt's Sunyshore City theme. I listed a few other places I could be contacted and stated that I would still visit the site to watch videos, but ceased all uploading, and that was the end of that.

You could draw some parallel with Rapture from BioShock here I guess

For over a year and a half, I stayed true to my word, only uploading videos that had been sitting on my hard drive previously, save for a RuneScape video in early 2013 that my friends coaxed me into doing. As I had predicted, traffic on YouTube slowed to a trickle compared to its heyday in the late 2000s. I was subscribed to over 200 people, and maybe 1/6th of them uploaded regularly anymore, with that number decreasing as the years passed. The rise of facecams made it harder and harder to find a watchable let's play, with genuine commentary over a variety of favorite games giving way to repetitive, view-hungry LPs of oversaturated games such as Slender, Minecraft, or whatever game had recently released to garner day-one views. The commentary had devolved into screaming, repetitive catch-phrases, unfunny memes, and obviously-staged reactions, especially when indie horror games were the subject. I don't want to sound too insensitive here, but I often refer to these as "cancer channels" due to their poor content quality and rapid spread over YouTube. It didn't help that YouTube became less of a hobby and more of a career choice, with the lure of riches gained from screaming into a camera over Minecraft bringing in these types of channels like some bizarre, twisted iteration of One Piece. Unless this is what you want to watch, good luck finding a reliable source of content on YT these days.

One morning on the exact five-year anniversary of the day I signed up for YouTube, I decided to return with a let's play of Pokemon Gold, the game I originally had slated as my first LP. This project continued until its conclusion in early Summer of 2014, and was my best work yet. I was able to give it the genuine feel of the let's plays of yesteryear that hadn't been seen for a long time. Despite this, its view count barely broke the double-digits per episode, and it was difficult to get any feedback on the project. Trevor, the guy I mentioned earlier, once wrote a lengthy twitter rant about how the oversaturation of top-ten YouTubers makes it almost impossible for up-and-coming "99%" users get any traffic on their videos. Think about it; ask a moderately popular content creator how they got so many views. The answer is always "Oh, (insert other popular/big-name YouTuber) gave me a shoutout/name dropped me/gave me a plug/etc" and never "Oh, I just kept making content and putting myself out there." A few years ago, that would've been different.

I guess I should also note that Zippcast made three more attempts at resurfacing after it tanked in spring of 2012. The first one was in early 2013, and was extremely short-lived because the site owner disappeared without a trace. The second turned out a bit more successful, but was "mysteriously" shut down after a few months. Many people including myself believed Google stepped in and silently shut it down, but nothing was ever proven. Lightning finally struck in early 2014, with ZC coming back in full force, where it has remained functional for almost two years as of this writing. With the current stability rate looking good, I plan to use ZC for videos as long as the site holds up.

As for YouTube, I will continue to upload "classic" style LPs despite my laughable view count for the foreseeable future. Updates have continued to happen, and while the current channel design is a step up from "Cosmic Panda", it's still pretty meh. YouTube as a whole is little more than a hollow, dried shell of what was once a user-friendly, community-driven video hosting site. Google tightened its grip so hard that all the life was squeezed out. Long gone are the days when YouTube would hold events like 2008's "YouTube Live" (Remember when that was supposed to be an annual event? Anybody) and interact with the community to gain feedback and show that they were human like everyone else, and so are the days when you could spend hours customizing your channel to your liking, letting everyone know who you were and what your Pokemon Platinum friend code was. Based on my observations, I predict that YouTube will only continue to decline until it eventually tanks hard. Slowly, the fad of screaming at overrated indie games will die off, and more and more people will realize that they can't be the next YouTube millionaire.

The rules have only gotten stricter with the years. YouTube has an unnecessarily sophisticated detection system that can identify copyrighted material in an instant, all without human input despite the fact that you're only breaking copyright laws if you use content without crediting the original creator/label or just outright claim you made it. I uploaded an obscure song from the anime "Space Dandy" and mere hours later I returned to find the video forcibly taken down (by the label of whoever performed the song, who was non-English speaking and probably didn't wanna translate the description) and my account with a six-month block on it. I wasn't even given a chance to remove the video, dispute the copyright, or contact the label manager. I'm now thoroughly convinced that YouTube has no idea how copyright laws work and barely has any humans running the show. Oh, I should also mention that they eventually removed the private messaging system because at this point their slogan might as well be "don't get used to these old features for too long, kiddos!" Thanks a lot for purging over two years' worth of treasured memories because the feature was "outdated". Whatever. It took a few years, but YouTube's constant stream of shit is finally starting to backfire on them.

Perhaps there is still hope, though. In 2014 and even in recent months, there has been speculation and even possible announcement that Google would be slowly-but-surely "backing off" of YouTube, loosening its proverbial grip and allowing it to be its own thing again. I have no idea when or if this will actually take place, but hey; I'll take any good news at this point. Whatever the case, YouTube will always serve as a source of endless fond memories for me. At the very least, it's stood the test of time - sort of - and outlasted the likes of Myspace and Viddler, so I guess it did something right. But it's also a good example of how NOT to run a website and could serve as such to future web designers. I guess it could go anywhere from here.

Bonus: Here's just a handful of YouTubers I either mentioned in this post, or just think are worth checking out!
Chickenfajita12 - My favorite let's player. Quality content, variety in game choice though he seems to heavily favor Pokemon. His upload schedule is sporadic due to his real-life career as a nurse.

BIGTHECAT69 - Banned due to a hacker in 2012, but deserves a mention here. His videos were all over the place but generally fun to watch. He's still a good friend of mine to this day.

MuesProductions - One of the many "rant" channels that used to flood YouTube. He made a lot of good, interesting points in his videos, which usually revolved around ranting on popular mainstream musicians of the time. Many, many of his videos were deleted due to his dissatisfaction with them, but he still uploads.

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