Visiting YouTube for a test-drive yields an unimaginable
wealth of - well, I don't really know what you'd call it. A
lot of video clips. I even conducted a test of random, obscure
searches, just to see what was in the archive. If you want to stump
the system, you'll have to try harder than I did.
A search for Homer Simpson's favorite '70s rock band,
"Bachman-Turner Overdrive," brings up 13 videos. (Were there even
13 videos made of the band?) There are 94 clips for "Donald
Rumsfeld." "The Brady Bunch theme song" - 15 clips. The
1960s Brazilian Tropicália group "Os Mutantes" brings up 60. Taking
a cue from YouTube cofounder Chen, I search for "cat tricks" and
come up with 374. How about something nonsensical, like "monkey
peanut butter"? Voilà, two very-good-quality clips of monkeys
eating peanut butter. And just for fun, searching for "NBC," one of
YouTube's newest financial backers, yields 2,588 videos.
Yet for all the excitement, it's important to remember that online
video is still a nascent media form. Picture quality is often
grainy and not appropriate for a big-screen monitor. There's also
the issue of profitability. YouTube has begun to run advertising
on the site, but it will be a while before it generates enough
revenue to be self-supporting.
And there's the problem of being the first. Online communities like
Friendster and Napster captured our imagination not so long ago,
but users have moved on. Although the equivalent of roughly a tenth
of the U.S. population visits YouTube each month, competitors are
already popping up. Internet giants Yahoo! and Google are offering
free videos, as are a handful of start-ups like Revver, which
offers cash to clip contributors. As for how long YouTube will
maintain the dominant market share, no one knows.