This comprehensive guide will cover the history of YouTube, how to create accounts/channels, and everything you need to know for optimizing your YouTube experience.
Even if you’ve never touched the website in the past, you’ve likely heard of YouTube. Since its humble inception, YouTube has become one of the most popular and culturally significant websites available on the free Internet.
While using it is second nature to those who grew up alongside the site, there are still those who aren’t sure how everything works. This guide aims to change that.
Consider this the ultimate guide to YouTube. Here we’re going to go into the history of YouTube, from its start to where it is today.
By reading, you’ll get a rundown of the important historical points in YouTube’s development along with the watershed moments that paved the way for the site to become as popular as it is today.
Then we go into how the site functions today, how you can create an account and the benefits of creating one of these accounts. If you’re looking for a guide that’ll act as an explainer and a practical tutorial to getting started on YouTube, you’ve come to the right place.
What is YouTube?
Before we get into details, we should explain what YouTube actually is for those who may not be familiar. As a website that has existed for nearly two decades, YouTube has gone through a lot of changes before becoming the service that it is today.
We can easily explain what YouTube is and how it has developed over the years by dividing its existence into three eras:
- The Origins of YouTube – 2005 to 2006
- YouTube’s Firsts – 2005 to 2013
- YouTube Today – 2013 to 2021
The Origins of YouTube
Headquartered above a humble pizzeria in San Mateo, California, YouTube was initially founded in 2005 by a trio of former PayPal employees called Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim, and Steve Chen.
It was originally founded to be an online dating service website that functioned through video uploads.
For the time, the site had a rigorous uploading platform but there wasn’t enough demand to get the dating service off the ground.
Taking stock of their revolutionary video-sharing website, the team decided to open YouTube to all kinds of videos after this controversial incident. After opening their services to beta testing, YouTube saw up to 30,000 viewers every day, after just months of operation.
That number would explode to 2 million viewers a day when they fully launched six months later. What followed was YouTube becoming one of the fastest-growing websites, having 100 million video uploads by the summertime.
That growth came with problems, as you might expect. The team struggled to keep up technologically and a slew of new content created many copyrighting concerns that the team wasn’t yet prepared to handle.
These problems led to them acquiring a marketing partnership with NBC while outsourcing copyright issues to Google. As you probably know by now, Google then went on to purchase YouTube towards the end of 2006, costing $1.65 billion.
In 2006, Time Magazine celebrated the rise of Internet giants like YouTube and MySpace by naming “You” the person of the year. The design featured YouTube’s video playing format at the time.
Having been around for so long, it’s no surprise that YouTube has had many firsts over the years. Here’s a short breakdown of the important firsts that we saw during YouTube’s formative years from 2005 to 2013:
- The First YouTube Video – Coming in at a very lengthy 19 seconds long, the first YouTube video was “Me at the zoo” uploaded on the 24th of April 2005.
In it, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim films a short message from the San Diego Zoo. As of the writing of this guide, it has over 150 million views.
- The First Video to Hit 1 Million Views – The first video to hit 1 million views was also in 2005. It was a Nike ad featuring the Brazilian soccer player known as Ronaldinho.
It’s studied in marketing classes today as an example of early viral videos, setting the trend for online video advertising for decades to come.
- The First YouTuber to Hit 1 Million Subscribers – The first YouTube creator to break 1 million subscribers was Fred Figglehorn or just Fred.
This was a character played by then-15-year-old Lucas Cruikshank that both entertained younger people and annoyed many others with the character’s very, very high-pitched voice.
The success of Fred led to Lucas working with Nickelodeon to create three movies and a cameo in other Nickelodeon properties.
- The First Video to Hit 100 Million Views – The first video to hit 100 million views was Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” in 2008.
The new release from the then-popular Canadian pop sensation was the perfect storm for a video to break the 100 million view wall, and since it has repeated that success five times over, sitting at over 500 million as of writing.
- The First YouTuber to Hit 10 Million Subscribers – The first 10-million-subscriber YouTube channel was Smosh, a sketch comedy channel started by Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox.
The channel started in 2005 but only hit the 10 million subscriber mark in 2013. The humble channel quickly branched into a large video content group spanning multiple channels, covering sketch comedy and gaming, and now sits at over 20 million subscribers today.
- The First Video to Hit 1 Billion Views – The very first video to hit the astounding 1 billion view landmark was Gangnam Style. Chances are, you’ve already heard it, as it went viral all over the world.
Debuting in late December of 2012, the music hit from South Korean rapper Psy introduced K-Pop to many with a suitably bizarre video that made it ripe for virality.
Fun fact: Before Gangnam Style came along, it wasn’t coded into YouTube for video views to reach a billion. This means the site had to race to upgrade the counter, or risk breaking the site page once that cap was broken. Nowadays, the music video is sitting at over 4 billion views.
- The First YouTuber to Hit 100 Million Subscribers – The first YouTuber to hit 100 million subscribers is the man who many people think of when they think of YouTube.
Felix Kjellberg started uploading as PewDiePie in 2010. He made horror video game playthroughs that became popular due to his terrified reactions.
Dropping out of university and leaving a job at a hotdog stand, PewDiePie pursued YouTube to success in 2013 when he overtook Smosh as the first 10 million subscriber YouTube channel (and mere months after them).
But we’re not talking about 10 million subscribers, we’re talking about 100 million.
PewDiePie’s meteoric rise wouldn’t stop in 2013 as he consistently updated his video content, changed his style and how he communicated with his fans and even flirted with controversy from time to time.
The last leg of his 100 million subscriber sprint was a rivalry with Indian corporation T-Series, which was on track to hit 100 million first until PewDiePie beat them on the 25th of August 2019.
It was perceived by many to be a battle for the soul of YouTube since it was a single, honest yet often maligned content creator versus a faceless corporation with a controversial past in India.
Today PewDiePie stands at 109 million subscribers and is still growing with gaming, reaction, lifestyle, and even book club/philosophy content.
After 2013, YouTube was now established as one of the most popular websites in the entire world. This came with an expansion of the services they offered in order to maximize profit.
This seems to have begun with the appointment of Susan Wojcicki as CEO, which she still is in 2021, as of the writing of this page.
After collaborating with Google Play for a music service, YouTube released their YouTube Kids app to deliver child-friendly content to younger audiences.
Similarly, YouTube Gaming was launched in 2015 to capitalize on the emerging multi-billion dollar gaming industry. These came with streaming overhauls to rival Amazon-backed competitor Twitch.
They also added a premium model for the website, initially called YouTube Red but nowadays simplified as YouTube Premium.
This came with exclusive content featuring the largest names, many of them being narrative-driven shows and movies made in professional studios, as opposed to the usual formula of a person in their bedroom, in front of a webcam.
Then they went all-in with music streaming via YouTube Music, finishing the catalog of services that you can find under the YouTube umbrella. YouTube’s place in our culture didn’t come without its serious moments, however.
Many scandals and controversies have dogged YouTube’s development in the last decade, many of them being tied to the allocation of advertisements or the perceived unfairness of algorithm technology that the company must use to regulate the sheer traffic that the site receives.
For example, in 2017 YouTube saw the first “adpocalypse,” a term to describe a controversy where advertisers pulled from YouTube en masse and hurt the funding of creators. The first was triggered by a few things at once.
The first were the consistent and increasingly reported cases where an advertisement would play before extremist content, such as ISIS beheading videos that had not been removed for violating guidelines.
Along with this, PewDiePie, as the largest YouTuber on the platform, had a comedy video go awry after he commissioned anti-Semitic content. Other “adpocalypses” have occurred since, often due to toxic political environments or algorithmic oversights on YouTube’s part.
Increasing restrictions on YouTube’s content led to a shooting at YouTube HQ by a disgruntled vegan activist content creator who had most of her videos demonetized. As one of the biggest names on the Internet, YouTube has a lot of cultural significance all over the world.
Even then, the use of YouTube increased a lot in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and the lockdowns that saw many new people turning their gaze online for video content, or to have their voices heard.
YouTube’s Users: Viewers and Creators
YouTube’s users are divided into two main categories – viewers and creators. They function in the exact way that they sound, with viewers being relatively passive users who watch the content on display while creators record, edit, and upload videos for others’ viewing pleasure.
Of course, many creators are also viewers of content, especially in content-based communities where users enjoy each other’s content and collaborate with one another.
Let’s start with viewers first. Statistically, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you’re going to YouTube to view videos instead of creating them. If that isn’t the case for you, then don’t worry, we have our section on creators below.
As reported by YouTube themselves, there are over 2 billion registered YouTube user accounts. YouTube claims that’s nearly a third of the Internet and, for context, the estimated population of the entire world in 1930 was the same figure, and it’s nearly 30% of today’s world population.
If that wasn’t shocking enough, here are some other statistics related to the viewership of YouTube.
- As per YouTube, the dominant age demographic among viewers are 18 to 34 year-olds.
- YouTube’s massive viewership burns through 1 billion hours of content every single day.
- As of May 2019, 500 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.
- As of Q3 2020, 62% of US YouTube users accessed the site daily.
- 80% of U.S parents to under-11 children say they watch YouTube.
- During Q4 2020, 906.2 million comments on videos were removed for violating guidelines. Most were through automated flagging systems while others would have been reviewed.
How to Watch Videos on YouTube
So, how do you get in on the action and watch videos on YouTube? The process is quite simple, otherwise literally billions of people wouldn’t do it every day. Using a search engine of choice, go to
YouTube dot com and click the correct result to be taken to a localized version of the website. There, a whole bunch of videos will be displayed. This is just the front page of popular material and, if you want to, you can click away and find new content to watch. It’s as easy as that.
Chances are, you don’t want to blindly click on the front page until you find something that caters to you. Believe us, the front page of YouTube gets old fast and so, sooner or later, you’ll need to use the search bar.
Your front page will personalize itself to your viewed videos once you create an account, a process which we walk you through further down on this page.
For now, though, let’s get to grips with the search bar so that you can find something that appeals to you. As the second-largest search engine behind Google, YouTube has a rigorous search bar that should take you exactly where you need to go.
You’re usually better off choosing some keywords or smaller phrases than typing a fully-fledged question or content description into the bar, as it searches for video tags and titles.
If your search is specific enough that you want a certain video, you can then alter the search bar to look for content that meets certain criteria. You do this by clicking filter where you can sort the search results by the following classifications:
- Upload Date – Last Hour, Today, This Week, This Month, and This Year
- Type – Video, Channel, Playlist, Film, Program
- Duration – Short (<4 minutes) and Long (>20 minutes)
- Features – Live, 4K, HD, Subtitles/CC, Creative Commons, 360-degrees, VR180, 3D, HDR, Location, Purchased
- Sort By – Relevance, Upload Date, View Count, and Rating
As you can see, it’s quite a robust search system that should allow you to find what you’re looking for as long as the material is safe for YouTube and doesn’t violate their community guidelines.
Playlists and Comments
If the mention of the playlist above interested you, here we’ll go into more depth on how you can watch videos on YouTube through playlists and comments.
Playlists are what you’d expect, a grouping of videos available on the platform based on a certain theme or content pattern that they all share.
Just try searching for a topic or hobby using the playlist search filter and you’ll see what we’re talking about.
When you watch a video on a playlist, you’ll automatically cycle to the next one if you don’t put a stop to the automated process. If you like a YouTube playlist (more on likes later) then you can keep that playlist on your YouTube desktop to access whenever you want.
A big hit with stressed students and adult desk workers alike are music playlists, where you can put your favorite genres on and not worry about finding and clicking individual songs.
In each of these videos, providing that the comments haven’t been disabled, there should be a comments section. This is usually where the best and worst of human manners live, so don’t get lost following the arguments of strangers by venturing too deep into the comments.
They can be useful for finding videos, however, as you’re allowed to post links to other YouTube videos. Simply click the link and you’ll be brought to a new YouTube video, all at the recommendation of a helpful stranger online.
Through an Embedded Site
Of course, internal linking isn’t the only thing YouTube does.
Sure, users can link YouTube videos in YouTube’s own comment sections, but a lot of traffic comes from external websites that embed links to YouTube.
As we said, YouTube has become a cultural juggernaut that gets attention from all over the world. Whether it’s world government agencies, tabloid news, or small hobbyist websites linking to tutorials, everybody is free and able to embed a link to YouTube.
Say a big news story breaks that’s tied to a YouTube video, you can go onto a news article and, if they have it linked, click through to effortlessly access the content.
It cannot be overstated how much the concurrent rise of social media has helped YouTube.
While it may have started its journey alongside MySpace, YouTube now shares its Internet dominance with social media services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
All three allow for the posting of video content which, you guessed it, can be linked to YouTube counterparts if the influencers have a YouTube channel.
Even if the channel and content aren’t yours, you can promote YouTubers you enjoy by posting their videos on your social media.
On sites like Facebook, you get groups dedicated to creators and topics where videos will be shared, allowing you to source quality content without having to look on YouTube itself.
YouTube itself is often considered a social media site in and of itself due to the varied community-building functions it has, and oftentimes it’s considered a social media site for the purposes of online marketing.
The YouTube App
While YouTube is a website first and foremost, the rise of smartphones over the last decade has changed the way many people use sites like YouTube.
That’s why every big site, whether it’s the search engines like Google, social media sites like Facebook, or content-driven services like YouTube, now has an app form.
These handy apps are largely stored on your phone and are more intuitive to navigate than their dot com counterparts.
By downloading the YouTube app, you can easily access YouTube without going through a search engine first. The front page looks virtually identical to the website though, so don’t worry about getting lost as the above information all applies to the YouTube app too.
How to Create a YouTube Account
So, you like what you’ve heard so far and you’re planning on using YouTube on a semi-regular basis. If that’s the case, we’d highly recommend creating an account.
We’ve gone deeper into why you should create an account below but for now, let’s go through how you can create your very own YouTube account.
Before we can get into that, you need to have a Google account too. As we covered at the start of this guide, YouTube was acquired by Google in 2006 and is still a Google property, so the two are tied together.
The upside here is that many of you will already have Google accounts, so making a YouTube account may actually be easier than you thought. If you don’t, however, you’ll need to create a Google account.
Enter a Username and Password
Once you’ve got a Google account set up, it’s time for you to create the YouTube account to go with it. Starting at the YouTube homepage, go through the following steps:
- Click the “Sign In” button at the top right of the page.
- Click your Google account, or create an account, and select that it’s for you personally or for a business. Note that your Google account password is your YouTube password.
By doing this, you’ve now connected your Google account to YouTube. You’ll also have to do the following steps if you’re creating your Google account for the first time.
- When properly setting up your YouTube channel, you may be pressed to type and re-type your password to ensure that it’s accurate.
- Chances are that your real name is connected to your Google account. Most of us prefer to use usernames, so you’ll get to choose one of these during the signup process.
You’ll be prompted to add a location for your account. The information is private and the location you choose doesn’t really need to be accurate.
What’s more important is that in the US, UK, and a select few other countries, then you may need to give your location via a postal code. This is usually connected more to your Google account, hence why such personal information is asked for when creating a YouTube account.
Gender and DOB
Somewhere along the line, you’ll be prompted to give your gender and date of birth. The gender may be used for verification purposes later on but you can also choose an “other” option if that’s what you would prefer.
As for the DOB, this is intended to ensure you’re old enough for certain services. If you’re here on this site, reading this guide, you’re probably old enough to access YouTube freely.
Why You Should Create an Account
Now that you know how, let’s go over why you should create a YouTube account. There are four main benefits that you can get by making one of these accounts, so let’s go through each of them.
Personalized Videos Catered to your Tastes
As we mentioned before, the front page of YouTube often won’t cater to your needs if you don’t have an account.
Some tracking data can be used to show you like-minded content but, for unparalleled personalization on the YouTube front page, you need to have an account.
This is because more data is tied directly to the account so YouTube’s algorithms have an easier time of determining what you like.
Subscribe to your Favorite Channels
One of the main ways of showing your support on YouTube is the subscription.
This is a totally free process where you click the subscribe button on their channel, which means that their new content will get put on your subscription page when it becomes available.
The subscriptions page presents a wall of videos from all of the channels you’re subscribed to, in order of chronological upload times, allowing you to keep up to date on your favorite YouTubers.
Create Playlists and Keep Track of Viewing History
Having talked about playlists before, it’s worth noting you too can create your own playlists with a YouTube account.
That’s all well and good, especially if you tend to become a deep fan of certain topics and want to collect, gather, and share videos to help others with the same interests.
That said, the undoubtedly best playlist is your viewing history.
Having a YouTube account gives you access to the history page where you can see the videos you’ve previously clicked on.
By having an account, YouTube can track the pages your account has interacted with, allowing you to have a convenient record of videos you’ve watched.
This is handy for those moments where you want to revisit a video but can’t quite remember enough details to find it in search.
Give a Thumbs Up/Down, Like, Comment, or Reply to Other People
Then there are the secondary benefits of having a YouTube account. The main one we’d highlight is the thumbs up and thumbs down functions.
The thumbs down ones aren’t that important and, in truth, unless the video is especially egregious then you won’t be using it that much.
The thumbs-up option is more important because, when you give a thumbs up, it enters the video into your like playlist.
That’s right, yet another playlist where you can store videos you’ve especially liked. It should also be mentioned that you can have a watch later playlist too, for videos you may like but haven’t got the time to watch right now.
You can also comment. Depending on the popularity of the video, your comments will largely pass by most people. That doesn’t mean funny and insightful conversations won’t occur but don’t expect that to be the norm.
At most, you can use the comment section to just add your voice of support for your favorite content creators. You can also reply to other people’s comments to add to the conversation.
Let’s move onto video creators. This smaller demographic of YouTube’s users is vital to the website’s continued success. Though there are grievances over the massive corporate presence on YouTube over the last few years, it’s still the content creator that drives audiences and makes money for the company through advertisements.
Video creators have channels, not accounts, a small but crucial distinction where a user upgrades their account for free so that it’s now a channel capable of uploading and hosting videos.
The rise of YouTubers over the last few years, alongside other Internet influencers, has seen the media landscape change in a very drastic way.
Think about that statistic that we included above – there are 2 billion accounts that go through 1 billion hours of content every day – these are huge numbers that rival the most popular network and cable TV in the US.
This has led to a whole new influencer industry and has relegated formerly mainstream media entities into so-called “legacy media,” who are becoming increasingly less popular when compared to free-form content on YouTube.
What’s more, influencers, and YouTubers in particular, have consistently ranked as the most desired career path for Western children. This means they’re striking a chord with, and inspiring, young people.
Many of them will become content creators themselves and some will be successful, creating a cycle of homegrown video content on YouTube.
How to Create a YouTube Channel
If you want to get involved with those who want to make videos for YouTube, you’ll need a channel. That’s different from an account but not by much. Let’s get into the differences between them.
Sign in with your Email Address Linked to YouTube
Just like how you set up a YouTube account by way of Google, you need to link your Google email address to YouTube as a first step. In fact, you follow the identical process to create your YouTube account first, so check back at that section if you need pointers.
Hit Settings and Create your Channel
Once you’re connected, you’ll need to create your channel. This is as easy as opening the settings panel and, once you’re in, finding the “create your channel” option. Click it to start the process.
Choose a Personal or Custom Channel Name
Here you’ll be prompted to name your channel. Not so fast, there are a few things you need to consider first:
- Are you an individual content creator?
- Are you a content creator for a business?
If 1, you shouldn’t need to think too hard about branding and marketing concerns. Pick a name that’s memorable and relevant to what you plan to cover but, since you’re an individual, you have the freedom to change your focus whenever you want.
Because of that, the best names aren’t necessarily tied to topics too much, allowing you the freedom to switch up your content and stay relevant in the future.
If 2, you’ll want to stand out as much as possible. The Internet is a gigantic ocean of information and, as a business operating online, you’re a small fish that’s begging for everybody’s attention.
The most surefire way of doing this is to choose a name in line with your pre-existing business branding and don’t stray from it, and that name should be easy to find.
Search your name before creating the account to make sure there aren’t larger channels that have the same or similar name.
Name your Channel
You have a theoretically infinite number of possibilities to consider, so be patient and choose a channel name that you like.
Consider the above information and, with all of that in mind, come up with something unique that’ll catch people’s attention, let them know what you’re about, and put your channel on the map.
Upload a Profile Picture
After you tether your Google email to YouTube to create an account, you’ll find that your profile logo will be a colored circle with initials inside.
That isn’t a very appealing visual, especially since it’s what the majority of video viewers have, so you want to distinguish yourself as a content creator with a profile picture.
It can be a photograph of something relevant, or of yourself, or you can go the route of using art if you want. We have more on that process below.
Add in a Description and Social Media Links
What you say is just as important as how you look.
If you’ve got somebody interested in your channel and its content but they’re not quite sure, they might check your description.
In this case, you at least want to have something helpful there to reel them in and finalize a subscription.
You don’t have to write a full essay on your life story and what your ambitions in life are.
Just say what your channel is and do it in a way that shows some personality. No matter what you’re covering on your YouTube channel, it’s often the personality of the people doing it that attracts loyal fanbases.
Not only this, but every video that you post will have a description too.
This is usually left pretty barren, though if you’re putting forward any claims as part of a science or political community on YouTube then it’s good decorum to include citations to anything you may say in a video.
Even if you don’t have full descriptions, at least put links to any other social media you have there. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, if you’re somewhere else online then you want your audience to be aware of that.
If you get bigger on Twitter thanks to a link in your YouTube description, then you can reach more people on Twitter and attract more people there. If successful, and if you have a YouTube link in your Twitter bio, then you can send those Twitter uses back to YouTube.
Ideally, your social media accounts will all feed into one another, growing each other on different platforms, and sending newcomers to the next social media presence to check out your stuff.
Create YouTube Art
You’ll create two types of art for your YouTube channel usually. These are:
- For your profile picture, where an image isn’t enough.
It should be a minimum of 250 x 250 pixels and a maximum of 800 x 800 pixels, with 500 x 500 being a favorite among content creators.
If you need custom art that is free to use, you can commission it for relatively cheap from contractors online.
- Otherwise, your art will be part of the content itself. If you’re into education and science, or politics and philosophy, your content will usually benefit from something visual to make it easier to digest. Visual media can be great for comedic purposes too, and unless you can do the drawing yourself, you’ll want to commission the art.
There are many art commission services out there, whether it’s a lone artist you may find on Twitter or DeviantArt to fully-fledged companies that can help you do it yourself with pre-made resources, like Canva.
YouTube Premium is YouTube’s paid service where you upgrade your account by paying a certain amount of cash a month. You can get a 1-month free trial to see how you feel using the Premium model, all without spending a dime.
If you do like the Premium model, you can then buy the Premium package for a set price.
The price may be liable to change in the future but, at the time of writing, it’s approximately 15 dollars per month for individuals. If you’re a student and eligible for the benefits that students get, that can be lowered to 9 dollars.
If you’re packing a whole family and you’re thinking some of the exclusive content will keep the kids busy, it’ll run you back 25 dollars a month and allow you to host up to 5 different family member accounts, as long as they’re all over the age of 13.
While YouTube Premium will get you some exclusive content that’s already uploaded, YouTube TV was created for live content across 90 channels that are authorities on news, sports, and entertainment.
It’s essentially old network-style TV translated onto YouTube, so you can still catch a lot of your favorite channels and news providers while remaining under the YouTube umbrella.
At the moment it costs 64.99 dollars, matching the cost of services like Hulu but offering much more in terms of content. Once you’ve paid, you have the benefits tied to your account so you can remotely access TV content even if you’re separated from your favorite gadgets.
Now you should have an idea of where YouTube came from and how you can use it today to take part in the fun.
No matter how you want to use the site, YouTube has had nearly two decades to properly hone their user design and how intuitive the site is for both newcomers and regulars alike, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble as you leave us and check out what YouTube has to offer.
If you’re sticking with a video viewer account, it’s fine to sit back and enjoy the entertainment without focusing too much on the video creator section.
Maybe one day you’ll want to make the transition to video creator, at which point you can always come back to this guide and brush up on the relevant parts. Similarly, if you’re ever in need of an explanation on a certain aspect of YouTube’s menu, this guide isn’t going anywhere.