Last year, YouTube celebrated its tenth birthday, and since then, some of the video site’s most resilient creators have reached that milestone for their own channels. During a panel at VidCon, four of YouTube’s most-tenured stars — Philip DeFranco, ShayCarl, Brittani Taylor, and Hank Green — sat down to chat about the ways in which their place of work has changed over the past decade.
On the VidCon stage, the four featured YouTubers loomed large, but in their discussion, they hearkened back to a time when they were outsiders. “We were all these sheltered, broken people,” said DeFranco of YouTube’s first wave. Warts and all, they banded together because of their shared desire to form a new paradigm in entertainment. A decade later, the creators who have stuck have done so because they still love the community they helped build. “People who are still on YouTube ten years later are people who want to be here,” said ShayCarl. “They’re people who want to be pioneers. They don’t want to parlay their fame into a TV show.”
In discussing the changes that have come to YouTube over the past decade, the feature creators noted two trends in particular: The rise of mobile viewership and the diversification of social media platforms. Smartphones, which were practically nonexistent a decade ago, are now ubiquitous, and as ShayCarl puts it, has “opened up the community.”
As for social media, Taylor recalled the days when she could only promote her channel on MySpace and in e-mail blasts. Now, by spreading out across the social web, creators can cast a much wider net. “As you grow, you have to be everywhere where someone can post,” said Green. Social media also affects interactions with fans. “If I’m ever mean to someone, they can tweet that, so I never am,” added Green.
The biggest takeaway from the panel, however, is that the YouTube community can still grow. There is a common perception that the online video industry is oversaturated but if new creators have what Green calls “the right mix of obsessions,” they can still succeed. “I was lucky to be ahead of the curve,” said ShayCarl, “but even now in year seven [of VidCon], you guys are still ahead of the curve. People are still taking notice, and there’s still potential.” He believes YouTube is currently in the elbow of an exponential curve, from which it will soon erupt upward.
That is the attitude with which YouTube’s savviest veterans are looking into the future. While they have gained a lot of valuable experience, there is still plenty of upward progress to be made. “Old videos are like scars,” said DeFranco. “I look back, and some of that stuff was stupid, but it reminds me how hungry we were. Holding onto that is so key.”