On April 23, 2005, Jawed Karim uploaded an 18-second video to a site called YouTube that he helped create. We’ll get back to that video shortly, but let’s take a minute to think about what nine years means in the digital age.
The web was a very different place. The title of “social media maven/guru/ninja” was just a twinkle in some charlatan’s eye. Twitter was still about a year away from existence, and an early iteration of the Facebook we now know was just gaining traction on college campuses.
Heck, we had yet to meet the ubiquitous viral video back in April 2005. And online media had yet to suffer through many hard years before discovering the life-giving secrets of the listicle, heartwarming advertisement and fatuous cat video. In short, the social explosion had yet to make the web the — Epic! Unbelievable! Shocking! — look-at-me, click-on-this cacophony it is today.
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Which brings us back to Karim’s video, embedded atop this post. In it, he stands in front of an elephant paddock at the San Diego Zoo, stares at the camera and lays down one simple truth in a matter-of-fact monotone: “The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long trunks.”
We can’t argue with that, Jawed.
That statement of eternal truth has since been viewed more than 14 million times, liked more than 130,000 times and disliked more than 7,000 times. (If only the #HiHaters hashtag had been around in 2005, but we digress.)
Those might seem like good numbers to you, basement-bound video-blogger, but they’re actually pretty piddling when you consider a few things.
First, Karim had a head start on literally everyone else who ever uploaded a video to YouTube, which makes the next three points even more important.
1. This video of an animated cat jollily cruising through some sort of space purgatory has been viewed 108 million times.
2. This 10-hour version of the same video has been viewed 31 million times.
3. This music video featuring some guy’s goofy dance has been viewed nearly 2 billion (billion!) times.
Clearly, it’s time for an intervention. It’s time to doff the humble reporter’s hat to don that of the modern social media maven. It’s time to figure out just why Karim’s history-making post hasn’t gotten the “engagement” it deserves. Yes, what we need to do is “re-brand” Karim’s “piece of content” for the “ecosystem” of our modern “social web” (the online video “space,” to be precise).
Let’s start — and, actually, end — with the title.
“Me at the zoo” is way too literal, folks. Might we suggest, “I Went to the Zoo. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.” Or perhaps, “My Epic Trip to the Zoo Will Haunt Your Dreams.” Wait, no — this is it: “1 Incredibly Insane Fact About Elephant Trunks.”
Don’t worry that a guy at a zoo making an innocuous comment about elephant trunks is totally believable. Also disregard the fact that elephants’ trunks being long is not at all an insane fact. It doesn’t matter! That’s the beauty of the modern web — one need not actually deliver much, as long as one obtains that click. An over-promising headline? Starting with a number for no real reason? Holding a reader’s firstborn child for ransom?
The only rule is there are no rules. Well, except for this one: This is no place for simple, earnest observations.
Now, all deadpan get-off-my-lawn hyperbole aside, Karim’s video helped set off a revolution in how people communicate around the world. He’s helped change the human experience and made some money in the process. But that elephant video! In the hands of the right social media maven, it could have so, so many more likes and views — and isn’t that what the modern Internet’s all about, anyway?
So here’s to you, little elephant video, on your ninth birthday: You’re way too real for the Internet you helped create, and for that we love you all the more.