This is pretty excellent: Apparently, one of my magazine articles was part of the inspiration for YouTube!

Recently, Jawed Karim, one of the three cofounders of the site, gave a speech at the ACM conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He talked about the many trends that he was tracking in 2004 that led up to the “aha” moment where he envisioned YouTube. One of these moments was when Karim read “The Bittorrent Effect,” a story I wrote for Wired magazine.

In the piece, I described the infamous episode of Crossfire in which Jon Stewart showed up and reamed out the two hosts for “hurting America” with their formulaic, gormless Punch-and-Judy approach to modern political debate. The clip of Stewart’s rant was quickly ripped, posted online, and passed around with such speed that — as best as I could calculate — over 2.5 million people saw it online. Then, as I wrote:

By contrast, CNN’s audience for Crossfire was only 867,000. Three times as many people saw Stewart’s appearance online as on CNN itself.

If enough people start getting their TV online, it will drastically change the nature of the medium. Normally, the buzz for a show builds gradually; it takes a few weeks or even a whole season for a loyal viewership to lock in. But in a BitTorrented broadcast world, things are more volatile. Once a show becomes slightly popular — or once it has a handful of well-connected proselytizers — multiplier effects will take over, and it could become insanely popular overnight. The pass-around effect of blogs, email, and RSS creates a roving, instant audience for a hot show or segment. The whole concept of must-see TV changes from being something you stop and watch every Thursday to something you gotta check out right now, dude. Just click here.

Karim says that when he read this, he immediately realized there was a huge market for a simple tool that unleashed “clip culture” and allowed people to easily post 3-minute video segments online. YouTube was born from his epiphany! If you watch the video of Karim’s speech — posted, naturally enough, on YouTube — you can see his discussion of my article begin at the 26-minute mark. That’s a screenshot of his PowerPoint presentation above.

I am, of course, thrilled to have been responsible in some small way for the extreme goodness that is YouTube. Though I’m probably not as thrilled as I’d be if — as my friends now joke — I’d actually had the idea for YouTube myself, heh. Then again, if I had developed YouTube and sold it to Google for, like, $380 trillion or whatever the heck it sold for, would I be sitting here blogging? Or would my personal army of nuclear-powered robots be sitting here blogging?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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