catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Is YouTube really this years greatest tech invention?

with 7 comments

 Last week, Time magazine awarded YouTube it’s award for best invention of the year. In introducing their decision, TIME stated that:

“It’s been an interesting year in technology. Nintendo invented a video game you control with a magic wand. A new kind of car traveled 3,145 miles on a single gallon of gas. A robot learned to ride a bike. Somebody came up with a nanofabric umbrella that doesn’t stay wet. But only YouTube created a new way for millions of people to entertain, educate, shock, rock and grok one another on a scale we’ve never seen before. That’s why it’s Time’s Invention of the Year for 2006. ” (Time)

I’ll admit to not being an avid YouTube user. However I have played around with it enough to appreciate that it is pretty cool and that it is a site that may still have a lot of potential left to realise$US1.65 billion worth according to Google.  But to me – YouTube doesn’t really seem worthy of the accolade it’s been given. In my mind, it’s still  just a video based version of Flickr.

On the other hand, I do agree with The Economist’s decision to name Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström as their computing and communications innovators of the year. Now those two names might not be familiar to many people – but the software they developed  probably is… Kazaa & Skype.

Kazaa was one of the peer to peer file sharing programs to displace Napster. Napster’s archilles heal was that it relied on a centralised server to index the songs available on users machines. This meant it was possible to shut down the Napster network by simply shutting down the central server. By contrast, Kazaa was a major force in the next generation of P2P software because it was completely distributed – removing the (technical) weak point of having a centralised server. Friis and Zennström sold Kazaa in 2001 – an easier option than trying to fight the coming storm of lawsuits from the music and film industries.

In my view though, it’s not Kazaa, but  Skype, for which this dynamic duo deserve to be recognised. Skype was technically innovative – being a peer-to-peer VoIP solution rather than client server, giving it the ability to scale easily and at much lower cost. Skype probably deserves credit for taking VoIp to the masses in a way that no other VoIP provider has really been able to match. Skype has also become part of the language of the Internet through phrases like  “I’ll skype you” and “skype me”. As a closing note for those who say they’d rather let the market decide which was the better innovation – Skype was acquired by eBay in 2005 for more than twice what Google paid for YouTube.

I know we have a few YouTube fans on Catallaxy, so I’ll throw it open to commentators to cast thier votes – YouTube? Skype? something else?


Written by Admin

November 11, 2006 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. I think YouTube has great potential to reshape the cultural industries because of the opportunities it offers amateurs to put up their own films. I think saying it’s just a video based version of Flickr is fair enough except the ‘just’ is rather an understatement.

    As a passive consumer of videos, my main reason for getting into YouTube is for all the cool historical materials I can now access (e.g. old blues and jazz concerts).

    Jason Soon

    November 11, 2006 at 3:39 pm

  2. I am using skype all the time, while my daughter used to use Kaaza and now watches YouTube.

    I think they are all good and there’s no need to rank them.

    Jason your last sentence is a dangling modifyer. The reason is not a consumer.


    November 11, 2006 at 6:43 pm

  3. Boris,

    I made my comments because Time magazine decided to rank YouTbe number 1 this year, whilst ‘The Economist’ put Friis and Zennstroom first. In my view, I think that if one does decide to rank them ‘The Economist’ has made a better choice.

    Like I said in the main post – I think YouTube is good to , but I disagree wiht Time naming it the best invention of the year.


    November 12, 2006 at 11:13 am

  4. Jason,

    Re: the disruptive influence of YouTube on the cultural industries. I think the potential is there – but YouTube is just part of the broader phenomenom of user generated content on the Internet. IN ym view, user generated content a ‘new’ phenomenom. It existed well before blogs, Flickr & YouTube.

    What these new sites/tools have meant however is that as internet adoption has increased and the proportion of less tech-savvy users has increased – there have been tools that have enabled them to more easily participate in user generated content.

    Indeed – here is what I wrote in January 2000 when arguing against Australia’s internet censorship regime
    ” Whilst making content providers on the Internet responsible in the same manner as
    more traditional media may appear justified on the grounds of consistency, it fails to
    appreciate one of the key features of the Internet – namely, just who the content providers
    on the Internet are .
    Despite the increasing role of commercial content providers and professional online
    media developers, there remains much content which is provided by individual
    Internet users, hobbyists, non-profit groups and other amateur and non-commercial
    content providers.

    The continued growth of free web space providers such as GeoCities
    ( and Angelfire (, and the bundling
    of web hosting space with most home Internet access packages, should be seen as an
    indicator of the continued growth in content provision by these groups.”
    Shooting the Messenger. H Gibson, 2000. .


    November 12, 2006 at 3:26 pm

  5. As far as I can recall neither Sype nor YouTube were invented in 2006.

    Perhaps they mean “most influence” or “most likely to change net usage” in 2006.

    I think Youtube is the most populist and will be the media flagship for disruptive technology but it really is a latecomer and the real disruption occurred earlier with peer to peer file sharing initially by geeks then for musics then for video film.

    Skype is the most pervasive without the hype. It is impressive to see the amount of SMEs and larger transnational businesses using Skype everyday as an intergral part of their communications without fanfare. Skype has enabled lots of people and firms to track down the audio communications supply chain and cut out the non value add telcos. Telcos are still used where they add value.

    My vote – whatever the award – is Skype.

    Francis X Holden

    November 13, 2006 at 1:52 pm

  6. mmh italics is on in comments by default?

    Francis X Holden

    November 13, 2006 at 1:53 pm

  7. FXH,

    Should be fixed now.


    November 13, 2006 at 4:32 pm

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