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Well, maybe it is. I'll get back to you on that. But even Google has to make YouTube pay, by running ads next to or before or on top of all those videos. Whatever else it might be or want to be, YouTube must be a gigantic, billion-faced advertising billboard. It has to consume attention and excrete cash.
Obviously, YouTube has no problem getting attention; it's just not necessarily the kind of attention advertisers like. All kinds of weird, random stuff gets uploaded to YouTube, and then other weird, random stuff gets appended to that stuff as comments, and advertisers don't like that. They don't want to get weird, random stuff all over their nice, clean brands. As a result, Google can't charge as much for its ads as, say, Fox does. It can't even charge as much as Hulu.com which gets a fraction of YouTube's traffic but which shows only professionally produced and sanitized content.
But Google can't just clean up YouTube, whack it on the ass and point it in the direction the company wants it to go. That would destroy YouTube's essential, anarchic nature, and anarchy is the beating heart of the billion-eyed beast. What to do?
In biology there's something called the square-cube law, which explains why animals can't stand up when they get too big. Likewise in astrophysics, even light is unable to escape black holes because they are so dense. An analogous fate constantly stalks YouTube, just over the event horizon: its messy, ungovernable enormousness is both its great strength and its fatal flaw. Which is why, while you and I are blowing off work to watch a monkey ride backward on a pig, a small army is fighting a ceaseless, Sisyphean war to keep YouTube from collapsing under its own weight. If YouTube can actually win that war, its victory will have consequences for the entire universe of broadcast media.
The headquarters for that army is in San Bruno, Calif., just south of San Francisco. (A hill near YouTube's office, one of those velvety California foothills that look like giant paws, bears a Hollywood-style sign that reads SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, THE INDUSTRIAL CITY.) YouTube is housed in a huge, airy blond-wood office building; it appears to be part aerodrome but is in fact a former showroom for the Gap. (On the day I visited, YouTubers were rubbernecking at the sight of someone's office toy, a shark-shaped inflatable dirigible, that had gotten sucked into an air vent.) The centerpiece of YouTube's offices is a big, wavy red plastic slide in one of the atriums that runs from the top floor all the way to the bottom. You can find, somewhere on YouTube, a video of a dude catching big-time air and then totally wiping out on that slide; the legal disclaimer at the top of the slide is long and artful. Conference rooms are named after viral videos: you can take a meeting in Sad Keanu, or This Is Sparta!, or Socially Awkward Penguin. I spent the day in Nyan Cat.