Two doofuses lip-synch to bad cartoon music in front of a webcam, and Google drops $1.65 billion for the privilege to host it.
To be fair, the evolution of YouTube has more to it, but that's the basic storyline. YouTube's success lies in its ability to give everyone a chance at sharing original and appropriated video content with the world, free of top-down control:
You, too, can make a video, post it online and become an overnight star.
Of course, YouTube has grown way beyond its humble origins. From its very first video--a brief tour of a zoo, hosted by YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim-- it's become a hotbed of narcissism, a library of obscure television, a natural home for short-form comedy, a propaganda tool, a front in the copyright wars, a microcosm of democracy (and its shortcomings) and the perfect way to waste away an afternoon.
Whether you're into Richard Dawkins or Richard Simmons, YouTube promises endless hours of diversion, voyeurism or workplace productivity decline.