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Hurry Up and Wait: YouTube Goes Live

After years of suggestions and teases, YouTube finally moves ahead with live streaming.

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YouTube got faster last week, when a Stanford computer science student coded YouTube Instant (garnering an instant job offer from YouTube’s CEO via Twitter). But YouTube doesn’t always move quickly. One thing the company has been taking its sweet time on is diving into the world of live streaming.

There were rumors that YouTube was interested in live video as early as January of 2008. And YouTube did experiment by streaming a few live events in the following months and years—a concert in November of 2008, a U2 show in 2009, and the Indian Premier League’s cricket tournament in 2010 (that last one drew about 50 million views). Even so, its live streaming options were limited compared to sites like Ustream, Livestream, and Justin.tv, sites that have made live streaming the core of their experience.

Today, finally, YouTube is dipping another foot in the water (and looks like it might jump all the way in soon). At 8:00 a.m. pacific, YouTube is offering a two-day test of a new live streaming platform. Not just anyone can hook up a webcam today and stream live, though–the dictum “broadcast yourself” only will apply to four of YouTube’s partners: Howcast, New Next Networks, Rocketboom, and Young Hollywood. (YouTube even put together a handy widget featuring the schedule, below.)

To get us pumped for the experience, Rocketboom has posted a blooper reel to its YouTube Channel. “ROCKETBOOM LIVE,” read the title cards: “Anything Can Happen.”

That, of course, is what YouTube is probably afraid of, and accounts for its festina lente strategy. YouTube is one of the most visited sites on the web, and has well over a hundred million users. With so many people potentially streaming live, how do you possibly ensure that nothing terrible happens (a suicide was live-casted on justin.tv in 2008). YouTube’s real innovation was to open broadcasting to the world. Until it figures out how to safely bring its new capabilities to all its users—admittedly, a huge challenge—YouTube’s live streaming efforts will always be secondary to the real action: uploaded videos of kittens and children acting goofy.

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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