YouTube’s Accidental Community

NEW YORK When it plunked down $1.65 billion for hot video-sharing site YouTube, Google executives pointed to the vibrant community YouTube had built as a main justification for the price it was willing to pay. But that community’s development was mostly accidental, according to YouTube co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley.

Speaking at OgilvyOne’s Verge digital summit, Hurley readily admitted that he and fellow founders Steve Chen and Jawed Karim did not set out with a grand plan to build one of the Web’s most vibrant communities: They just wanted to make it as easy for people to share videos as it was for photos.

“We didn’t make an assumption of how people would use the product,” Hurley said.

But lo and behold, the site’s users made it into a community venue. According to ComScore Media Metrix, YouTube drew 20.8 million U.S. visitors in September.

YouTube management’s role was mostly staying out of the way and following their lead. A case in point: the site’s video-response capability. YouTube created this in May only because users were already responding to each other’s videos.

Its position as a potent media vehicle was also a quirk of fate, Hurley said. The potential hit the company only after the “Lazy Sunday” Saturday Night Live skit was uploaded to the site early this year.

Even the company’s plans to make money off the site were not part of a grand business plan of focus groups and competitive analysis. Hurley said YouTube decided against putting TV-style commercials before clips because management found those ads annoyed them when they watched video online. “We think that’s disrespecting the user,” he said.