Until last month, nobody outside of YouTube had a solid estimate for just how many videos are currently on the site. Eight hundred million? One billion? It turns out that the figure is more like 14 billion—more than one and a half videos for every person on the planet—and that’s counting strictly those that are publicly visible.
I have that number not because YouTube maintains a public counter and not because the company issued a press release announcing it. I’m able to share it with you now only because I’m part of a small team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who spent a year figuring out how to calculate it. Our team’s paper, which was published last month, provides what we believe is the most comprehensive analysis of the world’s most important video-sharing platform to date. The viral videos and popular conspiracy theorists are, of course, important. But the reality is that the number and perhaps even importance of those videos are dwarfed by hours-long church services, condo-board meetings, and other miscellaneous clips that you’ll probably never see.