Dive into the YouTube Time Machine

Curtis Chen
Sep. 29 2010, 12:00AM EDT

"Pick a year, click refresh, and TRAVEL THROUGH TIME." Starting with that irresistible tagline, the less-than-one-month-old YouTube Time Machine (YTTM) has become an addictive Internet sensation.  Noted film critic Rogert Ebert tweeted "You can get lost in here"--in a good way--and linked to the year 1969 (perhaps because he loves the theatrical trailer for On Her Majesty's Secret Service).

It's easy to get started on YTTM, but may be difficult to stop.  The interface is simpler than most TV remote controls:

  • pick a year from the timeline, anywhere from 1860 to the present day;
  • "sift" by categories including Sports, Current Events, Music, and Commercials;
  • enjoy a random video blasted from the past; and then
  • keep clicking "Watch Next Video" until your nostalgia runneth over.

Selection varies by year, as you'd expect--only one video is available for 1914--and some links may be broken if content was removed from YouTube recently.  Videos are added manually, and the few thousand currently in the timeline reflect the tastes of YTTM's creators (as demonstrated by the fact that "Video Games" appears at the top of the categories list).  Users can help expand the library by submitting more YouTube videos for any year.

After launching on September 8th, YTTM passed one million pageviews and 100,000 visitors in just four days.  It's not difficult to imagine the current, ad-supported, "very alpha" site being surpassed by a more automated version which actively seeks out new content on YouTube.  Taking advantage of YouTube's developer API could also offer users more ways to control their virtual time-travel experience, by creating playlists or feeds, for example.  Who needs a DeLorean when you've got the Internet?

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Hat tip: Andy Baio

Curtis Chen Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley; now a science fiction writer and puzzle hunt maker near Portland, Oregon. You may have seen his "Cat Feeding Robot" Ignite presentation. Curtis is not an aardvark.

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