Bubble Boys

Out in Silicon Valley, the last bastion of full employment, the Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of the future are staying up all night writing code in dorms.

Christopher Beam

Feross Aboukhadijeh (YouTube Instant).  

(Photo: Dan Winters)

Feross Aboukhadijeh likes to tell the story of how he got famous. It happened last fall, as he was beginning his junior year at Stanford. Google had just unveiled a feature called Google Instant, which shows search results in real time, as you type. “I thought it was kind of gimmicky,” says Feross. But it gave him an idea: If Google could pop out instant search results, why couldn’t YouTube produce instant videos? He bet a friend he could slap something together in an hour. “I lost the bet,” he says. “It took me three hours.”

The result was YouTube Instant, a site that lets you flip through YouTube videos in real time. Say you type in the letter A: The top video that begins with that letter—currently the music video for Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”—starts playing. Add a B to spell “Ab,” and you see a stop-animation set to the alphabet song. “Abd” gives you the trailer for the Taylor Lautner thriller Abduction. And so on.

YouTube Instant went live at 9:32 p.m. on a Thursday. When Feross woke up at eight the next morning, he had a bunch of missed calls. One of his transcribed voice-mails said, “interview washington post.” “I was like, Nah, that can’t be right,” he says. By the end of the day, YouTube Instant had tens of thousands of views, Feross’s name and grinning face had appeared on dozens of websites and TV shows, and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley had offered him a job over Twitter.

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