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Each Year's Most Popular YouTube Video

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On an otherwise regular Monday in February 2005, video file sharing website YouTube was launched. At the time, founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim just wanted to find an easier way to share videos between them and their friends, but YouTube has turned into arguably the most popular video sharing site on the Internet. In honor of its 10th birthday (yes, YouTube was launched on Valentine’s Day!), here are the most popular YouTube videos released each year since.

1. “Touch of Gold” by Nike // 2005

Some of YouTube’s original hits have been taken down and re-uploaded over time, making it hard to exactly figure which ones from which year are the most popular. But this video—originally uploaded in 2005—is a good bet: The Nike commercial, centered on popular soccer star Ronaldinho, was the very first YouTube video to pass one million views.

2. “Evolution of Dance” by Judson Laipply // 2006

A perennial favorite on the viral video circuit, stand up comedian Judson Laipply’s “Evolution of Dance” first hit the video sharing site in 2006, where it quickly became the site’s most popular video. Racking up over 70 million views in just eight months, it was a long-time contender for top dog, and even though it no longer appears on even the top thirty list, it’s a long-time favorite. Laipply released a follow-up in 2009, and he promises a third video is still in the making.

3. “Charlie bit my finger—again!” by Harry and Charlie Davies-Carr // 2007

The only non-music video to break the all-time top ten, the 56-second long video about inter-sibling finger-biting was, at one time, the number one video on the site. Originally posted on May 22, 2007, the video didn’t take the top spot until over two years later, when it pushed “Evolution of Dance” out of the way (perhaps with great grace and style?) in October of 2009. The video is—somehow—still the number five video on the site, and the channel that hosts it has nearly 300,000 subscribers.

4. “An Experiment” // 2008

If aliens came to Earth and wanted to understand viral videos, this is the clip to show them. A 24 second video of what appears to be the Coke and Mentos experiment got over 274 million views and is in the top 150 videos of all time. For comparison, Katy Perry (who we'll be seeing a lot more of in a bit) released "Hot and Cold" in 2008, which has managed a feeble 222 million views.

5. “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga // 2009

This video—Gaga’s highest entry into the annals of YouTube popularity—was uploaded in November 2009, eventually pulling in over 614 million viewers (it’s currently seventeenth overall). It is also the only video on the site’s 30 most popular videos that is set at a Russian bathhouse and involves its protagonist killing someone, so points to Gaga for always going her own way.

6. “Baby” by Justin Bieber // 2010

Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber was already well on his way to meteoric superstardom by the time the music video for “Baby” hit the Internet on February 19, 2010. With his debut album “My World 2.0” just a month away from release, the so-called “Beliebers” were already starting to assemble—they just needed something to really get behind. They found it in the bowling alley-set music video, a sweet ode to young teen love, with extra hair-tossing to spare. The video stayed number one on the site for over two years, until yet another pop video—“Gangnam Style”—usurped it, eventually earning nearly double its views.

7. “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO // 2011

The club banger earworm of the decade, trussed up with a surprisingly inventive music video. “Party Rock Anthem” the song may be about the good times, but “Party Rock Anthem” the music video somewhat oddly pulls from the horror film 28 Days Later for its inspiration. Party until you … die? Then keep partying? That’s actually the thrust of the entire video, as LMFAO members Redfoo and Sky Blu party so hard that they actually fall into a coma, only to wake up to a world that can only “shuffle” to their own hit single all day, every day. The video was released on March 8, 2011, and though it has yet to break a billion views (it hovers just under the 819 million mark), it’s still the number four most-viewed video on the site.

8. “Gangnam Style” by Psy // 2012

Uploaded in the middle of an otherwise ordinary summer, South Korean pop star Psy’s 2012 music video for his smash hit “Gangnam Style” didn’t set out to change the YouTube landscape, but that’s exactly what the dance-heavy video ended up doing. Not only did “Gangnam Style” become the most popular YouTube video of 2012, it became the most popular YouTube video of all-time. By November 2012, “Gangnam Style” secured the top spot by ousting the previous number one video (Justin Bieber’s “Baby”). By December, it became the first YouTube video to cross the billion-view mark. Two years later, in December of 2014, the video “broke” YouTube’s view counter, which had previously used a 32-bit integer to measure video views. Once “Gangnam Style” crossed 2,147,483,647 views, YouTube was forced to change their view counter to use a 64-bit integer to keep track of its video views.

9. “Roar” by Katy Perry // 2013

YouTube may not be a video-sharing site that exists solely to provide the masses with hot, fresh music videos, but it might as well be. After all, nine of the top ten viewed videos of all time are music vids for various pop songs (with Perry and Psy leading the pack with two each). The most-viewed video of 2013, Perry’s “Roar” is hovering around the 800 million view mark. The video’s popularity was aided by all sorts of teases before it even appeared on the site in September of 2013. Two weeks before release, a 21-second teaser was available online. The day before, Nokia pushed out a two-minute “behind the scenes” look at the jungle-themed video. Sound like a lot of work? Well, it panned out—“Roar” is now the biggest video to come out of 2013 and is just ahead of Psy’s "Gentleman."

10. “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry, featuring Juicy J // 2014

It’s a two-fer for Perry, who not only has the most popular YouTube video from 2013, but also the most popular YouTube video of 2014. First uploaded in February of 2014, the “Dark Horse” video is also third most popular video overall, passing “Party Rock Anthem” yesterday, and trailing “Baby” by 300 million.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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