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Like the competitors from TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, YouTube Shorts are bite-sized videos created in the platform's mobile app where users can integrate popular sounds and remix other video clips. Despite being optimized for taller phone screens, you can watch them on any device with access to YouTube, even a Chromebook. Wherever you watch them, here’s everything you need to know about YouTube Shorts.

The long and short of YouTube Shorts

Since its 2005 launch, YouTube has been a titan of user-generated video and home to countless music videos, trends, memes, and cultural moments. Thirteen years later, it met its biggest competition yet. In August of 2018, TikTok (which had been exclusive to China until this point) merged with, a lip-sync-focused app popular with teens in the U.S. This new global availability positioned it as a major threat to YouTube, outpacing the Google-owned giant in user watch time on Android in August 2021.

Many rival platforms launched their own competitors, including YouTube, which threw its hat into the ring with YouTube Shorts in September 2020. The new feature started exclusively in India before expanding into the US in March 2021 and globally in July 2021.

Despite YouTube not launching Shorts until 2020, the first Short to reach 1 billion views was a 2019 re-upload of a Zach King video, a popular creator who makes “digital sleight of hand” magic trick content. The video, titled “How Zach King Gets Away With Doing Graffiti”, shows Zach climbing a ladder to escape a spray-painted recreation of Banksy graffiti, only for the ladder to be a graffiti optical illusion when a police officer arrives. This video was added to the Shorts program retroactively, having already been in the proper format. The channel that uploaded it was not Zach King’s, though he uploaded the same video to his massively successful channel in March 2023 to less than a quarter of the 2019 upload’s view count. Ironically, King captioned his later upload “good artists borrow, great artists steal."

Though established creators have dominated Shorts, many of them came to Shorts from other platforms like Facebook Video and TikTok. Those that have come from traditional YouTube content have mostly used Shorts to post supplemental content like behind-the-scenes footage and pranks.

What is the difference between YouTube videos and Shorts?

Both traditional videos and YouTube Shorts consist of video content hosted on YouTube, but there are a few key differences. YouTube’s standard long-form videos can be any aspect ratio and up to 12 hours long. Shorts, on the other hand, must be either vertical or square and are capped at 60 seconds.

YouTube videos and Shorts also require different workloads for creators. Creating traditional YouTube videos can be demanding. Viewer expectations around video quality, writing, and editing have only risen over the years. The right cameras and audio equipment can be expensive, and users usually need desktop video editing software. On the other hand, it is much easier to create a Short. You only need your phone and the simple editor built into the YouTube app. They can incorporate audio or music from YouTube’s library, use augmented reality filters, or remix clips of other YouTube videos.

Unlike traditional videos, Shorts can’t be added to playlists, fast-forwarded through, or watched in full screen. They offer a new viewing experience, opting for a vertically scrolling feed instead of a traditional video player. Users don’t choose the next Short to play. Instead, viewers flip through algorithm-suggested Shorts videos with up and down swipes.

Where can I watch YouTube Shorts?

The YouTube home page with a highlighted section dedicated to short videos

Shorts show up everywhere on YouTube. At first, Shorts appeared alongside traditional videos on channel pages, in subscriptions, and in notifications. Because Shorts are typically produced and posted faster than longer videos, users saw their notifications and subscriptions tab flooded with Shorts. Many large creators made separate channels dedicated to Shorts, so their viewers could opt in. YouTube eventually responded by separating Shorts into a new tab on channel pages and adding deeper customization to upload notifications.

The YouTube homepage dedicates a row to Shorts. In early 2022, a Shorts feed was added to the bottom of the screen in the YouTube app and the website side menu. The TV YouTube app also got a big-screen optimized Shorts interface in late 2022. Shorts were also given a dedicated tab on channel pages.


What advantages do YouTube Shorts give creators?Four phone screens showing various YouTube Shorts made on green screen.

After years of creating longer videos, established YouTubers might have difficulty seeing any benefits to creating Shorts. The 60-second cap may seem to limit, but short videos are much more accessible for new viewers and first-time creators. Having shorter runtimes and more casual context can ease writing, editing, and visual composition expectations. This format is also great for reaching new audiences.

Instead of asking for 20 minutes or more of a viewer’s time, Shorts are a minimal time commitment and a great opportunity to quickly introduce longer content to new viewers. They’re also great for behind-the-scenes content, which can increase community engagement.

How are YouTube Shorts monetized?

While traditional videos generate revenue by playing ads before and during the video, Shorts’ time limit and auto-playing feed called for a new approach. YouTube launched the two-year $100 million Shorts Fund to pay popular creators. TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat have used similar fixed funds, though Snapchat’s payouts have been shrinking, and Instagram axed its fund in early 2023.

Beginning in February 2023, the YouTube Shorts Fund was replaced by an ad attribution system similar to the Partner Program that lumps all Shorts ad money into the Creator Pool before distributing it to Shorts creators based on the percentage of total monetized views their videos received. This new approach has the advantage of scaling as Shorts become more popular and signals that, unlike YouTube’s Instagram Stories clone, Shorts have been successful enough to avoid Google’s habit of killing products.

Sizing up the competition

TikTok launched in 2016, picking up the short-form video baton from the ill-fated Vine. Growth was unremarkable until 2020 when pandemic lockdowns kept most people at home. TikTok’s user base more than doubled over the next two years, eating into established social media giants’ usage.

In response, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube developed almost identical competitors, hoping to leverage their massive existing user bases to protect their leads. Today, creators have four main platforms to choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses.

A TikTok of a man with his son on his shoulders with the caption 'Raising a comedian!'
Source: TikTok

TikTok has a bit of a lead on vertical video, with some of the best augmented reality effects available (and the ability to create your own), a powerful suggestion algorithm, and the recent addition of 20-minute videos. Monetization and content virality have garnered criticism, though. Videos go viral seemingly at random, with the algorithm sometimes promoting a creator’s content to new, and sometimes unreceptive or hostile, audiences (via Washington Post). In early 2023, TikTok confirmed reports that some employees artificially boost, or “heat,” videos. This damage public trust in a company already embroiled in controversy over its ties with China.

Snapchat’s Spotlight feature shares a younger audience with TikTok but lacks the content quality its competitors have. Many Spotlight videos are either out-of-context clips you might see on someone’s Snapchat Story or clearly from a content farm trying to go viral. Spotlight’s creator payouts have also decreased significantly since the feature’s launch.

Three screenshots of Instagram Reels app's discovery page, editing page, and recording screen.
Source: Instagram

Instagram was heavily criticized after the platform shifted from prioritizing photos and stories to Instagram Reels (via SocialMediaToday). Kylie Jenner and other celebrities called for the platform to return to its roots instead of chasing TikTok. Aside from this controversy, creators report lower engagement on Reels, and the company ended its creator fund in March 2023.

Of TikTok’s competitors, YouTube has the most established and diverse audience for video content. It also has some of the most robust viewer analytics tools in the game, and Shorts are already watchable on almost any device.

Playing the long game

In 2018, TikTok proved the value of short-form, vertical video. With an established user base, a scalable monetization system, and an app accessible on almost anything with a screen, YouTube Shorts is one of many solid competitors to the ByteDance-owned platform. Shorts have given established creators an on-ramp for new viewers and brought new creators to the platform. And as of February 2023, YouTube Shorts crossed 50 billion daily views, and it's only getting stronger.

As one of the top tech YouTubers, Marques Brownlee, says it, “They’re showing Shorts to people all the time, and they’ve kind of started to set the bait for full-time TikTokers to become YouTubers.”