Around the time of its 2005 launch, many people "dismissed YouTube as just a repository for cat videos." That was until ostensible confessional blogger Lonelygirl15 came along in 2006 and changed everything. In a lengthy piece for the Guardian, Elena Cresci recounts the story of YouTube's first moneymaking web series and the lie it was based on. It all started June 16, 2006, with Bree—aka Lonelygirl15—and her first vlog. Bree sold herself as a bored, homeschooled teen that was part of a mysterious religion. She had one friend, Daniel. "She became one of the young site’s most popular stars," Cresci writes. But she was a fake. Lonelygirl15 was the invention of Miles Beckett and Mesh Flinders. “I thought it would be really cool if there was a video blogger and you told the story just like you would a TV show,” Beckett tells Cresci. Bree was played by Jessica Lee Rose. Yousef Abu-Taleb played Daniel.
Their episodes, shot on a webcam in Flinders' bedroom, were scripted. Beckett worked tirelessly behind the scenes to figure out how to get Lonelygirl15 into the most viewed section. He discovered how YouTube's algorithm chooses a video preview image. “If it was a good freeze frame, you would get like 100,000 more views," Flinders says. "But as her popularity grew," Cresci writes, "so too did the suspicions." Web sleuths went to work trying to uncover evidence that Bree was not who she said she was. That finally happened in September 2006. The people behind the Lonelygirl15 fessed up. Still, the series, the first on YouTube to make money off of product placement, continued for two years. And, despite being killed off a year into the series, Lonelygirl15 appears to have returned. She posted a new video on Thursday—a decade to the day after her first appearance on YouTube. Read the whole story here. (Read more LonelyGirl15 stories.)