That Time I Got In Trouble With The Government


I got an email a couple of weeks ago, asking: how do you get started making stuff online? If you’re starting from scratch, if you have zero followers, zero subscribers, zero anything, how do you get an audience? How do you get popular on the internet? The first time I tried to answer that question, it was more than ten years ago. YouTube didn’t even exist back then, and I thought I knew it all. I didn’t, and I probably still don’t. But with another decade and a million subscribers
under my belt since then, I can at least tell you the rules that
I’ve worked by for the last 15 years or so, not just for YouTube, but for anywhere online. The short answer is: you just make stuff. The long answer… well, the best way to tell that does not start
on an incredibly rainy Scottish island. It starts down in London. Right. I’ve been making stuff for the internet
pretty much all my adult life. I had a few decent hits when I was younger, viral web pages and games and short videos that were forwarded on through email in the
days before social media. But those were one-off bolts from the blue, they were nothing you could base
any sort of career on. When I was 19, the British government mailed
a leaflet out to every home in the country. It was called Preparing for Emergencies, and it gave some pretty obvious advice on
what to do in the event of a disaster. There was a lot of cynicism about that leaflet, and while the intentions were good, it was mostly seen as a waste
of the taxpayers’ money. The government also put up preparingforemergencies.gov.uk. They forgot to register preparingforemergencies.co.uk, so I bought the domain, copied their web site, changed all the text to be really sarcastic, sent it off to a few friends,
and went to bed. That sort of joke was still
new and exciting in 2004. I’ll be honest,
it hasn’t aged well since then. This was before social media,
way before smartphones. Facebook had only just got its first round
of investment, and it was only open to a few US colleges. That joke was being forwarded by email from
person to person to person, because that’s how it worked back then. And the feedback that I was getting
was by email. Anyway, when I woke up the morning after, okay, I was a student, so it was
probably the afternoon after, but, I had some emails from friends saying
‘that’s quite funny’. And so I had some messages from people
I didn’t know saying ‘that’s quite funny’. And then there were some messages from
people whose email addresses ended in .gov.uk, saying, ‘that’s quite funny,
it’s doing the rounds of the civil servants’. And then there was a message from someone in the government department responsible
for the original leaflet, saying ‘take it down’. And I said no. And it turns out that while mocking
the government is a reasonably good gag, mocking the government and then
having the government not find it funny, that is a really good gag. At least in countries where
you can get away with it. That takedown request meant that
the news got interested, and this went all over the country, as in, national newspapers and local television coverage. And it was just a quick joke that I’d put
together in an hour or so because… well, because the alternative was not doing it. Preparing for Emergencies was the first
demonstration I had of a principle I now know and
have worked with for years: that the chances of a project succeeding
aren’t really coupled to how much time, effort and money
you’ve spent on it. And it can often seem like the opposite
is true. You’ll see people complain that the thing they’ve poured all their
heart and soul and effort and time into, that thing sank, but something quick and dirty that they
slapped together has become popular. And maybe that’s true,
maybe that is how it works sometimes. But I would bet that, like me,
anyone with that complaint has made loads and loads of
quick and dirty things. And most of those will have failed. It’s just that they didn’t care as much
about those quick and dirty things, they just don’t remember them as much, compared to that One Big Project. If you spent ten dollars and one hour
on an idea, it is likely to fail. But if you spend a million dollars and a year
on an idea, it is still likely to fail. There’s an old adage called Sturgeon’s Law:
“90% of everything is crap”. I realise that isn’t what Theodore Sturgeon
actually said, it’s been cut down a bit over the years,
but the idea holds. Sturgeon was a science fiction author, and his reply to the idea that “90% of science
fiction is crap”, was yes, it is, but only because
90% of everything is crap. Most things fail. And sure, something that’s spent
months being polished might have a slightly better
chance of survival: but the odds are still against you.
Instead of polishing, you could spend those months shoving out ten
or twenty or a hundred ideas, and each one of those projects is
a new roll of the dice. And each one of those projects is
something you learn from, something that helps make the next roll of
the dice just a little more likely to succeed. Of course, this is all assuming that your
definition of success involves being popular or getting paid for it. These days, I know that I could
probably make a lot more money and save a lot of effort if I just
stood in front of a green screen and monologued about “Incredible Facts
About Cartoon Series You Won’t Believe” or “Ancient Mysteries
‘They’ Don’t Want You To Know About”. But then, I wouldn’t be travelling so much, I wouldn’t be having so much fun and maybe I wouldn’t have kept going through
rough times. There are other definitions of success that
aren’t just about the numbers. More than a decade ago,
I came up with this graph. Across the bottom is effort,
and across the side is awesome. This is still the guiding principle
that I use to determine whether I’m going to do a project or not. And sure,what I consider ‘effort’ and
‘awesome’ have changed over the years, both in definition and in scale. Awesome doesn’t have to mean money,
or viewcount, it can mean getting to do something really cool
or working with someone you admire. You define your own success. Anyway. Naive me, at 19, thought
there was a chance of going right from Preparing for Emergencies
to a full-time job making weird stuff for a living. There wasn’t any chance of that. Obviously, in hindsight. Because the people looking at the site weren’t
going “oh, he’s good”, they were going “oh, that’s good”. There was no reason to stick around, no reason to do the 2004 equivalent to clicking
the subscribe button, which was clicking a subscribe button,
it just added an RSS feed to your reader. I miss RSS. Anyway, I got lots of lovely emails about
Preparing for Emergencies, I made a couple of contacts from it,
but that was all. I’d taken only the first step up the ladder, and I had no idea how long
that ladder would be. So I kept making stuff. But back then, I was missing a piece of the puzzle, and it’s a really important piece. But to explain that,
I need to start heading north.

100 Comments

  1. Tom Scott said:

    This is the first of a trilogy! Part two is out on Wednesday, and part three on Friday. They're three different stories, with three different messages, in three different locations, but with one overarching story. Hopefully it's worth the effort!

    August 24, 2018
    Reply
  2. Anders said:

    Wow, I didn't know our humourless left wing government was trying to censor free speech as far back as 2004

    June 17, 2019
    Reply
  3. Michael Woll said:

    Correction: Both YouTube and Facebook were around quite longer than "10 years ago".

    June 18, 2019
    Reply
  4. Flo said:

    Always try to get in trouble with the government. Got it.

    June 20, 2019
    Reply
  5. Anudeep R said:

    All this video tells me is to make videos on what’s trending

    June 22, 2019
    Reply
  6. ship another ship said:

    How to get famous on YouTube? Be well spoken.

    June 23, 2019
    Reply
  7. Wyhiob Carlile said:

    The best part of this: scott's site is still up, uk's isn't

    June 23, 2019
    Reply
  8. Francisco Scaramango said:

    So Tom you are 34?

    June 23, 2019
    Reply
  9. Zeus Kabob said:

    "the thing they've poured their heart, soul, and effort and time into; that thing sank; but something quick and dirty that they slapped together has become popular" This is a personal attack on all Game Masters.

    June 26, 2019
    Reply
  10. Zeus Kabob said:

    RSS feeds are still relevant. I think they'll still be relevant as long as people who use them are relevant.

    June 26, 2019
    Reply
  11. Thorn said:

    Wow

    July 8, 2019
    Reply
  12. Joe Ross said:

    you didn't even come close to being in trouble with the government , try being tommy robinson for a day

    July 13, 2019
    Reply
  13. Shrekie Hulk said:

    What i did is just post videos and stuff, i stream now because its easier,ive gotten 300 subscribers so far

    July 14, 2019
    Reply
  14. KaputPictures said:

    Clickbait, just clickbait.

    July 15, 2019
    Reply
  15. Christopher Miller said:

    YouTube was around ten years ago don't spread misinformation

    July 15, 2019
    Reply
  16. Maxwell Moller said:

    4:59 look! The rudest gull in London.

    July 16, 2019
    Reply
  17. RagbagMcShag said:

    Ive been long enough on the internet to say that the less time you spend on it the better it works out

    July 18, 2019
    Reply
  18. Naief Alromi said:

    that jacket tho

    July 19, 2019
    Reply
  19. Gordank Freekman said:

    Nice

    July 20, 2019
    Reply
  20. John Patriot eagle freedom boner said:

    So you didn’t actually get in trouble.

    July 20, 2019
    Reply
  21. sweiland75 said:

    PRO-ject

    July 20, 2019
    Reply
  22. RichardoCrispus said:

    That point when a parody website outlasts the original serious one…..

    July 20, 2019
    Reply
  23. Elizabeth Travels said:

    this is such a good video

    July 21, 2019
    Reply
  24. Mikey O. said:

    I highly apprecite your effort in your videos!

    July 22, 2019
    Reply
  25. Jamie Carter said:

    Best way is to run multiple virtual computer bots with a algorithm that will watch share and like your content as that is the only way to become popular in a viral situated Society

    July 22, 2019
    Reply
  26. fin screenname said:

    Been a you tube member from 2007. Its older then 10 years.

    July 23, 2019
    Reply
  27. a man of many parts said:

    They don't like it up 'em, Captain Mainwearing 😆

    July 23, 2019
    Reply
  28. Android User said:

    So did you make any decent money from it ?

    July 23, 2019
    Reply
  29. joseph jackson said:

    Way to be popular: do something viral and borderline illegal.

    -Tom Scott 2018

    July 24, 2019
    Reply
  30. depressed soul said:

    Sorry Tom, I am not interested in being famous on internet or anything, I only watch your videos because of your accent 😂😂

    July 24, 2019
    Reply
  31. SweetCron said:

    I'm just a stupid American, but I really enjoy your spin.

    July 25, 2019
    Reply
  32. ShellShock794 said:

    The best part of this video is that you refused to take the website down. The vast majority of people cave instantly when confronted and it drives me insane

    July 25, 2019
    Reply
  33. Madi said:

    2:52 “thomas scott”

    July 25, 2019
    Reply
  34. thisbliss81 said:

    This guy's accent persona and mannerisms are great

    July 25, 2019
    Reply
  35. Chris Tapp said:

    I am a struggling songwriter, this really spoke to me! Great video, great channel! Keep it up!

    July 26, 2019
    Reply
  36. AlexTheNut11 said:

    Two drums and a cymbal fall of a cliff

    July 26, 2019
    Reply
  37. Mick Shi said:

    Thank you Tom, I can really use this video during this time of my life

    July 26, 2019
    Reply
  38. - SammygoodTunes - said:

    Do something unexpected

    July 26, 2019
    Reply
  39. basil fawlty said:

    I clicked your emergencies link. I'm impressed by your level of trolling 😀

    July 27, 2019
    Reply
  40. Slanders Pete said:

    This looks like the most clickbait thing I've ever seen.

    July 27, 2019
    Reply
  41. Rainbow Myr said:

    That obvious jab at fact fiend about 5 minutes in is savage

    July 28, 2019
    Reply
  42. Astir01 said:

    What if you only have ONE idea? Like the guy who one fine day just thought: What if the earth was flat?

    July 28, 2019
    Reply
  43. cianacrash said:

    Comment ( ' :

    July 30, 2019
    Reply
  44. Animiles said:

    Sounds like an anime title xD

    July 30, 2019
    Reply
  45. MusicalElitist1 said:

    You are amazing!!!!!

    July 30, 2019
    Reply
  46. TheUnknown Gamer said:

    Wear a black coat in front of a gravel beach

    July 31, 2019
    Reply
  47. David Krantz said:

    I also miss RSS, although RSS still exists and works although mostly superseded by Atom which serves the same purpose. Youtube supports RSS and as the subscription handling sucks nowadays I have resorted to using RSS for the channels I really want to follow. There are lots of RSS readers, Feedly is always one alternative.

    That said, RSS is not used as much as it merits. But then the Internet is being substituted by walled gardens like Facebook, Youtube et al. that are built mostly on internet technology but still proprietary and far from the free and optimistic Internet I worked with as a student.

    July 31, 2019
    Reply
  48. Michael O'Donoghue said:

    You can not Polish a Turd, but you can Roll It in Glitter.

    August 1, 2019
    Reply
  49. KissTheGreat said:

    4:42 shots fired at Simon Whistler

    August 3, 2019
    Reply
  50. Kenneth James said:

    The UK government didn't like being mocked back in '04? I'd of told em to sod off! The Canadian government is the same…but know when to heel…idiots on Ottawa sometimes I tell ya.

    August 4, 2019
    Reply
  51. Grace Danika said:

    If you love me I ll be popular 😉😂

    August 5, 2019
    Reply
  52. Good luck everyone said:

    If it was in USA Tom would still be in jail.

    August 6, 2019
    Reply
  53. mohair said:

    What a lot of waffle

    August 7, 2019
    Reply
  54. MrNateSPF said:

    Step 1. Use the internet
    Step 2. Get popular.

    August 7, 2019
    Reply
  55. Roland Recario said:

    "I miss RSS" – Tom Scott

    August 9, 2019
    Reply
  56. The Manitoba Wingnuts said:

    Rolling the dice with every project, so true!

    August 9, 2019
    Reply
  57. Will Triff said:

    I'm not sure if this guy is 20 or 60 I'm very confused but it makes me keep watching

    August 9, 2019
    Reply
  58. Allwin Edwin said:

    It seems like the 80 20 principle

    August 10, 2019
    Reply
  59. stevensonrf said:

    How to be popular on the internet? Simple! Cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage.

    August 10, 2019
    Reply
  60. Tug And Thug Computing said:

    Classic site

    August 11, 2019
    Reply
  61. mikeportjogger1 said:

    Interesting that after a year, about half your subscribers haven't actually watched this video. I'm not a subscriber but have, and give it a thumbs-up.

    August 12, 2019
    Reply
  62. Bill McDonald said:

    Quoting Sturgeon's Law. Nice one. Funny how it's not all that common these days, eh?

    August 12, 2019
    Reply
  63. Skylar 070 said:

    Thumbnail and title are so unrelated lmao

    August 12, 2019
    Reply
  64. Needle Factory said:

    This is surprisingly good. I was expecting a long monologue about video editing or improving Twitter reach. Refreshingly humble.
    Thanks.

    August 12, 2019
    Reply
  65. The Very Ground said:

    I'd hate to be popular. What the hell do ya wanna be popular for. One of the best things about my music is that it isn't popular at all. It's brilliant!

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  66. Melvin said:

    So quantity over quality?

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  67. Cherryrose Blood said:

    5:12, mmmgg girls and cat eyes are the same color for the ASR’st Hulu app,

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  68. Cherryrose Blood said:

    The iPhone control picks up on the, connection options

    August 13, 2019
    Reply
  69. Riley Zarm said:

    This should be a TedTalk.

    August 14, 2019
    Reply
  70. Deus Ex said:

    I can't tell if you're 25 or 50

    August 14, 2019
    Reply
  71. Pyre Squire said:

    Tf

    August 15, 2019
    Reply
  72. Howard SIX said:

    Modern day Spine Milligna.(read his book for explanation)
    Why is abbreviation such a long word.?
    Well done Tom, as always……………..Kudos m8.

    August 19, 2019
    Reply
  73. Spencer Dana said:

    Thanks Tom. I really want to do what you describe here

    August 19, 2019
    Reply
  74. AndrewBrewer917 said:

    Imagine living a country that doesn't guarantee your right to free speech

    August 19, 2019
    Reply
  75. Peter Yianilos said:

    Your DO IT diagram is brilliant and I will be tacking it up wherever I think it will help. Thanks Tom!

    August 20, 2019
    Reply
  76. Hannah Miyamoto said:

    Does anyone else still remember "Hamsterdance?"

    August 21, 2019
    Reply
  77. REDxStep said:

    So from this video we learned, that quantity is always over quality, just because quality still has a chance of failing.

    Alright, alright, I get it that it's for people who are intentionally trying to get popular, I just find this statement funny in some way.

    August 22, 2019
    Reply
  78. The Generalissimo said:

    "Hasen't aged well"
    Well I would certainly disagree.

    August 22, 2019
    Reply
  79. Tom Millard said:

    Should you really be looking at how to be popular on the internet just to fit in or should you say the truth wether it's popular or not ? 🤔

    August 22, 2019
    Reply
  80. Fred Seeking Bible Truth said:

    Your popularity may have something to do with your voice. It sounds professional and new casters or documentary style. That is a compliment by the way. I have 2 youtube channels that I am trying to get off the ground. So this could help me, thank you.

    August 26, 2019
    Reply
  81. Jerry Bean said:

    Dude tom Scott's like my dad

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  82. Neymarinet said:

    A year ago today, still nostalgic as ever.

    Thanks for bringing up RSS feeds and making me feel old 🙁

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  83. The Guds Production said:

    Hi Tom, I'm your new subscriber from Indonesia. I enjoy watching your videos, you explain everything thing clearly and honestly.

    August 27, 2019
    Reply
  84. Alec Zero said:

    I finally get what Diablo was trying to teach me

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  85. Vylsa said:

    I love you for the succes part

    August 28, 2019
    Reply
  86. Steve Patterson said:

    I remember that website, didn't know it was you 🙂

    September 2, 2019
    Reply
  87. Krzyzstof Polecat said:

    I remembered that leaflet vividly when it popped up, that was 15 years ago? Seems like it was about 5 years ago :/

    September 4, 2019
    Reply
  88. Land of Logic said:

    Tom, do you just travel to random locations simply to use them as a back drop, then go home?

    September 6, 2019
    Reply
  89. Potato said:

    Why does this dude look like Martin Freeman?

    September 8, 2019
    Reply
  90. Jason Christiansen said:

    Timing…… must be spot on.

    September 8, 2019
    Reply
  91. I Created An Account For This said:

    You start by creating an account.

    September 8, 2019
    Reply
  92. Gero 1556 said:

    Now why is Tom Scott sitting in the rain ?

    September 8, 2019
    Reply
  93. Frazer Guest said:

    I enjoy your ‘shorts’ Each one about a different subject, almost always about something I didn’t know anything about.

    Your enthusiasm is infectious and inspires me to go off and learn more about the subjects of your videos.

    Many thanks.

    September 9, 2019
    Reply
  94. admthrawnuru said:

    You should take that website down. A group I was in thought it was the real one and thus followed your advise to run during a T-Rex attack. Since their eyesight is based on movement, I was gmt only survivor.

    September 9, 2019
    Reply
  95. KAY B 14 said:

    4:50 very good Simon whistler imitation!

    September 9, 2019
    Reply
  96. Matti said:

    how often do you go up there.. with that exact jacket

    September 10, 2019
    Reply
  97. ATLHooligan said:

    So your advice is make as much crap as possible…

    September 11, 2019
    Reply
  98. whanowa said:

    I just love that you can speak straight unlike most YouTubers who need a cut after every half a sentence.

    September 11, 2019
    Reply
  99. lifeintaiwan said:

    LOVE THIS

    September 12, 2019
    Reply
  100. Bourdeaux Photo said:

    YouTube’s been around more than 10 years. I remember it before it was bought by google and it’s gone downhill ever since. Also, social media was around way before Facebook. Xanga, Bebo, MySpace, etc.

    September 12, 2019
    Reply

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