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It's a YouTube world ... we just surf in it

Will Google's $1.65 billion acquisition of the website squash its independent spirit?

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Talk about a virtual company.

It takes three slow passes to find the headquarters of the Web's most-watched video site, a place where 65,000 mostly homemade, often offbeat, digital clips are uploaded daily to be shared online.

Behind a glass door with no sign – between Amici's pizzeria and Ni-Mo Japanese Cuisine in this high-tech hotbed south of San Francisco – the lobby is a bare 8-by-10-foot cube.

This surprisingly light public footprint belongs to 20-month-old firm YouTube Inc., which had been clomping noisily through the news almost daily even before Google acquired it this week for $1.65 billion in stock. Little YouTube might be moving to plusher quarters.

"This is the next step in the evolution of the Internet," Google chief Eric Schmidt said Monday. Welcome to the culture-shaping website of the hour, a bottom-up media distributor with broadening clout – and not just among the fast-fingered youths that observers like to call "the YouTube generation."

The site streams 100 million videos a day – and has notched 72 million unique visitors to date.

"YouTube has allowed itself to flow into the center of culture, by becoming of the culture," says Marian Salzman, author of several books on trends and executive vice president at ad agency JWT Worldwide. "It feels like it started as a buzz wave, but today it's a ... pillar post in the world of user-generated content."

It has been a guarded post. During a visit to San Mateo last month – before the reason for reticence became clear – security turned away an unscheduled visitor. (Calls and e-mails aimed at arranging a visit had gone unanswered.)

The Google deal begins to answer analysts' concerns about how YouTube might "monetize" its business. It was a blockbuster: By comparison, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. paid $580 million for social-network superstar MySpace.com last July.

Now some experts wonder if the site's core users – youths first attracted to clips of a founder's cat – will feel disenfranchised if its deeply invested new parent is too quick to leverage the site's reach.

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