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AOL releases UnCut Video, a complete YouTube copycat.

The only difference is that UnCut doesn’t support tagging (via TechCrunch). Too bad it’s such a blatant clone. These sorts of moves rarely succeed. In fact, we just published a Q&A with former PayPal chief executive Peter Thiel, who is investing in some Web 2.0 companies, and we asked him about whether YouTube would be able to keep the lead. His answer is noteworthy.

Our conversation came before the AOL announcement. Keep in mind that Thiel’s experience is relevant here, because PayPal was copied by all kinds of companies, but remained a leader, and became one of the more successful Internet companies in recent years. (And of course, the YouTube guys Steve Chen and Chad Hurley are former PayPal employees).

Q: Do you think the hot company of the month, YouTube, will succeed? It’s got an increasing number of competitors.

A: It’s theirs to lose. When you [get the lead], people will copy you, but you learn a lot by doing it, and by iterating, and you become very hard to overtake. It can happen — like when MySpace overtook Friendster. YouTube is on to something very big. I suspect it’s more than just a fad. It’s very addictive. It is exploiting the so-called “long tail phenomenon.” There’s the traditional broadcast media, but there’s also this huge population of other people who want to post their videos.

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Thiel

Basically, the point is that if you’ve got the lead, and you don’t make any major blunders but stay focused and keep pushing forward on your lead, you should be able to keep it.

Somewhat off-topic: Thiel, we note, is a very thoughtful guy, and the full Q&A is worth reading (even though it was edited down for space). There are some links to stuff about him, such as how he has produced movies, and so on. Thiel is so thoughtful, in fact, that he has this endearing habit of turning his head about 170 degrees around from you, whenever you say something that provokes him to think — which seems to be often. And thus, in this turned position, he peers somewhere down on the ground behind him, and pulls from that space a very forceful answer, which he delivers to you after swiveling around again. Definitely one of the more interesting discussions we’ve had lately.