Thoughts on the direction of YouTube in Google's hands in the wake of the new comment system scandal.

YouTube caught my eye this week. It was one of those things where the negative response reaches you before you actually know what all the fuss is about. Before I was aware of any big changes in the internet economy, reddit’s front page was blowing up with backlash against YouTube.

Aside from getting the creeps from this weird, artificial friend group making a big deal about this lady’s volcano cake, I didn’t get much from the video. It wasn’t until I read the official changelog released by Google to clarify what was going on.

We told you recently that better commenting is coming to YouTube. Starting this week, when you’re watching a video on YouTube, you’ll see comments sorted by people you care about first. If you post videos on your channel, you also have more tools to moderate welcome and unwelcome conversations. This way, YouTube comments will become conversations that matter to you.

In other words, I think it’s fair to say that Google is trying turn the comments section into a more sensible log of conversations with people you likely know. All is lock-step with their long term initiative that has been in motion since Google’s purchase of the video-sharing giant.

While YouTube was just budding as a phenomenon and entering into its popularity honeymoon, Google plunked down 1.65 billion dollars to call it its own. Google unwrapped its early Christmas present to find everything it could have wanted – only there was a little problem. YouTube’s booming community who made the site so popular were, in large, total douchebags.


Figure 1: YouTubers are mean at their best, and Satan at their worst.

The comments were terrible. People were to free to post videos, as long as they didn’t scroll past the video info or had hide comparable to an Thompson tank.

It was apparent that Google’s first initiative with their newly acquired fix-up project was to introduce accountability. For the first few years, this took the form of more proactive comment moderation. YouTube encouraged videographers to mute the offensive and be more vigilant in reporting abuse, but nothing made any noticeable difference. No matter who was lashing back, your run-of-the-mill YouTube d-bag was fearless. All you knew about him was his screenname. He was invincible.

In 2011, Google rolled another whip out of its garage. They called it Google+, and it was hyped to unify all of our social networking needs under a company that can do it right (although it has come to my attention that the hype behind Google coming into the ring as a Facebook-killer was contrived – that Google never wanted G+ to compete with Facebook. I am looking into it now, because that is definitely not what I remember).

In only a short period of time of being live, Google+ profiles were on the rise. I was kind of impressed, initially, until I found out where they were getting all of these new users.

Google, in the middle of a night, converted your YouTube account into a Google+ account. This meant users signing into YouTube were prompted to enter their name (the one their mothers gave ‘em). This is what they would be known by on YouTube.

Now I’m not really a YouTube user. I mean, I use YouTube, but I use it exactly how Google wants me too. I use it to share videos with people I know, and I comment on the videos with my real name. But after some mental wrestling, I finally came to appreciate what was scaring people so much. For a while, YouTube was a safe haven for blowing off steam. In a single night, you were asked to tack your real name onto every single comment you made (and if you weren’t paying attention that morning, that’s exactly what happened).

But I don’t want to jump into that yet. Let’s save the crimes against humanity for another time. I’m not done condescending yet.

The Fiasco

I can describe what Google did with YouTube in hindsight as a fiasco without even getting emotionally worked up. Like I said, I’m not a YouTuber – nor do I spend a lot of time in the big tech news sector. But a quick scrape of wikipedia shows that Google never did anything like this again. Looking at a list of Google's buy-outs and acquisitions, the YouTube purchase makes it into its top three, lead only by Motorola Mobility and their backend advertising service (Google is, primarily, an advertising company, you know).

But Google has never bought anything as popular as YouTube was, and they never have since. I believe this is because the purchase seeded issues that Google is still wrestling with today.

The root of Google’s issues with the people who use YouTube is that the community does not associate itself with Google. Why did the switch to real names for YouTube channels get so much back lash? It’s because the screen names were there first. Any of the OG’s using YouTube before Google stepped in as the new pimp (or any of the users that predated Google+) chose their screen name because that’s what they wanted to be known as.

The middle finger emoticons, Swastikas, and sexually charged expletives that hound each cute volcano-dessert-like video announcement of more Google+ integration (not to mention the building petition of celebrity YouTubers that disapprove of the new commenting system ) suggest to me that most YouTubers are loyal to YouTube first.

And just as much as YouTube doesn’t respect Google, you can be sure that Google doesn’t respect the original YouTube community. Just take a look at the workflow of how Google plans to transition it’s community.

  1. You log into YouTube using your fun, quirky username.
  2. YouTube asks you if you want to use your real name in your profile, instead of your username.
  3. Wanting to remain anonymous, you click ‘No’

Here is the kicker. Want to see what screen shows up next?


Figure 2: Can you imagine how many people have cursed at this caption box?

“Ok. We’ll ask you again later.”

That’s it. No opt out. I didn’t understand this at first. Is Google going to roofie me later, then get me to log into YouTube? If I don’t want to use my name on YouTube, I’m not sure what could change my mind “later”, other than a family member of mine being held hostage.

A wise man told me something about writing a website for users. Treat your users like they are drunk. Make all the buttons big and easy to find. Make everything really simple.

But don’t treat your user like they are stupid. Note that a man with an IQ of 170 still has that IQ when he is drunk. His vision may be blurry, so you make the buttons easy to see. He may have a hard time balancing, so you show him where to go. But you do not treat him like an idiot.

Google prompting you for your real name, then simply ignoring your preferences is disrespectful. If you want to mandate things, just do it. Follow the example of Facebook by pissing off your users with a new layout design, then turn off your monitor and wait for everything to blow over. OR – allow your user to continue to use their preferences. Either of these choices would get backlash, but at least you would treat your users like their opinion matters.

Google bought YouTube and got what they asked for, but they forgot to look out for the very people that made YouTube so valuable in the first place. We all wanted Google to come in and just improve things in the background. If only YouTube stayed the same, and Google just ran the warehouse a little more smoothly. It is becoming clear that this is not Google’s intention. You can choose to run from it, scream at it, or contact your local congressman about it, but there is a glimmer in Google’s eye of a deanonymized YouTube, and perhaps a deanonymized Internet.


Figure 3: What have we become? And who even looks like that?

Well this post went a little long. I was going to go a little deeper and discuss something that is a little closer to my heart, but I will have to save it.

Next week: the importance of anonymity on the Internet.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far). Sleep tight, and don’t let Google bite.

Date: 2013-11-10 Sun 00:00

Author: Alex Recker

Created: 2018-11-12 Mon 07:36