I am starting to wonder if YouTube needs more help managing its content - because such a large catalog with an incredible amount of individuality and variety really needs a personal touch. While some of that is taken care of by a variety of creators in each niche, perhaps it is time that the front page algorithms undergo a significant change that includes not just more variety, but more human interaction.
YouTube Algorithm and Curated Video Content
In my journey to rediscover online video, this past month has been interesting. I’ve noticed heavy amounts of Ellen and the other major network talk show hosts on the front page. Clicking on just one of these videos flips the entire front page into “talk show host only” mode it seems. I can appreciate the financial nature of the business; especially if that space is worth a significant chunk of revenue and the site continues to grow. But one of the reasons I have enjoyed YouTube for so long is because of the variety. It is no wonder I find it frustrating when major portions of the front page shift towards content directly similar to only content I have watched or liked. That’s what my subscription box is for. Discovering a variety of content is difficult when I only get content related to something I have already watched.
Today, something bizarre happened with my front page. I clicked on a video interview from Ellen with the guys from “Damn, Daniel”. If you haven’t caught on to the craze yet, just stop by their Twitter pages and see the video that started it all. Or which the Ellen clip below:
After I watched the video and returned to the home page, my recommended box, which sat just below the main area of the front page today, was a bizarre mix. It included four videos from the same creator – GizmoSlip, one VEVO channel, a video from How Ridiculous and another video from Ellen. Aside from that, every piece of content was either from a compilation channel or freebooted. I have no idea how GizmoSlip got so many spots, but I’m more worried about freebooted content being what YouTube is recommending I watch. It's almost as if the site is putting its seal of approval on it by giving it such a high ranking on the front page.
Compilation Pages are Taking over YouTube
Hopefully the content owners are getting the credit they deserve via YouTube’s Content ID system. But it strikes me as absolutely bizarre that the most coveted space on YouTube is being populated by content that isn't being uploaded by the original creator. It is encouraging the very behavior that has caused the community backlash in the last few weeks over its treatment of fair use. Even if this content has been properly monetized, there is still no reason YouTube should be promoting it over the original content owners.
For example, the video dropping a ball off a damn would be much better served as the original video from Veritasium witch has over 30 million views, rather than the freebooted copy that has only 10 million views. And how is it compilation channels continue to exist? Some of them properly license their content, but many just plain steal from creators in order to create these compilation videos. Allowing these channels to persist leaves little reason to watch the original content. I enjoy a good compilation video as much as the next viewer, but if they aren’t being done with the proper consent, they need to be stopped and certainly shouldn’t be getting featured on the front page.
Freebooting is bad enough, but the bigger issue is a lack of discoverability and the repetitive nature of the front page. Once you watch something, you get stuck in a loop of seeing too much similar and promoted content. This hampers a viewer’s ability to find new things. This is especially troublesome when there is so much to watch on YouTube and so many creators going unwatched. After watching Ellen’s interview, I got an entire section of only Ellen, simply because I clicked on her video. Ellen is pretty awesome, but the reason I clicked on her link was because of the people being interviewed, not her. I should have been served more of Daniel and Josh, not more of Ellen. But the algorithms can’t detect that. A team of content managers would be better able to understand the pulse of online video and curate a wider variety of suggestions, more representative of the freedom of expression behind YouTube, without converting my entire front page because I simply clicked on one link.
Redisovering Online Video: Tips and Observations
- Be careful in how you structure your metadata so as not to create a dead-end for viewers. While you could get viewers to watch more of your content, it may shorten session times, which would lead to lower ranking in the YouTube algorithms.
- Make sure and promote your best videos at the beginning of any hygiene content, it will give you another opportunity to draw in people who may have missed it the first time.
- Do not skip on the YouTube description box. I saw a trailer for a major movie this month with no links at all in the description box. Rather than looking for more information on their site, I moved on in my viewing.
- Why is the video I just came from in the sidebar or autoplay queue ever? Serialized content was catching me in a loop where I kept going back to the previous video and not the next one in sequence.
- Why is the video I just watched on the home page? You recommended it to me, I watched it. Pick one of your other billion videos to feature!
- Videos not centered on conversation/vlogging cause me to treat YouTube like television. For those videos, I watch until I'm bored and go away. Interactions, a community, a sense of belonging give me a reason to stay longer, although watch time may not directly show it.
- I saw a video in the “Trending” tab with only 14k views. Come on now YouTube, that’s not trending, I’d be willing to bet that’s bought and paid for by the artist. Nothing wrong with a little paid promotion, but let's not blur the lines too much here.