YouTube stars’ fury over al­go­rithm tests

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

Some of YouTube's most pop­u­lar stars have crit­i­cised the web­site for "ex­per­i­ment­ing" with how their videos are de­liv­ered to their fans.

Unan­nounced, YouTube started test­ing an al­go­rithm that changed the or­der videos ap­peared in users' sub­scrip­tion feeds.

The ex­per­i­ment came to light when some users com­plained on so­cial me­dia.

One YouTube star said it was the worst de­ci­sion the web­site had made for years. But YouTube de­fended its ex­per­i­ment.

Orig­i­nally, the YouTube sub­scrip­tion feed was a chrono­log­i­cal list of videos from all the chan­nels that a per­son had cho­sen to "sub­scribe" to. The sys­tem let peo­ple cu­rate a per­son­alised feed full of con­tent from their favourite video-mak­ers.

How­ever, many video-mak­ers have pre­vi­ously com­plained that some of their videos have not ap­peared in the sub­scrip­tion feed, and have ques­tioned whether YouTube ma­nip­u­lates the list to boost viewer re­ten­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue.

YouTube's lat­est ex­per­i­ment - which it said ap­peared for a "small num­ber" of users - changed the or­der of videos in the feed. In­stead of show­ing the most re­cent videos at the top, YouTube said the ma­nip­u­lated feed showed peo­ple "the videos they want to watch".

"When I click sub­scribe on a Youtube chan­nel, that's me say­ing: 'More of this, please,'" ex­plained video-maker Gary C.

"I don't ex­pect to be force fed things YouTube 'thinks' I should see. I have nearly 47,000 peo­ple who said 'yes', yet I'm reg­u­larly asked if I still post videos."

Tech­nol­ogy vlog­ger Mar­ques Brown­lee - who has more than six mil­lion sub­scribers - said pri­ori­tis­ing videos "they think we want to see" was a "busi­ness move". But he added: "It's a sub­scrip­tion box. Users chose to sub­scribe. They want to see it all. If they don't, they'll un­sub­scribe."

"Peo­ple use the sub­scrip­tion tab to mainly avoid this sort of algorithmic be­hav­iour on the plat­form," said games re­viewer Sean McLough­lin, who pro­duces videos as Jack­sep­tic­eye. "Please keep that to the home page and rec­om­men­da­tions."

Life­style vlog­ger Al­fie Deyes, who has more than five mil­lion sub­scribers on the plat­form, said it was "the worst de­ci­sion YouTube has made in the past nine years I've been mak­ing videos".

YouTube said the ex­per­i­ment only ap­peared for a "small num­ber" of peo­ple. It stressed the "per­son­alised" feed was op­tional and that it was not plan­ning to re­move the chrono­log­i­cal feed.

YouTube has shifted its fo­cus away from the num­ber of "views" that a video at­tracts to over­all "watch time". Video-mak­ers are now en­cour­aged to pro­duce longer videos that keep view­ers on the plat­form for longer.

The change ex­plains why pre­vi­ously short videos, such as DIY demon­stra­tions or "how-to" tu­to­ri­als, are now of­ten dragged out over 10 min­utes or more.

"We're test­ing a set­ting that al­lows users to sort the sub­scrip­tions feed based on the con­tent a user usu­ally en­gages with the most," the com­pany said in a state­ment.

"This is one of many small ex­per­i­ments we run all the time on YouTube."

One video edi­tor sug­gested YouTube needed to im­prove its com­mu­ni­ca­tion about al­go­rithm ex­per­i­ments.

"Just tell us or email be­fore you roll out an 'ex­per­i­ment'," said Seth Brown. "It's not that hard guys."

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