Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Things that suck about YouTube

One thing YouTube has in common with every online environment I've experienced in the last ten or so years is that it's full of bitchfights. I've voiced my own displeasure (in my usual restrained way) with its shortcomings both on this blog and on YouTube itself but even I think there's a few people who need to sit down to a three-course serving of calm the fuck down.

I actually had a video of my own taken down by the powers that be for being "inappropriate" for the first time recently. This is enough reason in itself for me to get pissed off at the YouTube administrators again but it's far more the way they do things than what they do that pisses me off. In short, their decision making process is completely opaque - they provide no communication about what they're doing or why they're doing it. Considering they're providing a service that allows for unprecedented levels of open communication this is almost ironic. It isn't quite ironic - it would be more accurate to call in mind-fucking-bogglingly stupid.

Take my case; the video they took down had been up for about three months without causing the collapse of western civilisation. I say "about" because I don't know when it was taken down because I was given no notification whatsoever of the takedown. It would be obnoxious enough if I was told about it and given no opportunity for recourse but I wasn't even told that it had happened. I stumbled across the fact by accident when I was randomly going through my rather large collection of videos checking stats. One among 150 doesn't exactly stand out.

Now, the "inappropriate content" in question was obviously the semi-nude image right in the middle of the video. This is a little game you can play on YouTube - whatever image is in the exact centre of the video is what gets "grabbed" as the image to represent the video. So if you couple a suggestive image with a series of suggestive tags, all of which are completely irrelevant to the body of the video, you catch a bunch of horny YouTubers looking for some hot porn action. I've done this twice for a bit of a laugh - included a bunch of my out-takes with a suggestive image in the middle - and the two videos were viewed over 100,000 times.

There are a number of things about the decision to remove this video that are amazingly stupid (on top of how unforgiveably fucked it is to not even tell me about it.) First, the concept that a bit of butt crack is offensive is blindingly stupid. Second, the video had been up for months - it was no longer possible for someone to stumble upon it randomly so it could only be found by people deliberately searching for it (i.e. people looking for porn). The fact that the video could only be found by someone looking for porn content leads me to believe that the complaint lodged against it was malicious, not genuine outrage by some poor soul who was offended by it.

The malicious individual could fall into one of a number of camps (based on my experience). First, they might be a common or garden variety hater who simply saw this as an opportunity to fuck with me. Second, they might have been a specific type of hater with a specific axe to grind against me. This is most likely to be a racist/nazi or a Michelle Malkin supporter. The MM crowd could just possibly be mad at me because after using the image I had the thought that one of the women looked kinda sorta like Malkin and so I promoted the blog post as "Michelle Malkin's secret lesbian sex tape". Now if anyone happens to type "michelle malkin lesbian" into a search engine they get pointed to me. Whoops.

The funny thing is, if you look at the blog post, you can't play the video but the grabbed image still comes up with a message saying the video is no longer available. So the central joke is still there. Ha fucking ha you piece of shit loser haters.

But what it all comes back to is the thing that really pisses me off about YouTube is the complete lack of communication with users. They can't be unaware of what's making users angry because people are making dozens of videos about what they hate every day. But they don't communicate with the YouTube community as a whole to let them know that the concerns are understood and being acted on. Hey geniuses, POST A FUCKING VIDEO BLOG! The things that suck about YouTube that the YouTube administrators are doing a pissweak job of addressing include:

  1. They seem completely unconcerned that people are using the reporting/complaint process in a malicious way rather than to express genuinely felt offence. My case is relatively minor, several users have had their accounts banned simply because they were controversial and some dedicated haters constantly attacked them.
  2. The comment and messaging systems are utterly fucked. Somehow they can manage the awesome act of serving up hundreds of millions of videos but they can't get a simple system for community interaction working. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that they don't care. YouTube ignores this at their peril. Hey competitors: don't waste your time trying to lure YouTubers with payment systems, create a community that works and users will come in droves!
  3. Everything in their rating system is absurdly easy to game. Like the commenting system, this would be comparatively trivial to fix. YouTube simply seem to have totally underestimated how important this is to the community. I don't get as worked up about this as a lot of people do, but it's really annoying that their ratings systems are so easily abused.
  4. Their selection criteria for "featured" videos is completely opaque. This is a major feature of the site and can easily be worth hundreds of thousands of views and instant "fame". Some really good videos have been featured and this has brought a lot of attention to people who really deserved it. But a lot of really fucked videos have been featured as well. If I see one more "cute animal" video gets featured, someone will pay. Seriously. I don't need to see another fucking video of a fucking bunny eating fucking lettuce. Fuck!

Does that last paragraph make me sound bitter? Can you tell I've never been featured? Would I complain a lot less if I was featured and suddenly gained thousands of subscribers? Hell yes!

So what it all comes down to is YouTube ignoring their community. As the folk stories tell it, the original concept for the site was very community oriented but it got real big real quick. I should throw in the standard disclaimers so this doesn't sound totally whiny. YouTube is free and it's a little churlish to whine about free services. The founders picked up a few billion bucks worth of Google stock for their work so they could feel justified in thinking they're doing the right things despite the whinings of poor know-nothing users. But this goes beyond wanting more features for free (although I do want more features. For free.)

This is the single biggest threat to YouTube's long term viability. So-called analysts keep pointing to competitors offering to pay content creators as the biggest threat to YouTube. Guess what? These competitors have been offering payment for a while now and neither users nor creators have left YouTube in droves. The one high profile creator who tried to jump ship to Revver, the creators of "Lonelygirl15", failed miserably and came slinking back to YouTube. A competitor that remedies every problem YouTube is having with "community" and comes across as responsive to user complaints is in a very strong position to do some very serious damage to YouTube.

No comments: