Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I should be working for YouTube

YouTube has been finding new and interesting ways to fuck up this week. From the responses I've been getting from the YT support people, they're working really hard so I don't want to pick on them specifically. But there's no getting around it, certain aspects of YT are structurally fucked. Once you've been using it for a while you realise comparatively little effort has been focused on the commenting and messaging system.

Of course, the powers that be at YT would likely argue that the site is all about video, not about text messages. To an extent they'd be right and it's certainly how they got themselves established but it isn't what's going to help them maintain their position. As a fairly deeply involved YT "community" member, I see on a daily basis that the majority of the hordes of people on YT really want to interact. YT allows this on a very rudimentary level but falls significantly short on delivering the experience most people are looking for. This is YT's biggest vulnerability - if a competitor like Revver offered a compelling community building experience I believe that would have a bigger impact on YT's user base than any offer to pay video creators.

I documented my standard gripes in my recent post titled "Reasons YouTube Sucks" (I'm on the first page of Google results for "youtube sucks" by the way). But as I said at the start of this post, they've found a few new ways to suck in the last week. The first revolves around spam. A certain someone has been creating masses of user accounts for the sole purpose of sending porn spam to other users. To the best of my knowledge, it isn't possible for a spammer to automate this process so somebody is dedicating a lot of time to being an annoying fucking prick.

The YT help desk approach so far has been to block each account as it's reported but this is an endless game of whack-a-mole. Each time an account is blocked another is simply set up. I've worked in this sort of crisis environment (and I suspect YT are treating this as a crisis) and they must be tearing their hair out. I suspect they are doing a lot of work behind the scenes but I also suspect YT's architecture is working against them.

The first clue that YT is structurally fucked with regards to this problem is that you have no spam filter for your personal messages. There's no function to mark a message as spam. There's no spam folder. It seriously seems as though they've set up a messaging system for millions of users with almost no thought of how to deal with spam.

Another possibly related issue that has appeared only in the last week is your message inbox indicating there are approximately 40 million unread messages waiting for you. Whether the spammers have broken the system or one of the attempted fixes has broken the system, I suspect that the spam and the counter bug are related.

Another weird bug that I've only noticed this week is the counter for video views only working intermittently. This might have slipped by me if the cute kitties with captions video I put up wasn't so popular. It's getting about ten times the usual number of views for me which I didn't really expect. But the counter is getting stuck and not moving for a number of hours and the next time it changes it's gone up by about 500 views.

All of which brings me back to the heading for this post, my idea that I should be working at YouTube. Not so much because I'm a genius (although I clearly am) but more because solving these sorts of problems is essentially what I do in my day job. Watching each change and "enhancement" made to the YT site makes it clear that YT is a technology driven site. This may sound like an obvious statement but what I mean is that from the outside, each change seems to be about making the site slicker (woo! new buttons!) as opposed to addressing any actual user issue.

Making a change for the fundamental reason that the technology allows you to rather than thinking first about what would improve things for users and THEN looking for a technical solution is a common flaw in IT-related companies. The issue is particularly pronounced in the web space where getting mentioned on TechCrunch seems to matter way more than making several million users happy. But like I said, this is from the outside looking in and I could be totally wrong. But it feels like I'll never know because the powers that be at YouTube almost never fucking communicate to the user base.

If only they had at their disposal some medium that allowed them to communicate easily with their entire user base. Hmmmm, but who could develop the incredible technology required to do this? Hey, here's an idea guys: why don't you do a video blog?

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