Dear YouTube

Dear YouTube,

You have done so much to enable creators to make and share exciting videos, whether that be mini series, cooking shows, films, music videos, news, podcasts, top 10s, documentaries, you name it.

Many communities have spawned around channels and topics, with comment sections ranging from support, to fully-blown drama. And whilst there is quite a lot of trolling, the positive and supportive comments far outweigh the negativity.

However, many of us viewers are frustrated. Those of us who spend hours watching content (and ads) have been receiving videos with worse content during the past year, more clickbait, less meat, more in-video ads, and fillers due to the 10 minute mark for mid-roll ads.

Additionally, too many creators are making videos complaining about YouTube’s policies and demonetisation, even on channels that didn’t use to post regularly about that (e.g. PewDiePie, h3h3Casey Neistat, Philip DeFranco, MrBeast, Jörg Sprave, and a myriad of other creators). A quick search for “demonetized” on YouTube returns around 369,000 videos. That’s a lot of angry creators.

This means that these YouTubers are derailing from creating the content they are known and loved for, and instead they resort to making videos talking about the platform’s problems that are directly affecting them, and in turn this means we, as viewers, receive less of the content we actually want to watch.

The way we see it is that there are three groups of problems currently plaguing the platform: monetisation, content rules/flagging, and UX issues.

1. Problems regarding monetisation:

After demonetisation was introduced over a year ago, a lot of creators were concerned, and after the first few high-profile cases started coming in, users and news outlets started calling it the “Adpocalypse“.

One solution that is increasingly being used by creators is to use Patreon, and in some cases that works really well, for example: musicians, artists, writers, cartoonists, animators, etc. But it is still an extra action (and account) a viewer has to make on a 3rd party website, which means a lot of potential contributors will be alienated. This would be solved with channel-based subscriptions similar to Twitch. We know you are experimenting with (and currently rolling out) a paid subscription system for channels, which is a good solution on paper, but in our opinion this is not the best solution.

An option to consider instead might be to establish a pot for monthly payouts. For example, a user might decide to contribute $5, $10, or $20 per month, with a similar model to Spotify or Netflix. The amount then gets divided at the end of the month between YouTubers with a percentage-per-creator calculated by an algorithm based on subscriptions, likes/dislikes, time viewed per channel, amongst other parameters.

In return, viewers are rewarded with fewer ads depending on how much they contribute per month. Google naturally takes a cut from these proceeds.

Furthermore, this can work without disrupting the business model of YouTube Red (now apparently called YouTube Premium). If we contribute $25 or more per month, why not offer the option to subscribe to YouTube Premium, but instead of keeping the $10, your revenue would depend on viewing habits, keeping $5-10 a month depending on the amount of time viewing regular YouTube, versus YouTubePremium exclusives.

2. Problems regarding content rules and bots:

One of the issues here has been communication in the past regarding changes. Recently Susan Wojcicki has stated you will be making changes in 2018 regarding how you communicate with creators. However, the wording seems to favour giving a “heads up” instead of proactively holding discussion of changes that will create major repercussions for creators.

However, that is only one part of the problem. One common complaint is that content decisions regarding monetisation, and the automatic “category / subcategory” the video falls under is not transparent enough. Some people even figured out how to enumerate the category IDs for sensitive content. Interestingly enough, that document also dives into the case of systematically suppressing demonetised videos from “suggested videos”. By making this information visible to creators, they will be able to make decisions that will influence the direction in which they wish to take their channel.

Rules also have to be made explicit, and reasons for flagging, or why videos were categorised in a certain way should be easily viewable in the Creator Studio, along with any additional information that could help the creator understand where he went wrong and how to improve / fix it. Timestamps of infringing content (the same as those applied to copyrighted content) are also a big plus.

Dude Perfect and PewDiePie’s subscribers have also mentioned a couple of instances where X-rated ads were shown on some of his videos, as their videos were placed in categories meant for mature audiences, whereas clearly their viewers have a wide age range.

3. UX and notification issues:

Videos we have viewed before (or almost finished watching and then switched to another video) constantly reappear in the suggestions. These should be excluded by the suggestions filter as few people would want to watch the same video twice (music videos being an exception). And please, do not rework the chronological subscription feed, fix it instead.

The bell / subscribe system is broken and has been mentioned by both viewers and creators. You have denied this vehemently in the past. However, recently a video on one of your own channels you mentioned the issue happened to you and mentioned this would be escalated. In this specific issue it might just have been an MQ (message queue) issue with sending out announcements (or your email service provider experienced downtime).

A mitigation strategy here would be to implement better monitoring of users that requested notifications VS users that received notifications and emails. Most push notification services, as well as email services provide receipts of reception, and also give statistics on the percentage of emails marked as spam. You should graph this (using DataDog for example) and make it visible on a monitor at all times in the HQ; this will allow you to see the actual problem, and formulate strategies to improve notifications.

As a UX bonus, if a creator uploads something new and a user is currently on YouTube, display a toast message mentioning “{CREATOR} just uploaded a new video titled {TITLE}”, you can do this easily with WebSockets or a service such as Pubnub or Pusher. The whole feature would probably only be 20-30 story points (excluding mobile).

What have been the consequences on the current policies and problems?

Jörg Sprave started The YouTubers Union movement recently, where he has 15K+ followers on his Facebook Group. He plans to take direct action such as strikes, and communicate constantly with you to try to convince you to make changes that will improve the lives of content creators.

PewDiePie has been talking about the issues for more than a year, to the point he changed his entire delivery style accordingly. Casey Neistat interviewed YouTube’s head of business (which was a great start, as mentioned in the comments of the video), however, much is left to be done.

As viewers, we don’t really want to meddle with the politics of what is happening at YouTube, nor with the frustrations of the creators. Instead, we want quality content. Many of us don’t watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime; instead, we rely on Youtube for our daily dose of entertainment. But something is really wrong when a lot of the content we watch includes long segments with complaints or rants about demonetisation, and the other issues mentioned in this article.

Our proposal:

We know the issue of figuring out a compromise between ads, paid subscriptions, and YouTube Premium is a complicated one, potentially involving everyone from your legal team, accounting, engineering, product, designers, and project manager.

An intermediary step may be: While you figure out subscriptions (and please make it easy to pay), then you should at least cover part of the salary of the creators that get millions of views, but are heavily demonetised, maybe based on the amount of views and likes per video.

Afterwards, we would like to offer a few strategies on how to develop and implement the changes. We’ve written these down in the following section.

We would also like to re-iterate the demands posted on Jörg Sprave’s union website, which we have split per section. These give a good idea on some of the major complaints the community of creators has:

  • Monetisation:
    • Monetise everyone: Bring back monetisation for smaller channels
    • Disable the (auto-flagging/demonetising) bots. Add a voting system aided by AI (see Valve’s VACnet)
    • Pay for the views
    • Stop demonetisation as a whole
    • Pay according to delivered value
  • Content / Rules:
    • Transparent content decisions
    • Equal treatment for all partners
    • Clarify the rules

You can read the extended version of the union’s demands on their website.

How can you implement this?

Set up three fireteams, one dedicated to the monetisation issues, each one dedicated to one of the topics mentioned above.

These teams should be nimble and be able to act with few constraints and red tape. I’d suggest the following structure:

  • Each team has 1 senior backend engineer, 1 medior frontend developer, 1 senior frontend developer, 1 QA engineer, and 1 team leader who is also experienced with the code base and can help with code reviews and basic project management. Some teams might require additional backend developers depending on the complexity of the issue.
  • Each team should start the project with a kick-off, determining all milestones from the start. One strategy might be to hold a 1-day meeting with several senior product managers, designers, backend engineers and infrastructure/devops, a compartmentalised list should be brought and each topic should be discussed, either accepted or rejected, and difficulty determined via planning poker.
  • 1 additional project manager who oversees all 3 teams, reports status directly to Susan, and attends daily stand-ups for all 3 teams.
  • 1-2 Infrastructure/devops engineers ensure that CI/CD are setup, test/production clusters are ready, and can immediately help with any needs (subdomains, socket.io, anything that needs to be deployed) during the whole part of the process.

This approach, with a positive attitude towards change, and a healthy dose of open-mindedness, may ultimately not only save YouTube whilst feeding content creators, but it may also establish a forward-thinking platform which could outlive us all.

Signed,
The viewers.

PS. Big props to Dear Github for the inspiration for the style and wording of this post.

PPS. You have our permission to re-upload and modify this post as you see fit.

This post has been reposted on Github where you can make amends via a PR.

FF4 vs IE9 vs Chrome10

IE vs Chrome VS FFBefore you go all “Oh no! Not another review on the latest browsers!” on me, I state that I have been on the net and looked at reviews and comparisons of the latest browsers, and I am somewhat dissatisfied.

There are quite a few comparisons of IE9 vs FF and Chrome, but most of them seem to be from October 2010, using an RC instead of the final release, including Opera, or excluding one of these three browsers I’m reviewing.

Let me state the purpose of this post bluntly: This is not a review, nor am I meddling with V8 or Acid3 tests, we all know you can use Google to find the results straight away. I want to give my personal perspective on how well the browsers perform in real-life tasks.

After using all three browsers for about a week and a half, each one with all my regular tabs open (7 permanent, 1-7 additional), this is what I have found thus far:

Chrome 10: Fast as always, speedy start-up, no crashes in the time period (except for Flash plugin, twice). Chrome supposedly integrated GPU acceleration since build 7, so I ran the IE Fish Tank test made by Microsoft, and it reports approx. 20FPS, which is low, however, the animation looked OK to me anyway. RAM used was quite high, but performance did not drop even when I had about 14-15 tabs open (including Youtube, Grooveshark, Gmail, Docs, Hootsuite, amongst other heavy web applications). My rating: 9/10 for day-to-day use, 6/10 for animation-loaded sites.

Firefox 4: Sleek new interface, speedy when few tabs are loaded, sluggish when using over 10 tabs (specially in Google Calendar), no crashes in time period, GPU integration seems good, Fishtank’s average FPS was just below the maximum (over 50FPS) which means Firefox has done a great job integrating GPU acceleration into the browser. RAM was lower than Chrome, but performance did drop when I opened many tabs. My rating: 7/10 for day-to-day use, 9/10 for animation-loaded sites.

Internet Explorer 9: Installation time for Windows 7 64-bit version was longer than it’s counterparts (approx. 7+ minutes including necessary updates) and it asked me for a bloody Windows restart (typical of Microsoft). The browser that claims “fast is now beautiful” is actually quite fast to start up, but I’d leave “beautiful” as a perspective issue, though I must say it looks much better than IE6, 7 and 8 combined. Opening tabs is much faster than it’s predecesors. I don’t like the fact you can’t “pin” tabs like you can in FF and Chrome. GPU acceleration has given this browser a big boost in overall speed. When you open a new tab it displays useful data, similar to Chrome, which Firefox does not display. Google Calendar runs faster than in Firefox, but a bit slower than in Chrome. The overall speed remains good even with 10+ tabs open. I don’t like the feature it has of opening tabs next to the address bar by default, though that can be changed, obviously. I prefer the all-in-one bar to the dual-bar in Firefox. RAM usage was significantly lower than in Firefox, by about 40%. I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t ask me which search engine it should use by default. Fishtank’s FPS were even higher than in Firefox. My rating: 8/10 for day-to-day use, 10/10 for animation-loaded sites.

As a brief summary, my ratings are as follows: Chrome > IE9 > Firefox 4 > Firefox 3 > Firefox 2 > Firefox 1 > All other versions of IE

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On the usefulness of tablet computers

I recently read an interesting article on TechCrunch which talks about the 6 or so operating systems geared towards tablets which will soon have to face a battle for who gains the most popularity in the limited market of tablet PCs.

Linda Lawrey posted this article on her Google Buzz which sparked a discussion about who might be coming out as winner, but it also generated a conversation about why anyone would want a tablet in the first place. I think 3+ million iPad owners would have something to add to that conversation, however, my post is not about that.

I personally believe tablets are useful for certain things today: While not exactly great for use on-the-go such as mobile phones they are useful as a replacement for net-books, say, for use while having a coffee at Starbucks, for taking notes while at meetings, or as a bed-side computer to check mail and browse the web before bed. But my thoughts about their usefulness are centred on the future: Internet-powered centralised intelligent home & office devices.

I can see them integrated to each room in a house, possibly on the wall, where one can quickly browse their calendar, program their alarm, control the lights of the house, communicate with the house’s security system, view CCTV video from other rooms and program DVR recording, control other digital devices from their room, etc.

Imagine: You’re going to bed so you go to your wall and program the alarm clock for 8 AM, you also program your children’s alarm clock for 7:30 AM, activate the home security system, and set up chilled-out relaxing music for the bedrooms in the house. You also program the device to start up the radiators at 6:00 AM and the hot water at the same time. At the same time you set up the A/C to maintain a certain ideal room temperature during the night. John, your kid, doesn’t like the music so he gets up and sets his own device to mute for his room. You wake up to the sound of music, increasing gradually in volume in each room, as a start to a great new day.

You might have a party that evening and you are having a discussion about a certain word definition, or the location of a country, so you get up, unplug the tablet from the wall, and perform a search on Wikipedia, bringing the tablet to the table and sorting out the discussion in moments.

In the office, you create a powerpoint presentation with interactive graphs and cool pictures on your PC. You store it on the local network, pop in to the conference room, take a tablet down from the wall, then you can discuss the points and make changes directly on the tablet, making the meeting a more productive one than the usual guy talking in front of a projector while people take notes. Not good enough? Connect a pico-projector to it, then you can have your boring meeting with the capability of making changes or taking meeting notes directly on the tablet, which makes the use of paper basically redundant.

So how useful do you believe they are? Useful enough right now? Or more useful in the near future?

Cooooontinue…

Are you consistent with what you do? Do you finish everything you start? No, I didn’t think so, but if you do… Congratulations! You may skip this post.

Otherwise, I have a story to tell you…

Once upon a time I was just like you. I had many ideas, some of them quite good, and I tried to carry them out only to realise I couldn’t finish all of them. Sometimes I would get bored halfway through and leave the project incomplete. When it was something socially-related and I did not achieve an immediate response, I would leave it incomplete and/or get frustrated with it. Sometimes I simply couldn’t be arsed to continue with it.

What made matters worse was the sense of guilt I would sometimes build up after a week, a month or a few years after starting a project and not having been able to finish it. A sense of being incompetent. And the more things I left that way, the worse I felt. A constant buzz in the back of my brain telling me that I didn’t finish it, and I could have.

One example was Zyborg, a computer game (Clone of ZZT) I started developing around 10 years ago with Saxxonpike in Qbasic 4.5. We abandoned the project a few months after we started, however, I always felt a tingling sensation of having left it just standing there. I still have the code.

I also used to start (and not finish) hundreds of songs, paintings, poems, lyrics, books, ideas, scripts, computer programs, drawings and many other things. I even started a company once, and we were really motivated. But after stumbling a few times into problems, we just silently gave up on it. But the tingling sensation must have lasted ages in all of us. The sense of not having been able to accomplish our goal. The feeling of failing.

When and how did things change for me?

When I started adding a little bit of organisation into my life.

I started off by writing task lists and project ideas down on paper. If I couldn’t get through them in one go I learned not to stress about it and leave it for a later date, whenever I felt more confident or motivated about the project. Then all these ideas and tasks stopped being burdens on my mind and were converted to sentences in a notebook (later replaced by Google Docs).

Then I started printing out calendars in Microsoft Publisher, and using them to keep track of future events. I have never liked daily based diaries as I hate the format, I hate carrying too many notebooks, and I hate wasting too many blank pages. But a monthly calendar format suited me, with 30-31 rectangles on a sheet with just the right amount of space to keep track of my main tasks per day.

Further on, seeing the success this brought me in organising my life, I looked for a computer solution for my needs. I needed to be able to view it from any PC where I were at, so Microsoft Outlook was out of the question. I found comfort in Google Calendar which I have been using for over 2 years now. It was great, I could view it in any style I liked! I started out using the monthly style, however, lately I have preferred using the weekly view as I plan and use it on a daily basis.

Google Calendar, however, wasn’t the solution to my problem in storing my project ideas. One day one of my best friends introduced me to Remember the Milk. A pot of gold! Accessible from my iPod touch, updateable from anywhere, it was pure glory!

Since then, I have never had a problem remembering what I have done, what I have to do, and what are my plans and ideas for the future.

So if you have ever had one of these problems I have had, give it a try! I mean, it’s free so you have nothing to lose. And if it’s just not your cup of tea, stick around and give the net a look, there must be something ideal for you! The important thing is not giving up on projects or ideas just because you have no time for them at the moment. And if you started one, but haven’t finished it, just keep track of it and leave it for a later date. Don’t scrap it… Remember it.