Last week I was talking with my wife about the future of Failed Normal, and brought up that I plan to start doing video interviews again. At that comment she looked at me the way that spouses do and said, ‘Why did you ever stop. I thought you enjoyed doing interviews?” To which I had to shake my head and say that although I was willing to do the work of interviewing leaders in tech for the pennies made off of 1 or 2 CPM the follow on effect of low video views by the algorithm was something I had not been able to justify. One of the vicious ways the algorithm destroys content creators is by punishing them going forward for publishing videos that are not popular.
To be clear the exact way the algorithm works is a mystery, apparently even to YouTube engineers themselves. They developed the algorithm, and now it does what it thinks best. So this is an overview idea based on what can be seen. Basically the referral algorithm decides which content to put in front of viewers as they navigate the site. The goal is for viewers to click on interesting videos and then to get them to keep doing that as long as possible. Not too long ago it seemed a big metric for the algorithm was who you were subscribed to. So content created by people you were subscribed to seemed to be weighted more heavily than content from people you were not subscribed to. (I have yet to find anyone who thinks that this was a bad concept. Every viewer I’ve spoken with believes that the act of subscription shows you care more about a creators content…) At some point this seems to have changed and now keywords seem to be what pushes the referrals most. So if you watch one video about Jake Paul you’ll be referred another 10 on the subject.
Now not only do keywords seem to be prioritized over subscribers, but also the algorithm tries to decide if viewers actually care about the content created by the creators they subscribe to. So if a creator puts out a video and a large number of viewers click on the video when it is referred the system then refers more subscribers to the video. Conversely if a creator publishes a video, but few subscribers watch the video then the video is referred less even to the people who have subscribed to a channel. This means the system is now pushing for content creators to only publish videos that the greatest number of their subscribers care about. If you put out a constant stream of what you know will be popular the system will push more views, but if you stray into new territory you risk referral oblivion. This was one of the issues with my channels near the end. By uploading interviews, or booth crawls that most 14 year olds can’t grasp I ended up getting low views on those videos, which then pushed down the views on subsequent videos because the system felt my subscribers didn’t care. (How can I continue to increase subscribers at 10K+ per month, but views on videos keep going down?)
This causes a major problem not just for creators, but also for YouTube as a platform. This means that creators are penalized for experimenting, and penalized for adding content that may bind in some viewers even if many others don’t appreciate it. For me the Interviews were useful for a number of reasons even if they were not popular. The first reason was simply to validate what I say in my other content. ANYONE can sit in front of a camera on YouTube and start blathering away about what people should do. By uploading interviews it shows who I’m talking to. Simply by having interviews exist talking with people about AR, Arduino, DCIM, Power Distribution, Location Tech, etc it shows I’m not completely speaking out my ass. Viewers may vehemently disagree with my lines of thinking, but they know I’m not just reading a post off of TechCrunch for my basis. On those lines by publishing the interviews it means I have something to offers CEO’s and such for speaking with me. For an hour of time they get to be published in front of their demographic and the PR people have something to share. This means I am able to speak and learn from people who may have not been willing to talk before and I can bring that information into content later. Continuing on this path by telling the CEO’s and PR people that the videos will be published to YouTube they get to see YouTube in a different light. Many older people still think of YouTube as a place for cat videos. By publishing interviews there it shows them possibilities that they may want to invest resources into in the future. Finally by doing the interviews it provides a community context to the content. CEO’s, Engineers, Marketing folks are no longer faceless avatars to the viewers, but real people with real needs and concerns. This makes the industry more approachable to the people most likely in need of approaching people. The interview videos and the like make the holistic value of the channel immensely more valuable to the viewers, BUT… the algorithm does not see this.
When talking about my channel I always thought of the channel itself as the product. Individual videos were hit or miss, but what I sold was the overall message that was being said across the spectrum of the content. Low quality, poorly shot, unpopular videos many times were the springboards to larger concepts. Even if no one watched the original video it was the keystone to everything that followed in a series. The algorithm does not allow for this type of thinking. There is no “whole” there is only the pieces.
This is destructive for creators and content because it doesn’t allow for nuance on a channel. It also means creators can’t take risks. If you have a whacky idea for a line of videos that you think may take off you have to risk the algorithm relegating your channel to the rubbish heap. When you pay the rent off of YouTube ad money this is not an easy call to make. When every video has to appeal to the largest numbers of viewers you end up with content that always seeks the lowest common denominator. This then means that content that may be intrinsically valuable, but not popular has less of a chance of being created. Which oddly means that it becomes harder and harder for creators to speak to their subscribers since nuance is now frowned upon.
The irony here is that the algorithm is pushing creators to create the content viewers came to YouTube to escape. Lowest common denominator drivel is why many people gave up on TV. Now YouTube is literally pushing their creators to go down the same path as the TV networks. For creators with an actual message to present this sucks… YouTube was sold as a place to express yourself, but has turned into a place to express a highly filtered, kid friendly, bleached out voice that is just not enjoyable to creators like me.
Yes creators care about money, but they also want to enjoy what they do. The algorithm is stripping the joy from the creative process and in it’s place leaving a few pennies in CPM as payment. This may work in the short term, but I don’t see why creators don’t start walking away…
One of the things I’m most excited about with Failed Normal is that I can go back to creating the content I know is valuable, and even if people don’t watch at least I won’t be punished for it…