Saturday 24 June 2023

Creators in the hands of YouTube

Ah YouTube, what a game changer it has been! My motivation for posting remains mostly the same as it was a decade ago, slightly more emphasis on sharing arrangements I'm excited about than playing for audiences. YouTube has changed over the years, but the last video I posted really rams home how much you are in the hands of YouTube. Not that you weren't ever not in the hands of YouTube. Let's get straight to a chart:

So this is the first two weeks after posting We Will Rock You (which I was obsessively playing with for several weeks). Points of note:

  • The thin grey line is the normal band my videos follow
  • Initially there was a slightly higher uptake than normal, and by the end of the first day there was a little kick up
  • At around the second day there was exponential growth which abruptly halted
  • After the halt, the video returned to typical performance, following the grey band just offset

Note that the grey band is pretty accurate, have at look at the previous three videos I posted:

So, what's going on? The answer is pretty clear in this piece of information:

  • The vast majority of views was referred by YouTube recommendations
  • The recommendations is mostly YouTube Home, so, the videos that appear on the default page when you go to YouTube.
  • I have 11k subscribers, but between the Subscriptions feed and Notifications, this represents only 8% of views.

What it means is that most people on YouTube are letting the algorithm do the work of finding videos they should watch rather than watching their subscriptions feed. And to be honest, that is how I work. I will check my subscription feed once or twice a week, watch the videos that catch my attention, but  after that I aimlessly watch videos that the algorithm sends me. Then it comes down to how much time you spend on YouTube - if I don't spend much time there then I will generally be watching subs only, if I spend more time there I will watch a lot more algorithm videos.

The algorithm is pretty clever too, it already understands what videos you will actually watch from your subscriptions and suggests them, so YouTube Home is almost better than watching your subscriptions. Which means it is pushing your confirmation bias while surreptitiously changing your bias...

But the upticks in this particular video, why did they happen?

After using Google products for many years, I have noticed they "experiment". My guess is that when a new video arrives, initially there will be be subscriber views, and if it getting good views, YouTube will try it out as a suggestion on the home page for a period of time across the people it thinks it will work on. If that does well, it will do another experiment for a period of time. I suspect although this video looks like it was going exponential, at the end of that YouTube experiment, it didn't meet the algorithm criteria and that was it. No more experiments. It went into Standard Holding Pattern.

The bottom line here is that a creator is at the mercy of YouTube. For sure the creator can tailor their content to be What The People Want...and in this case, who doesn't love a minute and a half of "We Will Rock You"? There will be a lot more subtleties in The Algorithm I am blissfully unaware of, but overall, creators are in the hands of YouTube.

But don't let that stop you, it is not about gaming the system, it is about sharing what you love - get playing, get posting videos!

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