If you happened to be perusing YouTube over the last few weeks, you may have noticed some changes a short scroll down from your video. In an effort to clean up one of the most notoriously offensive places on the web, Google decided to fully integrate Google+ into the YouTube comment system. Users must now set up a Google+ account in order to comment. As shown by the video below, this enables users to utilize some of Google+’s features while browsing YouTube, such as sharing your activity with friends, starting conversations, hashtagging, and seeing the comments “you care about” up top.
Now, I’m on YouTube a lot. But, despite the fact that I have an account that I’m signed into regularly, I rarely ever comment. So, you may be thinking, how does this change affect me? Well, I have a confession to make: I’m a habitual comment reader. Even when I’m on sites where I know I’ll be bombarded with utter stupidity (such as YouTube) I still scroll down to get a dose. And from what I’ve seen of this recent change, regardless of Google’s debatably good intentions, the comments on YouTube have not improved in the slightest.
As always, with the good must come the bad. And when you integrate two systems together, things that were good on one may not be so good on the other. Because Google+ comments allow no character limit (or approx. 70k characters to be exact), YouTube comments now have no character limit. Because Google+ allows for links to be posted, YouTube comments can now have links as well. While these changes may appear nice on the surface, they can also open doors for easier spamming. Hidden links to screamers, entire movie screenplays (Braveheart seems to be a favorite), and inappropriate ASCII art were some of the few pleasant sights one had the chance to witness after the change.
Along with these also came a series of strange design choices. When you wanted to expand a comment, the “show less” option miraculously transported to the bottom of the giant wall of text, necessitating copious amounts of scrolling (I’ve probably memorized Braveheart by now). Timestamps now opened a totally new window. If one wanted to access the YouTube inbox (very important for content creators who want to interact with their fans) they received the message that they now must go onto Google+ to see new messages. The top comment system was abandoned, with top posts now seemingly chosen by the number of replies. This led to many users exploiting the system by simply replying to themselves ad nauseam to reach the top.
Now, I would like to believe Google thought about some of these problems before rolling out the integration. How could they not see this abuse coming? If you watched the video above, I believe you can narrow it down. In it, you see Google’s vision of the new YouTube user. A user who displays their real name, a user who’s accountable, a user who behaves. I’ve seen enough Barack Obamas, Adolf Hitlers, and other wacky names following the integration to know that this simply isn’t true.
As you can imagine, the reaction to these changes wasn’t too pretty. Many big YouTubers disabled comments on their videos and redirected viewers to other sites where they could interact. A change.org petition currently has over 200,000 signatures demanding Google reverse the changes. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, whose channel houses the oldest video on YouTube, commented for the first time in 8 years to display his frustration. As a result to these reactions, Google has responded with the promise to fix spam and abuse in the new system. So how have they done?
why the f— do i need a google+ account to comment on a video?
-Jawed Karim, YouTube Co-Founder
Well, pretty good actually. In fact, as I type this now, a lot of the problems I mentioned above have been fixed or, at the very least, alleviated (hence my attempts at past tense). Links now have greater restrictions, timestamps are working properly, expanding comments now shows you beforehand how many lines a comment has, top comments exploits don’t seem to work anymore, and spam in general has died down to moderate levels. Surprisingly, now that the dust has settled, the new comment system doesn’t appear much different from the old. Depending on your perspective, that’s both good and bad. But it also begs the question; why was this change necessary in the first place?
If there’s one proven way of making users dislike a service, it’s forcing them to use it when they don’t want to.
If you read most of the complaints surrounding the change, the fundamental issue seems to be the Google+ integration itself. Critics believe that Google has forced them into adopting Google+ in an effort to revitalize the social network with sheer numbers. Many also see it as a data play, as Google now has the ability to collect information on millions of Google+ users’ YouTube preferences. Ethics aside, as a business decision I’m not so sure this was the right way to go about accomplishing these goals. If there’s one proven way of making users dislike a service, it’s forcing them to use it when they don’t want to.
Now, much is made about the inevitable user backlash and eventual acceptance that occurs when big changes like this are implemented (like the Facebook timeline a while back). That still doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t better ways of going about this process. Instead, make the integration optional. Provide amazing features that make users believe they are missing out if they’re not using Google+. In the long run, this may prove more beneficial as users become more active and engaged on the platform (as opposed to a plethora of fake and inactive accounts). In the end, it feels like another example of a company believing they know what the consumer wants better than the consumers themselves. While this has paved the way for some great innovations in the past, sooner or later it might not turn out so well.
So I’d like to hear your opinions on this issue. Did any of you notice the change? Do you think this was a good decision? Could they have done something different?