Meet the New YouTube Comments, Same as the Old YouTube Comments

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.

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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.

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Define “better” ?

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.

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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.

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Was it the right move?

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?

6 comments

  1. I heard that YouTube was adopting a new comment protocol, but am pretty surprised that they were not able to put together a better solution. YouTube (like many other online portals) has been plagued with spammy, irrelevant, clumsy comments by users, and there was a lot of room for improvement. I am all for accountability and “putting a face” to the users of YouTube (which would hopefully tone things done and keep comments on point), but the implementation is terrible. Even if Google+ was an extremely well adopted product like Facebook, the complaints would still be valid. I like your comments about Google telling the users what they want and how that obviously will not end up well for them – I also really like some of your quotes! Pretty bad when one of the founders has doubts… Thanks for sharing, very interesting!

  2. Ouch, they really should have thought it through more before integrating Google+ comments with YouTube comments. Unrestricted word count, what were they thinking? Even if they made the process the same as before, I don’t think it would change the nature of comments to videos as Daniel is saying. My first thought when I read your first paragraph was that it’s definitely an attempt to boost Google+ users – hilarious when YouTube founder backfires on the blatantly obvious and rather clumsy strategy as well. Thanks for the post, and now resume to not commenting as always!

  3. Google is literally everywhere! I commend Google for prioritizing their name everywhere possible on the web, I can see where avid youtube users are frustrated. I regularly surf through youtube, but have never commented, despite my enjoyment of reading the comment. Similar to the posts above, I agree that eliminating a character limited is very foolish of Google and not well thought out whatsoever. I have read many displeased youtube users blogs, comments, and videos regarding the invasion of Google + into their domain but I believe as time goes on youtube fans will lighten up a bit. No one adopts to change quickly, especially when it comes to the look and feel of your dashboard. Google + should continue to rapidly fix all the current mishaps, in addition to listening to the thoughts and concerns of the youtube community. Thanks for the post!

  4. Josh – Great post. As Molly points out, I think a couple of small technical fixes will allow them to make this better in a hurry. And I agree with Dan – I think this is a great change. So many people already have Google+ accounts through their gmail addresses and in most cases those accounts and email addresses are legitimate. They are the email addresses they have given out to others to contact them by and addresses that are part of their persona. YouTube video posters usually have legitimate addresses, but accounts that were setup for commenting only are often times not legitimate. By connecting commenters to Google+, the time spent scrolling through bogus comments will be reduced. And for those who know anything about Google’s modus operandi, the data trail left in your comments has been logged for a use (probably TBA later, to the general public).

  5. I had to say I am a bit of a cynic, but I do think that this was all Google’s plan to have people sign up for Google+. Compared to their other “value added products” this was a less adopted one, if they even have such a thing. Why not use the resource of YouTube? It’s only the highest trafficked website on earth.

    From the other side, one can argue that the comment section of YouTube, although a lot of smut, is a social media platform in itself. There did have to be a better system, and for someone who rarely ever comments on things like that anyway, I have to say I enjoy hearing other people’s opinions and am happy they are finally taking strides to make it better. As for the initial freak out from people with something like this, it will always happen. Change where a button on Facebook is, freakout; change the iOS layout, uproar. This will settle like everything else does in time. Nice post!

  6. I am also a comment reader. Almost any website that has comments I will read at least one or two. And although I know they are stupid, for some reason I kind of value there opinion.

    regarding the Google+ integration I am torn. Half of me thinks that this is a fine idea and eventually everyone will get over it and consequently everyone will have a Google+ account that maybe one day they will actually use. The other half of me thinks that by forcing people to sign up for something might make them so turned off that they will never use Google+ if they can help it.

    Good post!

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