The Transformation of YouTube

What do you think of the new design/layout of YouTube?  It's not just a stupid "change for change's sake" modification or a poorly communicated and ill-conceived update that I've complained about before when Facebook, Netflix, and Google Calendar did it in the past.  There actually seems to be a method to YouTube's madness.  Everything seems to indicate that the online video pioneer is trying hard to become more like traditional television -- more specific channels, more professionally-created content, and (here's the big one) more advertising-generated revenue.

The New York Times had a good article about it. It pointed out the fact that the new changes will probably make it harder for those little amateur-created Web videos to be discovered by millions of viewers and easier for Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and marketing partners to broadcast their "professionally" produced messages to the top of the YouTube pile.

As Mike Hile explains, "The redesign is a muted but firm declaration that the party is over. It’s YouTube’s strongest step away from what will be seen as its short-lived early heyday as a largely unregulated repository (of user-generated videos)...In place of that free-for-all will be a new YouTube, more commercial, more predictable and, its owners hope, more televisionlike. The underlying reason is money, of course, but the immediate issue is control. By cutting away the user-driven underbrush and shepherding viewers, especially those with YouTube accounts, toward TV-like content channels — an increasing number of them produced by corporate media partners — YouTube and its owner, Google, will gain more control by giving amateur videographers less exposure and funneling viewers toward fewer choices."

One of the commenters of that article, "Martin," summed it up perfectly: "In other words, it's shifting from something that provides a service to viewers to something that provides viewers to advertisers."

The partypoopers surely won't stop there.  I'm sure advertising and marketing partnerships won't be enough, so new revenue streams will be explored and eventually implemented.  Any bets on how long before YouTube starts adding Premium packages (like Hulu and others have done)?  You will probably be able to get your homemade videos of your pets, your garage band, or your film school sci-fi epic out of the clutter by paying for it.  Yes, up until now, the joy of YouTube was its fairness -- good stuff rose to the top.  "Good" of course is a relative term -- some viral videos are just silly, but people enjoy making them, watching them and sharing them. Some video blogs are excellent and YouTube gave everyone a chance to jump on their virtual soapbox and speak their minds in the hope that people would listen.  The people had usurped the gatekeepers of traditional media!  Well, now it looks like the gatekeepers are finding ways to say, "Not so fast."

I didn't mind YouTube's last layout change so much.  Sure, it was frustrating trying to re-educate myself to all its functionality, but it was still pretty easy to find stuff after a small learning curve and some of the changes made it more streamlined.  Now, however, the new design made me upset because I couldn't find all my favorite individual videos -- they were buried by a cascade of "Channels" broadcasting not what I chose to watch, but what YouTube's new algorithms decided I wanted to watch or should watch (based I guess on my previous searches -- thank you very much Search Engine Big Brother!), which I guess I wouldn't mind if it wasn't so completely wrong about my tastes!

Needless to say, it didn't take long for me to switch to the "old Channels design," the old settings with which I had grown comfortable.  I'll give YouTube's owner Google credit for at least making that an option, although they don't really go out of their way to let you know that it is an option.

I don't begrudge YouTube for making every effort to monetize its business, I just wish it could do so without going so off-track from the user-model upon which it was founded and which attracted so many of us to its service in the ifrst place, revolutionizing videomaking and distribution in the process. 

The old guard never liked the emergence of citizen journalists, guerilla filmmakers, and unsigned artists making and sharing their video content so easily with the world, overshadowing the content put out by their own TV networks, record labels, and movie studios.  Maybe the revolution is over.  Hopefully, we didn't lose.


Plumwood Road said…
For every door that closes another one opens. That's the only positive thing I can offer. Someone else will come up with a site that fills this niche.