God’s Blessings on January 6, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the sixth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation, 2017.

There’s a fair amount of unhappiness in youtube-land for reasons relating to people not seeing videos from channels to which they are subscribed. There seem to be two main causes, the first being that youtube doesn’t actually notify you about new videos from channels unless you go to the channel page and click a button to specifically indicate you want to be notified of all of the channel’s videos. As Skallagrim said, I’d have thought that’s what subscribing does, but what do I know. The other issue is that from time to time people discover that they’ve been unsubscribed from channels and have to re-subscribe.

The first one makes a certain amount of sense as being consonant with YouTube’s interests. It is certainly the case that for many of the people I subscribe to I only watch some of their videos; this is especially true of people who put out several videos a week. I imagine it’s generally true; certainly for people with more than tiny subscription rates the number of views on an average video seems to be somewhere between a tenth and a quarter of their subscriber number. (For videos that are a few days old, which is what notifications are for. Obviously the view numbers keep going up, but in the main not by subscribers being notified.) This wouldn’t be a problem except that the normal human reaction to being notified of things we’re not interested in is that we rapidly stop paying attention. This is why advertising has so little (direct) effect. I can understand why YouTube, who wants people to watch as many YouTube videos as possible, would want to adjust how often they show people notifications of new videos, ideally keeping it only to the new videos they think the subscriber will actually watch. I suspect the optimal hit rate for notifications is somewhere between 60% and 80%. High enough that the notifications are always worth checking out, but taking enough chances that not everything works. So while this is certainly counter-intuitive from a subscriber’s point of view, it does make a certain amount of sense from YouTube’s.

The other issue, though, is very strange. I’ve heard it explained that YouTube wants to get rid of a subscription model and move to a pure recommendation-based system. I haven’t seen the evidence for this, though, and there’s at least some counter-evidence. For one thing, they really encourage content creators (I loathe that term, but it’s the one that’s used) to try to get subscribers. They outright tell you in the first lessons that subscribers are very valuable because they tend to watch to the end, and that the best way to get more subscribers is to couple an on-screen request to subscribe with a verbal request to subscribe. Furthermore, they make resources available to content creators in several tiers, with the bottom tier (which is just a web interface) being available to everyone, and the higher tiers—which include perks like the ability to book studio time at YouTube studios—being available on the basis of the number of subscribers to the channel. Now, in big companies sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what he right hand is doing, and the foot may not even know that there is a right hand, etc. But still, this is certainly counter-evidence to the idea that YouTube wants to get rid of subscriptions entirely. They could just as easily have based the perk-tiers on the number of views last month or the number of minute watched last month. So while I have heard this idea from sources I’m not inclined to dismiss—and as a programmer I have no idea how one would have a bug that unsubscribes people from channels unless the code is very bad—I’m still skeptical and would like to see better evidence that it’s true. Like many things, it will be very interesting to see, a few months from now, what happened over the last few months. News is inherently unreliable, but once dust has had a chance to settle things are usually clearer.

Glory to God in the highest.

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