In a widely circulated essay last year, the artist James Bridle highlighted the many violent, odd, and nearly robotic children’s videos sitting in the vaults of YouTube. They didn’t seem made by human hands, he wrote, or at least not completely. Some were sadistic or sick. (After Bridle’s essay was published, YouTube undertook an effort to purge the site of “content that attempts to pass as family-friendly, but clearly is not,” and ultimately removed some of the disturbing videos the essay cited.) Others seemed like grab bags of keywords that had been successful for more professional operations: nursery rhymes, surprise eggs, finger family, learning colors. These were videos reverse engineered from whatever someone might enter into the YouTube search box. And though none of these videos has achieved the scale of ChuChu’s work, they definitely get seen, and are occasionally recommended to a child who has been happily watching something more virtuous.
6. Meet up with fans in the real world: Meetups and similar events let YouTubers connect with viewers and sell merchandise. They’re usually best suited to those with active and engaged subscribers. Those with smaller audiences might want to skip ticketed events and bank on merchandise sales instead. Or if, for example, your videos teach viewers how to draw, you could set up a free class at a local park and sell your book of drawing techniques afterward.
“[P]ewdiepie is, once again, doing exactly what neo-nazis want,” Kotaku reporter Nathan Grayson commented on Twitter in response to the incident. “[W]hether he’s just memeing or he ascribes to these values, it doesn’t matter. [W]hat matters is that he normalizes these ideas as jokes on THE platform where kids increasingly get their first exposure to the world at large.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is almost precisely the problem that the rest of the media world finds itself in. Because quality is hard to measure, the numbers that exist are the ones that describe attention, not effect: views, watch time, completion rate, subscribers. YouTube uses those metrics, ostensibly objectively, when it recommends videos. But as Theodore Porter, the great historian of science and technology, put it in his book Trust in Numbers, “Quantification is a way of making decisions without seeming to decide.”
The second involves YouTube’s annual year-end “Rewind” video. The 2018 video, released on December 6 and described by YouTube as “a who’s who of internet culture,” omitted a number of popular YouTubers, most notably PewDiePie. In response, PewDiePie’s followers started a campaign encouraging people to vote down the video, with the result that within a matter of days, YouTube’s 2018 Rewind video has rapidly overtaken an eight-year-old Justin Bieber single to become the most disliked video in YouTube history, surpassing Bieber as of early Thursday morning at 9.8 million dislikes and counting. By Thursday afternoon, the dislikes had topped 10 million.
Morgan Stanley told clients Feb. 5 that more disclosure about YouTube, as well as the smaller businesses lumped together on its balance sheet as “Other Bets,” could help investors see more value in the sum of these parts. Alphabet, which now has a market capitalization of roughly $708 billion could actually be a $1 trillion company, the bank’s analysts said.
The tech conceit of starting with nothing and growing a business into being profitable sounds appealing. Who wouldn't like to minimize initial investment? But the successes have typically required hundreds of millions, if not a billion or more, of investment to ultimately succeed. And there are many ways in which the grand concept can fall short the way theory sometimes does when faced with the reality of application.