Making content for the algorithm instead of quality

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2021, 10:44 PM | comments: 0

Destin from Smarter Every Day posted some thoughts (below) on how the YouTube algorithm may be changing for the worse in terms of what it is trying to emphasize. By now it should be obvious that these algorithms are rooted in seemingly innocuous intent, but end up having pretty terrible side effects. Derek of Veritasium showed how effective click bait is which makes the algorithm even worse. It doesn't seem like a deep mental exercise to figure out that making engagement the highest priority results in the lowest common denominator of quality. I definitely don't think the shorter is better direction helps anything, whether it's video or text. I don't want to be a mindless scroll zombie, I want to stimulate my brain.

This condition, where a few really "good" makers of things that have some value as art, entertainment, education, etc., rise to the top, but ephemeral nonsense dominates, is frustrating. I realize that what I'm saying is wholly subjective. I also acknowledge that there's nothing wrong with "stupid" short entertainment. The problem is that it is, in this case, a zero-sum game when a huge company controls most of the levers to surfacing and facilitating the discovery of the content. The quality loses to the trivial stuff.

I will freely admit that this is also the reason that I find myself apprehensive about creating video for distribution on YouTube, because I don't like this game. I don't need to be famous or make a ton of money (I still give Vimeo money every year just to play a part in its continuation), but I don't want to conform to algorithmic constraints to get it noticed. People seem to forget that YouTube didn't have minimums to monetize video until a few years ago. I would routinely make a few hundred bucks a year for stuff that I put there just because I didn't have to pay for the bandwidth. When I do get around to posting something, it's rarely just some long-form thing I can slap a title on. I tend to edit things and shoot 10x what I need, and that's a lot of time to invest in stuff. When I can, I like to tell a story. I'm not interested in ephemeral things.

I can see how someone might think I'm just a curmudgeon who feels left out, but I can assure you that's not it. I deeply understand how the game, and how to win it. I could do that, but I'm not interested in doing that. It gets back to Destin's point about understanding what your voice is. He's far more sincere and articulate about it, whereas I undoubtedly (maybe slightly intentionally) come off sounding like a hipster. The deeper, and probably naïve thing that I have been saying for years that it's unfortunate that so many people have given up their creations to platforms, which in the blink of an eye can change on you. It's a far cry from the days where you had your own domain names on the Internet and you ultimately controlled your own destiny, relying on word of mouth instead of algorithms. Is this world easier than the old one? I'm not convinced that it is.

Certainly the solution at a personal level is to just make stuff because you enjoy making stuff, and let the cards fall where they may. But making stuff is more fun when you can see some number of people actually seeing it.


No comments yet.

Post your comment: