“One awkward move, and immediately a whole wave of unnecessary recommendations”: what video hosting sites are criticized for

If you watch educational videos and control your spontaneous attraction to third-party content, large video hosting sites will most likely not cause you any discomfort. There are almost always suitable lectures and expert presentations. However, if you stumble and turn on a talk show a couple of times, a story about UFOs or “flat-earthers”, the algorithms will charge a clip of recommendations for similar content and begin to slip it with frantic frequency.

The siege of related-blocks and the “personalization” of the main one will continue for weeks until you again get hooked on the next conspiracy theory or news reports. In moderate amounts, they are harmless – the meaning and content of all these videos are forgotten an hour after viewing.

However, for the algorithm, this behavior only confirms that you do not mind falling deeper into the “black hole”. Let’s discuss this problem in more detail and see what we can do to avoid wasting time on mediocre videos and remain relatively independent from the principles and results of the recommender systems.

Photo: Kevin Grieve.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Kevin Grieve. Source: Unsplash.com

Metrics instead of development

The universal nature of the problem was described quite accurately Daniel Kahneman, renowned psychologist and winner of numerous awards in economics. He stated that the bulk of social networks do not at all seek to arm us with tools for self-development and search for high-quality content among hundreds of thousands and millions of daily publications. Their task is to maximize the level of user engagement, what are you doing appropriate algorithms and recommendation engines, including popular video hosting. With their help, we imperceptibly for ourselves – day after day – build a personal “infococoon“From which you have to get out later:” The views that you possessed a few years ago are becoming more extreme due to the influence of social networks, “notes Kahneman.

Indeed, mass platforms still poorly “understand” when we come for new knowledge, and when – for entertainment content. Therefore, they cannot smooth out the effect that the world famous expert is talking about in time. At this stage, they compete only in our time with the help of a number of simple tricks like exploitation “information casino principles”, Forcing us to look into our applications ten times a day.

As a result, we really open them more often to see new publications, but every year the motivation to continue using this or that service gradually decreases, and sincere interest in them is simply replaced by an easy form addictions

Photo: Christopher Ott.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Christopher Ott. Source: Unsplash.com

Even the developer who helped design the YouTube recommendation algorithm convincedthat the tasks for him could be formulated somewhat differently. This would be followed by a very different implementation and effect across the service user base.

Today, the question is, what proportion of more than seven hundred million hours spent watching videos do people spend on rather mediocre videos. If one of the key metrics for including a particular story in the tops and related-collections is the total amount of time spent on it by users, then such recommendations will be of the appropriate “quality”.

Weak recommendations

Today, more and more often you can find criticism algorithms YouTube. This is how they say on this topic on Hacker News: “I am sick, I sit at home for a whole week. In fact, I update the main page every fifteen minutes, but the videos that I have skipped for the hundredth time are still there. You have to scroll over and over again to find something else. ” The basic recommendation in such situations is – by yourself edit, clean, or “freeze” browsing history… If you get rid of a couple of posts with videos about conditional conspiracy theories, the algorithm pessimizes this topic and will not recommend such content. More radical approach – private browsing mode [инкогнито или private browsing]if there is a spontaneous desire to fall into a “black hole” with a bunch of dubious plots… This way it will be possible not to waste time cleaning watch history.

HN residents celebrate and other features of the recommendation engine of this site: “I remember how in the distant 2009 I was looking for electronic music and in related to tracks with a conditional thousand views there were compositions similar in popularity. Few people listened to them, so in just a few hours I discovered a bunch of new performers. Today everything is different – the algorithm produces similar videos, but these are almost always hundreds of thousands ”.

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters. Source: Unsplash.com

It should be admitted that there are opinions in defense of YouTube, although for the most part the key role in the examples is played not by algorithms, but by user experience: “On my laptop, almost the whole house listened to music, but the good taste of others saved the situation – now the service makes me happy chic recommendations… They’re cooler than Spotify. ” HN is also talking about other video hosting sites like Netflix, but even in the case of this streaming platform, users regret the low quality of the existing content filtering algorithms compared to sometimeswhen the company worked with DVDs and offered quality recommendations.

Lack of pinpoint settings

Often, in order to improve the search results, the YouTube audience has to bypass the “factory” features of the service and resort to tricks like registering multiple accounts for various tasks. Let’s say they use the first to learn everything new that is relevant to work, and the second to watch videos on third-party topics.

Another life hack is useful for those who do not have time to study the videos set aside for subsequent viewing… Some of them sooner or later disappear from the site – either for violations of the rules, or at the request of the authors who decided to update the channel. In this case, you should use the youtube-dl – one of the most popular download managers [более 87 тыс. звезд на GitHub на момент публикации]… Or choose a more accessible option – upload a link to the video in Wayback machine… However, in this case, there is no need to wait for a guaranteed backup – a snapshot may not be done on a single request. [хотя общее число захватываемых сервисом роликов еще в 2018-м оно доходило до 800 тыс. в неделю]…

Photo: Dodi Achmad.  Source: Unsplash.com
Photo: Dodi Achmad. Source: Unsplash.com

According to HN residents, in order not to be distracted by recommendations, sometimes it is worth completely hide related sections using ad blockers. Or set up an automatic redirect from the main – to the feed of those channels to which you are subscribed. Generally speaking, a request has long been formed among the audience of the site for such functionality and pinpoint capabilities like white and black lists, which would make it possible to hide videos with certain keywords, tags and parameters from the search results. However, viewers are forced to do all this with the help of third-party services – for example, RSS readers. Although this possibility seems to be already limited, so that you can only be content extensions for browsers

What will happen next

Do not think that one or two of the largest video hosting companies in the world fall under the criticism of the audience – and, unfortunately, regulators. Other mainstream social networks also have problems and streaming platforms… Their approach to working with content calls more and more questionsand users are increasingly tired of the mediocre recommendations and mechanics that publishers use to keep their attention and engagement levels.

It should be admitted that the bias towards the exclusion of the human factor from the recommendation process has not yet brought outstanding results, so the “pendulum” has already begun to move in the opposite direction. We will continue to talk about how alternative ways of finding interesting videos and music are developing here and in our “Hi-Fi World”, but for now – we offer several materials for additional reading on the topic:


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