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YouTube’s commenter uproar proves Google’s crystal ball is broken

youtubes commenter uproar proves googles crystal ball is broken

Cesspools of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the kind of sheer idiocy that gives eugenics a good name, YouTube comment sections have long served as an example of what happens when the Web goes rotten. So it comes as no surprise that Google, which owns YouTube, would want to clean up the place.

The shocker here is that Google has picked up one mess only to create a whole new one – one that seemingly could have been avoid using Google’s notorious focus on data, but, for some reason, wasn’t.

No more trolls, no more spam, better “conversations” – sounds good, right? Apparently not.

YouTube announced last week that it has completed integration of Google+ into the video sharing site’s commenting functionality. By linking YouTube comments with users’ Google+ profiles (and thus, their real names), the change is meant to kill off the breed of mouth-breathing trolls that populated YouTube comment threads and spawned in the shadows of anonymity. 

YouTube says it will also make it easier for those who post videos to moderate their comments, and bring highly rated comments, and comments from “people you know” (i.e. people in your Google+ Circles), to the top of the page by default. It also sifts out spam, and lets people turn off replies and comment ratings on their own comments. 

No more trolls, no more spam, better “conversations” – sounds good, right? Apparently not.

YouTubers have responded to the Google+ integration by – you guessed it – freaking the hell out. They don’t like having to sign up for a Google+ account, which can be a major pain. And having their real names and profile photos along side their comments has clearly made calling someone a “newbie fag” a whole lot less rewarding.

In response to the changes, a petition on demanding that Google bring back the old YouTube comments has racked up more than 90,000 signatures. And Reddit’s YouTube community is entirely consumed by the commenting change, with post after post lamenting it as a major misstep by Google.

Popular YouTube users have also joined in the battle cry against Google+ comment integration. According to a list compiled by redditors, dozens of users with hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers have blasted the change or simply turned off commenting altogether. Even reclusive YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, who hasn’t been active on the site since posting the site’s first-ever video eight years ago, came out of the wood work to ask, “Why the fuck do I need a Google+ account to comment on a video?”


Now, we all know that any big changes to heavily used Web products come with some complaining from the vocal fringe. And there are plenty of other YouTubers singing praise for Google+ commenting – really, they’re out there. But given that I – a light YouTube user, at most – have found the changes to be more annoying than the trolls who populated the site’s comment sections says that Google clearly didn’t get this one right. 

How is that possible? Seriously – how can the most data-focused company on the planet push a major update that is so wrought with annoyance that people are virtually taking up arms against it?

Afterall, at Google, “everything is data driven,” wrote Google Developer Advocate Don Dodge, in a 2009 blog post about his move from Microsoft. “Decisions are made based on data that has been analyzed, and going forward everything is monitored and measured based on the data. Opinions and ‘gut feel’ are considered too, but in the end, results are measured by data.” 

So, did the data tell Google the wrong story about its YouTube comment changes, which it’s been rolling out for months, or did someone’s “gut feel” go and muck things up? (Google isn’t talking about the YouTube comment debacle yet, so we are left to only speculate.)

Either way, anyone who relies on Google’s products should be concerned about the implications of this fiasco. Aside from perhaps Facebook, Google has more data on its users than any other firm in the history of the world. But even with all its fancy data-crunching, Google still couldn’t manage to haul away the dung heap of YouTube comments without leaving a crap-trail behind. So, what’s next? Perhaps it will to have Google Search simply scream results at us in the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. People love celebrities, right? 

This obsession with Google+ appears to have led Google to behave about as rationally as Toronto’s adorable crack-smoking mayor.

As for the “gut feel” scenario, that too sounds alarm bells. Last year, former Google engineer James Whittaker wrote a scathing blog post (on the official blog of his new employer, Microsoft), explaining why he left the Internet giant. After Larry Page retook the helm of Google as CEO, he instituted “a corporate mandate called Google+,” wrote Whittaker. “It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. YouTube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point.”

We certainly get it now: Google’s sole mission is to impose Google+ on everyone who uses any of its products – that we knew. As my friend and colleague Nick Mokey wrote recently, this obsession with Google+ appears to have sent Google off on a mad tangent, leading it to behave about as rationally as Toronto’s adorable crack-smoking mayor

Whether its faulty algorithms or a sick gut that is causing Google to launch off to social crazy town is anyone’s guess. But, in the words of a YouTuber, the sentiment is the same: “U r sqrewing up.”

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock/Jean Valley

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