What is the algorithm doing to us?

Monday, January 24th, 2022 at 06:03pm

Every six months or so I try to go through the list of YouTube channels that I follow (via RSS feeds as notifications are broken) and trim out the ones I no longer watch. Sometimes I stop watching because I am no longer interested in the subject matter, but most of the time it has been because the style of the channel has changed.

What I have come to realise is that I am interested in how things are done, I want to see incremental progress and things behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter if I will never be directly involved in that thing. The first example that comes to mind is Project Binky which has been going for eight years and is still not done. Another example I used to give was the television show The Block, when I last watched it I only watched the one episode each week there they showed actual work being done, I would skip over the challenges, judging and other drama. Although not as good as it once was, I still keep up with This Old House as you get to see the renovation. Another YouTube example is Linus Tech Tips where I skip over the product reviews and gaming performance testing, but the recent linux challenge (including the reactions from other linux youtubers) and new house videos I do watch.

When the videos become too produced and showy, not showing the real work involved in making the thing (often ignoring that the thing needed help from lots of other people), that is what makes me stop watching. I often don’t care about the final product, I want to see the progress. There is one channel that I used to follow that now just seems to be about the stunt of the project, it involves glitter so you should be able to figure out which one I mean…

I am even interested in the videos that are talking about YouTube and there have been a couple recently that have stuck with me so I am going to embed them here:

First is this video from Veritasium about clickbait, titles and thumbnails:

I try to avoid following the YouTube suggestions, but I think that is how I got from one video about youtube thumbnails to another:

It turns out that Jazza is a fellow Victorian and this is a case where the subject (art) isn’t something I would be drawn towards, but the way he shows the process is what has kept me interested. It doesn’t hurt that they recently moved to a new studio and showed the progress. There is another particular pair of videos, but I will get back to that.

Another channel I have followed for a long time is SmarterEveryDay who keeps putting out great videos, there have been a couple of things I haven’t been that comfortable with, but being able to see that much of a nuclear submarine was worth it. A specific video that ties into my current thinking is about finding your voice and how much do you let external factors change what you do:

A topic that I don’t think I would have predicted I would be watching is excavating. I doubt I will ever be involved in building a dam with an excavator and bulldozer, but I will gladly watch video of someone showing how it is done. Once such channel is Dirt Perfect where the videos are a mix of the excavating projects as well as working on the equipment. (I hope Lieutenant Dan doesn’t take as long as Binky.) How this is relevant is that Mike (aka Dirt Perfect) has a number of times talked about how he is running an excavating business first, with YouTube being a hobby. Ending up with a successful channel has given opportunities that he wouldn’t otherwise have had, but he is showing who he is and what he does, he will not change to do what YouTube wants him to do.

On a recent episode of his (irregular) podcast he covers this, even mentioning another channel that I also stopped watching for largely the same reasons in that I want to watch someone build a retaining wall or put down pavers, I’m not interested in product reviews.

There are a couple of other videos or posts that touch on this theme, but I haven’t kept good enough track of them in order to also link them here, so let’s get back to what I mentioned earlier with Jazza and why I am making this post today.

Three months ago Jazza put up a video about an art Youtuber called ZHC:

I had never heard of ZHC and if I had come across any of their recent videos I would have dismissed them as stunts with no substance. However it was fascinating watching Jazza put in the effort to watch all of ZHC’s videos and then give a measured analysis. It looked like a clear case of someone that had started out with a skill, but then started chasing the clicks and the money.

Today is when Jazza posted part 2:

It is fascinating to watch and no matter what you think of ZHC as an individual, the trend is that the systems of our society are not just enabling this behaviour but rewarding it. Of course this is not new with YouTube, this is just one of its recent forms.

So what to do? I don’t know… There are good YouTube channels, there are good people on Twitter and there are even good groups to join on Facebook, but how long until the few good things are completely overwhelmed by the bad?

(and I know that a youtuber shifting to follow the algorithm is quite mild compared to the things being produced by content farms…)

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