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YouTube should stop recommending garbage videos to users (arstechnica.com)
94 points by elorant 55 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

We don't need human-curated Youtube, we need to give more control to users.

The annoying thing about Youtube is that many of the problems I have with their algorithm could very, very easily be solved if the designers gave up their relentless mantra of "never ask the user anything directly."

I watch playlists and LetsPlays, and occasionally my homepage will just turn into a massive wall of recommendations from the same playlist, rather than one recommendation for the next video in the list. That's hard to solve algorithmically, but very easy if you give me a button to press that says, "when recommending a playlist, only recommend one video."

It's very hard to algorithmically figure out whether or not a user wants repeated recommendations because repeated recommendations tend to steer users towards repeated views even if they would prefer other behavior. But Youtube has view history for users. It would be very easy to have a button to press that says, "don't recommend videos I've already watched."

But at some point, everyone working on AI/algorithms decided that the best user experience would be for users to try and on-the-fly intuit the quirks of every algorithm and then to do reinforcement training based on their partial understanding of how things work. The last thing I want as a user is to have to treat my computer like a cat.

Playlists can be semantically different things. They can be "top 50 songs of 2018" or they can be "history of WW2 parts 1-50". It might make sense to recommend more than one video fron the first kind of playlist, but not the second.

You're absolutely correct, and that distinction is why the problem is so hard to solve algorithmically. The addition of the angle, "never ask the user to categorize something, always intuit it", is what makes this a hard problem.

Youtube doesn't know which types of playlists I use, but I do. They're wasting computing time and my time to try and guess the behavior I want, when I could just tell them what behavior I want.

Perhaps allow the creator to tag playlists as a collection or a series, or get consensus from user votes.

How does that invalidate the argument for giving control over this functionality to the user?

It doesn't. Being able to deal with different kinds of playlist would be good either way, whether YouTube controlled everything for you or some customization was possible by end users.

The majority of my YouTube recommendations are videos I’ve already watched, despite there being innumerable videos in the back catalogues of my subscriptions I have not seen. My wife has the exact same problem.

Surely I haven’t seen all of YouTube. I would love if it recommended me things I would be remotely interested in watching, even if they were “garbage” over this. At this point I would almost prefer sketchy conspiracy theory video recommendations.

I have a tendency to rewatch videos over and over, or rather, replay them because they make for good not-too-distracting background noise (I do the same with “The Big Lebowski”). Nearly my entire recommendations feed is videos I’ve seen a dozen times or more, and because I often visit YouTube to just quickly find something for background noise, I’ll just click whatever’s near the top. And next time I visit YouTube...those videos are at the top again.

That’s kind of annoying to me but I figured that it’s a problem of my own making. But it sounds like the algorithm behaves this way for other users who aren’t as weirdly repetitive as me?

I suspect this is fundamentally the same as Amazon recommending things you've already bought. Even if the likelihood of rewatching/repurchasing is small, that probability must compare favourably to the chance that their algorithm will select a 'correct' unseen item to display.

Recommendations are hard.

One of my cynical hypotheses is that, for videos that I'm rewatching for the nth time, the amount of energy/desire to interact is diminished (i.e. "vegging out"). Which is inversely proportional to the frequency that I'll click the "Skip Ad" buttons.

inject(tempermonkey/ublock/stylish etc) those two styles to at least be able to quickly spot visited links, mod color according to own preferences

    injectStyle('#watch7-sidebar .video-list-item a:visited .title {color: #141761;}');
    injectStyle('a.yt-uix-sessionlink:visited {color: #141761 !important;}');

This article has a catchy title, but is absolutely terrible. Curated human recommendations and/or "YouTube staffers should think like journalists" are both two of the worst ideas for the internet I've heard in quite a long time. They don't reduce bias by any significant amount consistently (and I suspect the authors know this), and thinking of a platform where millions of seperate people upload ungodly amounts of content per second as a platform to be curated just like a news site is just fundamentally misunderstanding the scale and nature of Cyberspace.

I think it is a case of "riding crop makers demand cars and trains use more horses". Self interested willful ignorance that it doesn't work that way and besides - if you want nothing is stopping you from maintaining your own lists on YouTube - but it probably won't be popular. They need to earn the position they want - not getting handed to them after demanding it.

Curate it like a radio station or network then.

The curated playlists on Google Music are pretty nice. I wouldn't mind seeing something like that for video, especially targeted at kids with various age ranges, activities, moods, and interests.

> Curate it like a radio station

Radio is even more full of garbage than YouTube!

The curated playlists on Apple Music are decent but they're too short and there are too few of them. There's also nothing stopping a third party curating YouTube and sharing recommended playlists - it's just too hard to find a mass audience with generic recommendations.

I don’t even buy the reasoning that the recommendations are somehow “personalized,” because they don’t seem to be... At all. I have never watched a political video on YouTube, or really anything unrelated to music or computer science, yet my “recommended videos” are always full of Ben Shapiro and his ilk. It’s easier to find relevant videos by doing a regular Google search, which is a little ironic.

I think YouTube in general has little understanding of how to manage content, which is a weird problem for an arm of Google.

I had a bit of a wake-up call as to just how bad the problem was when I saw video search results for "GPLv4". Normal search engine? No problem. GNU Public License. YouTube? Nope. A bunch of videos from a "gplv4.org" when I try the search just now, which evidently has nothing to do with open source licensing.

You can generally avoid political talk shows by clicking the not interested button. They still bubble up, especially if you watch general interest videos that have primarily male audiences.

"Not interested" seems to work just for a little while. They will come back eventually...

I recently read a plausible theory as to why Ben Shapiro keeps coming up: YouTube's algorithm is being gamed so it ends up believing that Shapiro videos have something to do with what you just watched. So some group of people/bots "watches" a lecture on the mating habits of the red-tailed swallow, then Shapiro, then another lecture on birds, then Shapiro again. Eventually, YT thinks Shapiro vids are related to bird lectures, and makes the recommendations.

My recommendations are massively personalized.

I live in a non-English speaking country, and looking at the trending lists and friend's playlists, all the recommendations are in the local language. My recommendations are 80% English and 20% local language (local stuff that I do watch).

70% of my recommendations are also centered around the interests I watch - technology, old computer restoration, etc.

I propose an idea, maybe: every video you watch, the original author of that video can set up a list of recommended videos to watch after you are done with the one you originally came for. This way, the original video author has a say in where you head in your Youtube rabbit-hole experience.

This is just off the top of my head early in the morning so probably not the best idea, but honestly it seems better than what they are doing now. Personally, I subscribe to a certain set of people and rarely watch videos outside of those content creators.

Edit: Just to add to my first point, I would be much more happy to follow the recommendation of the content creator I follow than some algorithm designed to get me to watch/click more.

They can already add suggested videos in end screens and in the info card drawer (although the info card drawer is not used nearly as often as it could be, and YouTube doesn't necessarily do a good job of drawing attention to it).

I guess I forgot about that (it probably helps that Youtube doesn't give it much attention as they should). I think those were a step in the right direction but having those possibly at the top of the "recommendation" area or just replacing it completely would be more intuitive to me. Maybe even having it autoplay to the next video set up by the content creator.

I am not a content creator so my opinion is solely from the viewer side. I would love to hear from people who are making the videos I watch and enjoy as well since many of them are using Youtube as their sole income. IMO, you have to please both sides to a certain extent or this all won't work.

they have in-video links but they automatically play what their algorithm thinks instead for some reason

What is the info card drawn and how do I interact with it?

Am I the only person who gets actually relevant recommended videos when logged in?

I'd say 80% of the recommended videos are directly related to the interests I've shown with my viewing habits. I went through a period of watching at least an hour a day so perhaps that's it and they have some serious data behind me (and I never watch conspiracy, politics or prank videos for them to appear anywhere near them).

Whenever I'm logged out though, then yeah, complete dumpster-fire.

I just checked. The "up next" column seems pretty relevant. I probably wouldn't watch the Area 51 video or the "what did we find when we searched pennies" but they weren't awful ideas


(And that Navier-Stokes video was very good!)

I'm really happy with my YouTube recommendations as well. I'm sure they could be better at finding new stuff I haven't seen, but I don't get any "garbage" (e.g. I see no political stuff at all).

I also like how they're not afraid to surface older evergreen videos. I just got this 2-year-old video about a WW2-era Monopoly set recommended to me (never watched videos about board games, monopoly or WW2) and I thought it was fantastic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsrC79QV7cU

Same for me. I've found that if I exhaust every video of every one of the few people I watch, it might start showing their videos once again, but only after it's been months since I've seen it and it's only one or two of the 10+ they put on the home page.

Worth noting that I pay for YT Premium, so maybe Google is training my recommendation model more or feeding more niche YouTube videos to it than they would for ad-driven (or ad blocking) viewers.

I've gotten some real gems, but also some really irritating stinkers. Recently YouTube recommended a newly uploaded song with ~12 views listed and that was fantastic, but at the same time they recommended a "this is what <game co>'s planning for <game>" video... that I'd already watched... from two years ago.

same boat. I get really good recommendations logged in but it is a dumpster fire if logged out

I use my current YouTube account for two and a half years. In this time period I clicked "Not interested" in the right sidebar with suggestions around 3000 times - very many times, and I keep clicking it. Due to this huge effort, when I watch videos of my interest scope, I mostly receive good suggestions and I'm satisfied with the suggestion system; however when I occasionally watch something unusual to me, I do receive bad suggestions and I keep clicking "Not interested". But already for a year I have not been suggested any "TOP 10 LIFEHACKS", reaction videos of obnoxious clowns, no previews with useless arrows and circles, O-faces, social experiments and pop-music from YouTube's Trending. Whenever I sometimes open YouTube from another computer, I fall into such deep disgust that my face expression twists. Another thing not related to this: I still use old YouTube's theme, it's faster and looks better than this modern "polymer" for touchscreens.

"fun" fact: "Not interested" button on Twitch uses a rolling ~300 item filo (First In, Last Out) list. Perfect placebo! You keep clicking and it keeps pretending to work.

I wonder if Google is not doing the same, as they do for Likes with 5000 limit https://www.reddit.com/r/youtube/comments/6m7k63/i_just_reac...

Everything about YouTube doesn't fit my interests or preferences... to such an extent that I use YouTube-DL for almost all the things I watch off YouTube.

Recommendations are almost always garbage and I have no idea why. I also think that the search function is bad, like so bad that's it's somehow dishonest. I routinely run the same searches looking for the same thing but find stuff that was made well before the last time I ran the search... so why didn't the previous search uncover these results?

By design, the search function does not return an exhaustive list of content matching your search terms. It returns content that YouTube wants you to watch.

Well, click-driven advertisement and emotion-driven social media have disrupted the old (and well functioned) system of information pre-filtering and pre-selection by domain experts and journalists whose salary was dependent more on reputation than "engagement".

Now we're mowing the consequences of such "disruption".

Those “domain experts” were censoring men’s rights, for example. Only since Youtube are we discovering that male victims of home violence are 28% cases; If you listen to the “domain experts” they’ll pretend it is so small it’s not measurable, or pretend it’s not a problem.

That’s just an example for the area I’m expert in, but the current western political blowback is massively due to information flowing with fewer censorship, hence discovering that “domain experts” have led us to believe false or inaccurate things in the past.

“Domain experts” is also “TV-channel chosen domain experts” or “journalist-chosen domain experts” which has proven to provide erroneous results.

The mainstream media is also cozy with their advertisers and were known for helping to cover up environmental issues.

Am I the only one who always felt that the garbage videos is what really made YouTube so much more authentic and fun than TV?

If I wanted sanitized, censored, controlled entertainment, I'd just watch TV

I agree the uniqueness is a big draw. Never sure what might show up.

Regardless how to define what's garbage and what's not, YouTube seems to remove demonetized videos from recommendations. Since I don't think that good content is always necessarily advertiser-friendly, a lot of good videos are just not getting any attention because a few big companies decided that they're not helpful to market their products. Example: Historical or educational videos which are about controversial topics or just have the word "war" in their title.

Basically, their recommendations algorithm favors profit from advertising over personalized recommendations because it seems to be designed to maximize click-through rate and watch time for videos with many ads. [1]

[1] https://youtu.be/fHsa9DqmId8?t=838

I use the cosmetic filtering feature of Ublock Origin [1] to block everything except the video and related controls. I then only access youtube via the "subscriptions" page [2]. This effectively blocks the recommendations, autoplays, linked videos etc that make YouTube feel like such a cesspit.

[1] https://www.maketecheasier.com/ultimate-ublock-origin-superu... [2] https://www.youtube.com/feed/subscriptions

It's like this hasn't improved since the late 2000s. If I forget to disable autoplay and it eventually ends up on a LinusTechTips, it'll be another week before I stop getting recommended nothing but those after every video.

If this behavior is based off aggregate watching patterns, can we at least get the patterns applied to us of people who match our usage demographics and not the tens of thousands of pre-teens being raised by YouTube?

Typically almost none of my recommended videos are relevant.

The worst part is that what they do recommend are often conspiracy videos, "X destroys Y" debate videos, extremist 'alternative' news, and other similar trash.

You would think they could tell from what I've watched already that none of their recommendations are remotely relevant to me- and in fact, are often the opposite of anything I would ever want to see.

To offer a counterpoint, I absolutely love YouTube recommendations.

Once you get into watching videos belonging to a new field, you get a lot of recommendations for that, and it's great to use them to get a good nice overview of the field.

Likewise, repeat recos for songs etc are also very very convenient.

I think this is again a case of the vocal minority making it feel like everything sucks.

YouTube is toxic for humans, because it is not a platform serving humans. It is a platform serving copyright holders and advertisers. Next video playing means copyright levy going somewhere to someone, one more ad impression (interesting glitch had been present in Germany unil recently where copyright holders were too greedy for such arrangement to operate, only proving how low priority, if any at all, a human user is). Trends and moods are being traced globally only to accumulate the both. What audio and video will be presented to a human is absolutely no concern for anyone - whichever will sustain the inflow of the copyright levies and ad impressions.

"When a video finishes playing, YouTube should show the next video in the same channel."

This is how it worked just a couple years ago. I would binge-watch a channel's entire history of videos on history, board games, or other fascinating subjects in the background while I did other things. At some point it changed, and now every video I watch gets followed by some click-bait often highly-political nonsense meant to get me outraged or shocked at something.

I've decided to turn it off and just stream documentaries on Curiosity Stream now. When I do watch YouTube, I get nagging pop-ups asking me to upgrade my service, but why would I do that when they've ruined what I enjoyed about the site?

Google's too busy optimizing ad delivery for youtube to care. I recently updated the android app, only change I noticed was now ads extend over the description and comments until you click a little x. That never existed before the update.

Try NewPipe.

Googles Youtube App drives me insane with all the crappy ads.

Yeah I do use newpipe to play music through an external player but I don't sign in on there so finding videos for channels I'm subscribed to gets kind of frustrating.

Recently, my disliked Youtube change that the "Related videos" on the side of a video now first show 10 of my general "Recommended" videos instead of videos that are similar to the one I am currently watching...

I make a point to avoid watching recommended videos the exception being I tend to use youtube for researching products and recommended videos are actually helpful there.

My youtube process is to go straight to the subs page daily, add all the videos to a 'watch later' playlist* so whenever I go to youtube I always have a curated list of just for me content and I don't get sucked down the rabbit hole.

*not the watch later option because you cant change the order of those ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I'd kill for a marker on the subs page that said 'last visited'!

In the Android app, the default Watch Later playlist can be re-ordered just like any other playlist.

I would point to this article:


My take is that "reccomendation" technology is disasterously bad in most cases but Google has us hypnotized to believe they are "smarter" than the rest of us, although when you look at their definition of "smart" it seems to be a bludgeon to intimidate other people with.

Google doesn't have to be smarter than its competitors, it just has to be smarter than the people who buy ads.

Relevant paper put up last week on Arxiv to be published at EMNLP 2019 : Auditing Radicalization Pathways on Youtube ( https://arxiv.org/abs/1908.08313 ).

Researchers of the University of Minas Gerais and EPFL audited Youtube's recommendation algorithm in the context of alt-right content and found that users consistently migrated from milder to more extreme content throughout recommendations.

Similar post from a year ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17938181

YT's recommendation algorithm drives watch time and engagement, but based on the behavior of other users; so when the YT algorithm sees that driving to extremism pushes high engagement, while driving users to more mild content reduces engagement, the algorithm knows the best course of action for future users.

I hate the recommend algorithms they use. If I get interested in a particular topic for a few hours, or watch, in a whim, a video I would normally have no interest in (a pop music video for instance), I don't want to see and endless series of videos in the same category.

It's bad enough that I had to log my AppleTV's YouTube app out, because children. My Recommend page would be overloaded with Fortnight, PubG, and RDR videos. That I could understand at least.

> YouTube's recommendation engine "isn't built to help you get what you want — it's built to get you addicted to YouTube," argued Guillaume Chaslot

Well.. for me the bad recommendations and search results are having the exact opposite effect. If I have a direct link to a cool video then its fine, but clicking around in the UI is an absolute time-waster.

But then again I'm not logged in and have FF + uBlock + PrivacyBadger and maybe its made deliberately annoying then..

I would argue that it is the same story for traditional media - albeit to a less extreme extent. In France, even on public channels, reality shows and dubious scandal-sounding programs now represent a high share of the broadcasts.

For sure it is less extreme than the topics mentioned there, but still the programs are optimized to make you addicted and boost stats. Neutral fact-based or educational content is disappearing quickly.

I've found that clicking "not interested" videos doesn't work, but reporting them has cleaned up my feed. Now I almost only get things from my subscriptions. It's a more brutish option that may have collateral damage but seems to work for me

Why report them? That can get videos demonetized or removed for the creator.

That's weird. YouTube always makes awesome recommendations for me.

Just kidding. YT's a dumpster fire, but it serves to point at when somebody starts telling you that Skynet is just around the corner. We may have nailed the A but but we're a looong way off the I.

I really like youtube recs. I have different accounts for different interests and the recommendations are always on point. I don't understand why so many people from the media complain. I think they just don't like that youtube recommends non-mainstream channels too.

I agree, I've actually found some really interesting channels through recommendations. Perhaps the targeting is so accurate due to the years of data they have on my 2 accounts.

That said, I recently created a brand new account for my company and the default recommendations seem to be absolute mindless garbage. But perhaps my interests just don't align with what the vast majority of the YouTube-using public are watching.

I've found over the years as I get to be more and more of an irascible old man, that my viewpoints don't align with much as far as popularity goes. And that's okay. Frankly the power in YouTube for me was to look back at seminal events that resonated and transformed my life. It is wonderful for that. However, it's very poor at complex recommendations. If I watch a video about the polar ice caps melting, that doesn't mean I want to watch a climate change denier. I realize this is not an easy thing to solve and that's why it shouldn't be solved solely with algorithms. The same way that copyright claims should have a human touch and not just automatically remove revenue for people on the platform.

Yes, YouTube recs are very good. Scarily good. I don't know why no one wants to admit it. YouTube's loss function is minimized by you spending hours on there like a vegetable. It's essentially self-driving tier tech applied to making you an addict to media.

So some people don't like some YouTube recommendations?

How to define garbage?

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