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By Thomas Baekdal - December 2013

We Are Losing Control of Social

The YouTube content creators are really, really, really pissed at YouTube. This doesn't relate to brands using YouTube as a marketing channel, but it does influence anyone using YouTube as a publishing platform.

And the problem actually goes much deeper than just YouTube. We are losing our grasp of social as each channel turns into edited streams. In other words, our 'rented' channels are becoming more and more rented.

Let's first look at YouTube. The reasons why people are pissed are because of four things:

First: The integration between Google+ and YouTube is causing the community feel to go out the window. For people like you and me who are using Google+ every day, we don't really understand it. We look at our comments, and we think it's quite good (which it is). But the G+ comment system on YouTube works differently than what we see on Google+.

The problem is that it's ranked by engagement, which we are learning over and over again is a terrible way to determine value (even Facebook is learning that with the new newsfeed tweaks). On YouTube, however, it's even worse, because it highlights the often hate-based discussions far more than the positive and less engaged comment threads.

Another problem is that G+ comments are tailored to you as an individual. While this sounds like a useful feature, it makes it nearly impossible for the content creator to manage and interact with. You might think you are reacting to a comment that others will see as well, but they are seeing an entirely different comment because that aligns better with their social rank.

This has made YouTube comments practically useless as a basis for creating a community.

Second: YouTube has changed its system so it's even harder for individual content creators to monetize their videos from YouTube, adding a three day delay to video monetization. Can you imagine, as a publisher, the first three days of video exposure going down the toilet? It's just insane.

Third: YouTube has made bogus copyright claims even more painful for content creators to handle. You know, when someone who doesn't own the copyright to a video uses the automatic content ID to take down videos they have no right to take down. Instead of fighting this, YouTube has made it even easier for these bogus claimants.

One example is the 'let's play' videos, in which people record how they played a particular level of a game, or when something funny happened. These are then being taking down by multi-channel partners because they also made a similar video. They don't own the gameplay anymore than anyone else.

And this is now so bad that even the gaming studios are fighting YouTube.

This is killing content creators. Because once a claim has been made, they lose all revenue at exactly the point in time in which most of the revenue is generated, and since it now easier to make such claims from multi-channels partners who are merely competitors (not copyright owners), it's killing the smaller players.

Fourth: We are starting to experience a really bad problem with the rich is getting richer syndrome. YouTube's new system gives the rich so many advantages that it's seriously hurting individual content creators.

This is not just a problem on YouTube. We see this on every social channel. On Twitter, for instance, only the rich can advertise and create sponsored tweets. Small brands, who has a much higher need for additional exposure, can't.

Over at LinkedIn we see the same thing. 'Rich' people (in terms of social signals), like Guy Kawasaki, get access to LinkedIn's expanded stories, which allows him to publish rich posts, like this one.

The ordinary people, like you and me, are not even allowed to make paragraphs. We can only write a continuous line of text. I'm not saying that Guy Kawasaki doesn't deserve this ability, but it's a problem that we don't have equal opportunities.

The people who are already rich get the tools to get richer, while the poor are not even provided with the tools to help them grow. We are simply left out of the competition.

And this is exactly what we are also now seeing on YouTube for content creators. The really big players can now do things that the little players can't. The rich is getting richer.

If you want to really understand how pissed off YouTube content creators really are, I invite you to watch the video below. It's a 30 minute podcast by the creator of one of the funniest gaming channels on YouTube (beware, he has an 'odd' sense of humor).

You should listen to this not just to hear what he has to say about the changes to YouTube, but also how quality is the essence for small digital-native publishers. It's completely different from what most people think it is. Every digital native content creator knows that the way to differentiate is to focus on quality and value. And that's exactly what he is doing in response to these changes.


Social in reverse

We are moving backwards in the social world. We moving back to the old days in which you had to ask for permission if you wanted to make it in the world. This was what the internet was invented to prevent, but the social channels are bringing it all back.

It's the age old problem of rented versus owned. Except that in the earlier days of the internet, renting something was equal for all. Today, we not only have the problem of rented versus owned, we also have the problem rented by rich people versus rented by poor people (in terms of social impact) because of how these social channels create partner services.

We are not moving in the right direction.

Of course, this all ties into what I wrote about in "What Comes After Facebook? The Future of Social Media" (from August 2012).

We are seeing the last stage of 'old-social', and we are getting ready for the next revolution. But the transition is going to be painful because we have to invent a new way to connect (and it's going to take 10-15 years to do). The old social channels have no interest in this happening.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think Google+ or YouTube is going to go away, nor the other social channels. And I very much like many of the new features and integration between channels. Google+ comments would be brilliant if it just worked the same way as on Google+.

The problem is that there is a definite trend of increased friction, caused by a feeling that we are no longer in control. The 'rented' channels feel much more 'rented'. We no longer control what is in our streams. The rich is getting richer, and, as brands, we don't even control if our followers actually get to see our content.

One example: I did a test last month when I started to notice that some of the YouTube channels I'm subscribing to wasn't showing up in my stream. So I went to every single channel I subscribe to (90+ channels), and wrote down all the videos they had posted in the past two days. Then I went to 'My subscriptions' and compared it to the videos I could find in my stream. It turned out that only 47% of the new videos were included in the stream.

Can you imagine if your cable TV box suddenly decided that your 'channel' lists should no longer show Discovery Channel because it wasn't ranking high enough?

And two weeks ago, Facebook said this:

We expect organic distribution of an individual page's posts to gradually decline over time as we continually work to make sure people have a meaningful experience on the site.

In other words, the brands that you have 'chosen' to follow will be ranked lower as they try to decide what other content that you should see instead. Facebook no longer considers you to be the owner of your stream. Instead, they see themselves as newspaper editors, trying to find the right combination of content to give you as a product.

I know that many say that they like the idea of a ranked stream, but it has a serious impact on loyalty towards the individual channels and brands that we follow.

If we are not in control of our social streams, we turn into passive consumers. It's like TV. We sit back and just watch what comes our way, but in doing so we also don't feel particularly attached to any specific brand. Compare that, for instance, to how you use Spotify or Netflix, where you specifically choose what to watch.

The difference in loyalty between those two modes is immense. And we only have to look at Facebook to see the effect of a ranked stream. In a study by Salesforce, they found that sponsored posts had a bigger impact than brand posts. That's just crazy.

It means that our loyalty to what we follow is now so low that we consider any random content to be more interesting. That's what happens when we don't feel connected to what we follow, and when we don't feel in control.

This is what's happening in the social world today. Our social channels are turning into newspapers. Streams of content that we just absorb, and not really something we truly connect with.

We still engage (like, share, retweet) with it, of course, but the value of our connections is dropping. We are moving backwards.

The difference in both intent and value between a ranked stream and one that you control is immense. And the outcome that you get out of it, both as content creators and as a brand, is worlds apart.

I'm not saying that one is necessarily better than the other. There are many good reasons to have a ranked stream, and I too like the idea to have my social channel exposure me to content that is related to my interests. That is a wonderful way to discover new things.

The problem is the lack of control.

Imagine if our social channels worked like this: When you came to a brand you could choose to either 'Like' or 'Follow' it.

If you only 'Like' a brand, it will be added as a social signal as part of a ranked stream that, mixed with related content, gives you a wonderful curated view for interesting things for you to see and engage with.

But if you choose to 'Follow', it is instead added to a stream that is entirely in your control. This stream only contains what you have specifically decided to follow, without any outside noise. This is your stream for brands that you truly want to connect with.

And if a brand posts a video, you know that their video will be a part of this stream, and it will never be ranked or filtered out.

You can actually do this on Google+, but in an extremely annoying way. You can create a circle in which you add only the brands you truly want to follow. But you can't set it as your default view. And when you decide to post something, it defaults to that circle instead of 'public'. It's like having three extra clicks for no reason.

On YouTube, however, you can't do it at all. Sure, you can create collections of channels that you subscribe to. But when I did that, it only showed 56% of the new videos of the channels in that collection. That's better than the 47% in the full stream, but I'm still not in control.

Facebook, of course, is one of the most ranked and filtered streams of all. So that's completely out of our control. You can choose only to see friends posts or only posts from pages, but those streams are ranked too.

The social middleman

The overall problem here, of course, is that our social channels are trying to be the middleman, the same way as newspapers acts as middlemen for news.

And as long as they keep focusing on that (which is in their best interest), we will experience this growing sense of friction between creators/ brands and the people who follow them.

Social should not be a destination. It's a connection. It should not be a platform that we rent. It should be a service that we add to enhance the connection.

This is true for how we follow and stay connected to the creators and brands that we care about. It's also true for content creators in not having to ask permission, to connect in a way that is both meaningful and profitable.

Social media channels today are doing exactly the same as AOL tried to do in the old days. AOL tried to be a second internet, in which you had to browse the world through them. AOL tried to be the middleman of the internet. A destination and a path through which you had to go.

The future of social is when we get past that. The next social channel is one that isn't a middleman but is instead operating as a service layer.

It's only a matter of time before this will happen, and it will happen. It might take 5-10 years... it might take 15 years. That's hard to predict, but the trends are clearly forming.

The trend of friction towards 'old-social'. The increased annoyance of not feeling in control. The tension that emerges when you have to ask permission. The problem of the rich getting richer, and the irritation over rented versus owned.

As this trend increases, it's only a matter of time before we reach critical mass. And already today, we are seeing how the younger generation is starting to think of social in a different way. They have started to take back control with, for instance, Snapchat (which is all about control).

The social media channels that we know today are now 'old social'.

It may be that some of these channels might transform themselves and become true social services of the future. There are plenty of great examples of Google+ being a social layer and not just a platform. But their actions are currently moving them in the direction of 'old-social'. The social world of being a middleman of rented, ranked and controlled platforms.

But the new social world is coming. The trends are building. People are dreaming (and complaining), and needs are being formed.

That is a great recipe for change.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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