My thoughts on Youtube as a premium user

  • A.I.
  • Technology

I think a lot about the business models of the products I use. I'm weird I know. But I think I've stumbled on an interesting observation this time.

It was 2020 when I ended up going YouTube Premium to end the onslaught of awful ads that are the norm on the platform. This was great and I've honestly never looked back. I genuinely get a lot of value out of the creators I watch on YouTube and can hand on heart say it adds to my life.

However, I've been thinking about the the issues raised by the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and Tristan Harris in the podcast episode of Your Undivided Attention which centers around what they describe as "The Attention Economy". Companies like YouTube and Facebook remain free because "senator we run ads.".The consequence of that business model is that the more time you spend on their platform the more money they make. Whether it's adding to your life or not. As a technologist I too am concerned about the issues raised in the very entertaining but arresting movie The Social Dilemma that tries to shine a light on what is going on behind the curtain in these giant AI driven advertising businesses. I would recommend a subscribe to the podcast Your Undivided Attention too.

But this article is about YouTube Premium. I pay for YouTube Premium. What is it that I'm paying for though? I pay to remove the ads, that's right. Thats awesome. Bu I'm paying to get rid of an annoying thing aren't I? Is that really a feature?

Well, now I can also listen to YouTube without having my phone screen on wasting battery, bandwidth and precious resources on which we need to sustain life on this planet. But also thats just another annoying thing I got rid of right? That's not a feature is it? In 2021?

Now I gotta hand it to Google. They know how to make AI recommendation engines alright. You gone done it Google. You indexed the whole internet and brought the knowledge of humanity to my fingertips. Thank you.

However, I do pay for YouTube and I have started to realised that "The Algorithm" isn't really made for me. As a YouTube Premium user. Despite the fact that I'm one of the few users that actually pay for the product. The entire system that is YouTube, including the independent creators, are laser focussed on the metric that drives YouTube's money printer. Advertising revenue from the ads played before and during the video.

What this means on the platform side is that the way in which videos are categorised, labelled and recommended by YouTube is all geared toward keeping you on the platform and watching more ads. But it's true of the content itself as well. Savvy creators look into the trends and research onto what makes videos perform well with respect to ad revenue and this is a constantly moving target. Discussions about the YouTube algorithm and what content works get quite meta sometimes for example Youtuber DeAngelo Wallace had a 2 year gag making his videos 10min 1sec so he would get an ad break in the middle.

But I pay for YouTube Premium and it makes me wonder. How many AI engineers there are in YouTube building models to help me expand my understanding of the world around me with informative but entertaining content? Or help me discover the love for bamboo flutes I never knew I had? I wonder if they have anyone optimising for me be responsible with my YouTube use.

Then I wonder how many AI engineers YouTube has working on the next best way to optimise for how many ads non-paying YouTube users see.

Now I'm not saying I'm about to stop paying for YouTube Premium because the ads are insufferable and besides it's where my favourite creators are. But what of the creators I haven't found yet? What about the topics I don't even know I am interested in?

Google can you please open that big AI heart of yours and give me your YouTube Premium user a little bit of that AI loving?