Recommendations, particularly those of the ‘Up Next’ variety, have been very important to the way all kinds of people perceive YouTube. In the music community, for example, the way its recommendations drive music-video views has been cited as support for the ‘value gap’ argument that YouTube is more than just a ‘passive, neutral’ intermediary for the content uploaded to its platform.
Yet they have also been a big part of YouTube’s argument for the potential of YouTube Music, as expressed by its head of music Lyor Cohen, who has regularly pointed out that YouTube’s recommendations drive 80% of watch-time on the platform overall. Meanwhile, outside music, ‘Up Next’ has been getting plenty of criticism in recent times, with accusations that it can lead viewers (particularly children) to some unpleasant content.
Anyway, recommendations are important both for YouTube’s service and for the way it’s perceived, so changes to the system are also important. “One thing we’ve consistently heard from you is that you want more control over what videos appear on your homepage and in Up Next suggestions. So we’re doing more to put you in the driver’s seat,” announced the company yesterday. That includes making it easier to explore “topics and related videos” on YouTube’s homepage and in the ‘Up Next’ box “such as baking videos, the latest late-night talk shows or your favorite music genre”. There will also be the ability to remove suggestions from channels you don’t want to be recommended, and to see why a particular video has been suggested for you.
These may sound like small changes, but like any service where algorithms play a key role, small changes can lead to significant consequences. Will these tweaks drive more music-video viewing overall, or less? Within that, will it funnel more attention towards established artists or new acts? And how (if at all) might people be able to tune their YouTube strategy to take advantage of the changes – be they music or non-music creators? All of this remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, there’s some separate news on YouTube Music today: an expansion of the music-streaming service’s offline feature. It’s always had an ‘Offline Mixtape’ that can be set to automatically download up to 100 tracks that the algorithm thinks you’ll like. Now that number has expanded to 500 with a feature called ‘Smart Downloads’, with the tracks including your liked songs, favoured playlists and most-played albums. 9 to 5 Google reports that the new feature is rolling out over the coming days.