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This piece must be caveated with a statement made by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin who stated that Blockchain is not necessarily suited for every industry it could potentially disrupt.
He said: “Sometimes it is for marketing hype. Sometimes it is just people who are genuinely excited about blockchains and want the thing they are personally excited about and their job to align more with each other, which is a totally legitimate, human thing to want to do.”
So, as is human to do, I want to point blockchain at YouTube, and inadvertently other major internet corporations who hold huge monopolies over how we live our digital lives, and see just how much blockchain can wrest control off the wheel.
My own YouTube experience has brought me here, as has hearing concerns from those who make their living off the video hosting platform by vlogging and creating content. For me, it is the algorithm of recommended videos that got me frustrated, and to a similar extent, the same issues are plaguing emerging vloggers who are trying to get their content noticed.
YouTube has a lot of sway with its algorithms, and upon delving deeper into the issue, it is clear that myself, and my vlogging friends, are not the only ones who are irritated by this. There is a building wave of outrage from established stars who are looking for a better, more fair, and less centralised approach from the hosting platform.
Whenever the word centralised is mentioned, immediately the blockchain alarm bells go off - and this is why I brought Mr Buterin's caveat into the equation at the start. Not every industry, sector or ecosystem can be solved by flinging a blockchain at it - but it could help, to an extent.
The issues at hand for the general population
For most of the population, YouTube is an excellent way to kill some time, a source of information, and a potentially endless stream of content for us to consume. YouTube’s primary goal is to keep you on the site so once one video is finished, you should be enticed to watch more.
This enticing is done through an algorithm, and it is supposed to pick up on our interests and likes, and naturally steer us into those all too familiar YouTube holes. However, the algorithm is not as sharp or as smart as it could or should be.
A former YouTube employer, Guillaume Chaslot, a software engineer in artificial intelligence who worked on the site's recommendation engine in 2010-2011, has said he watched as the algorithms started pushing users toward conspiracy videos and other poor sources of information.
The internet is a powerful tool and a massive source of information, so when you have something like YouTube pushing people towards misinformation or super-soft science, one has to question its integrity.
“There is an infrastructure built since the Renaissance to ensure the integrity of information and knowledge in libraries, many layers of gatekeepers thick,” wrote David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at The New School and a known critic of online platforms. “YouTube dispenses with all of it in the name of frictionless content acquisition and an algorithm optimised for watch-time to sell ads.”
Carroll gets to the crux of the issue in the above statement. YouTube’s primary goal - to keep people viewing- is only to keep people seeing adverts which is where the money comes. So, a catchy title, about a conspiracy theory, is bound to spark interest in many people, and thus these videos garner much traffic, and are put forward in recommendations thanks to a weak algorithm that essentially goes back to the centralised governance of YouTube trying to boost ad revenue.
Problems for the vloggers
For those who are trying to make a living producing excellent and informative content, one can already see the problem as outlined for their quest for views.
Everyone knows that it is not easy to break into the vlogging space, especially on YouTube. There is so much content out there and to be found in amongst that is a real slog. There are tools to try and make it easier, such as the recommendation algorithm, but as explained above, users are being pushed to videos with tenuous similarity to what they are interested in, but with a more significant number of views.
More so, YouTube has been experimenting with its algorithms and often inputs new ideas which can entirely scupper a lot of people’s careers.
YouTuber, Gary C, explains how YouTube's latest experiment - which it said appeared for a "small number" of users - changed the order of videos in the feed. Instead of showing the most recent videos at the top, YouTube said the manipulated feed showed people "the videos they want to watch".
"When I click subscribe on a Youtube channel, that's me saying: 'More of this, please,'" explained Gary C. "I don't expect to be force fed things YouTube 'thinks' I should see. I have nearly 47,000 people who said 'yes', yet I'm regularly asked if I still post videos."
Technology vlogger Marques Brownlee - who has more than six million subscribers - said prioritising videos "they think we want to see" was a "business move". However, he added: "It's a subscription box. Users chose to subscribe. They want to see it all. If they don't, they'll unsubscribe."
How can blockchain help?
So, while YouTube has its problems, there is no doubting its popularity and the success it has garnered. It is a significant internet player and the most prominent video hosting site in the world. To this end, it is highly doubtful that another platform will usurp it any time soon, and especially not a blockchain one.
However, there is a lot that blockchain platforms can do in association with YouTube. It is an environment that can help up-and-comers make a mark and grow themselves without any unfair manipulation or prejudice thanks to its lack of centralisation and the transparency it can offer.
There are many social media platforms based on blockchain already, gaining a spectrum of success. Some, over-ambitious, believe they can take out YouTube based on blockchain alone - and I feel Buterin would include them in his assessment seen at the top of this article - but some believe there is space for both.
Philippe Perotti, CEO and founder of AQER, a video platform that wants to use blockchain and AI to assist vloggers, says there should be coexistence between decentralised platform as well as something like YouTube.
“To be realistic, Youtube is not going to be replaced anytime soon by a decentralised blockchain project,” said Perotti “We have decided for the 'hybrid' period in which blockchain solutions co-exist with centralised platforms, to connect with Youtube and not compete with it.“
For vloggers, and their livelihood, blockchain platforms offer ways for them to gain back the control of the critical monetisation process, it is also a path that is less saturated and can perhaps be seen as a nursery to popularity.
“Blockchain platforms can assist vloggers to monetise their content in many ways and allow them to gain control back on their monetisation process slowly. There is also a chance that this will accelerate good, yet unfamiliar, vloggers to popularity,” added Perotti.
“There are many issues the vlogging market is facing. For one, there is no common KPIs to assess a vlogger's influence, and the KPIs that are currently being used can be easily manipulated. On top of that, prices are not fair and transparent. This creates a scenario where influential vloggers might get paid lower than they deserve while less influential vloggers may charge higher prices for the value they give.”
“Most importantly, intermediation of marketing agencies and Youtube itself is currently around 60% of a vlogger's revenue – or more. This monopoly allows them to control the vloggers in ways like delaying payments or censoring their content and exposure.”
In the imposing realm of YouTube, the option of a blockchain platform to essentially ‘practice on’ is enticing, and like Perotti says, it can work in tandem with YouTube and help creators curate and better their content without the usual restrictions from YouTube, before taking it to the mainstream.
The idea that a vlogger needs to sink their full time into vlogging to be a success, but can only really be a success after many years of grinding, thanks to the stringent YouTube controls, seems self-defeatist. Being a blockchain-based vlogger can offer an unrestricted, and transparent platform that is less saturated to monetise content.
Moreover, the more vloggers that utilise alternative video hosting platforms will lead to bettering the market as it will introduce competition to YouTube.
Loosening the grip
The emergence of blockchain vlogging platforms, or anything that really targets the monopoly of internet giants like Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. can only be seen as a good thing, but as Buterin states, it does not necessarily mean they will be a massive success and usurp these other platforms, but they do offer a different type of alternative, which is always good in a free market.
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