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YouTube co-founder predicts ‘decline’ of the platform following removal of dislikes

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It’s a ‘universally disliked change,’ says co-founder Jawed Karim

YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim edited the description to YouTube’s first ever video (above) to make his opinion known.
Image: YouTube

Jawed Karim, the third co-founder of YouTube, has condemned the platform’s removal of public dislike counts on videos, suggesting that the change will lead to YouTube’s decline.

“Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change? There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed,” writes Karim. “The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform. Why? Because not all user-generated content is good.”

YouTube made the change to its UI last week, saying it removed public dislikes in order to counter harassment and promote “respectful interactions between viewers and creators.” But many YouTuber users and creators have criticized the decision, arguing that dislike counts give the community a way to express its preferences as well as quickly identify misleading and spam videos promoted by YouTube’s own algorithm.

Karim has been getting his own message out in an unusual way: by editing the description to the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, a banal clip titled “Me at the zoo” which stars the 25-year-old Karim himself. Karim originally edited the description of the video a few days ago to read: “When every YouTuber agrees that removing dislikes is a stupid idea, it probably is. Try again, YouTube [face palm emoji].” But this morning he changed this description once again to give a more detailed condemnation:

“The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform,” writes Karim. “Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. [...] The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre?”

It’s not the first time Karim has used the “Me at the zoo” video as an informal billboard for his opinions on the platform. In 2013, when YouTube announced it would use Google Plus to power comments — a move which many saw as a way for the search giant to force increased engagement for its doomed social network — Karim changed the video’s description to read: “why the fuck do i need a google+ account to comment on a video?”

In his statement today, Karim compares the video in which Matt Koval, YouTube’s “creator liason,” announced the removal of dislikes to infamous footage of US soldier Jeremiah Denton, who was captured during the Vietnam War. In 1966, Denton was forced to give a television interview by his captors, during which he blinked in Morse code to spell out the word “torture.”

You can read Karim’s latest update in full below:

The spoken words did not match the eyes. The video reminded me of an interview Admiral Jeremiah Denton gave in 1966. I have never seen a less enthusiastic, more reluctant announcement of something that is supposed to be great.

Calling the removal of dislikes a good thing for creators cannot be done without conflict by someone holding the title of “YouTube’s Creator Liaison”. We know this because there exists not a single YouTube Creator who thinks removing dislikes is a good idea — for YouTube or for Creators.

Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change? There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. Instead, there will be references to various studies. Studies that apparently contradict the common sense of every YouTuber.

The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform. Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. The idea was never that all content is good. The idea WAS, however, that among the flood of content, there are great creations waiting to be exposed. And for that to happen, the stuff that’s not great has to fall by the side as quickly as possible.

The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre? Because nothing can be great if nothing is bad.

In business, there’s only one thing more important than “Make it better”. And that’s “Don’t fuck it up”.