Wednesday, 12 February 2014

YouTube and Google+ integration: aggregating feedback

This post has been collecting dust in my drafts folder for quite some time, and as such it isn't newsworthy anymore perhaps. Yet, for the sake of sharing my views, nor wasting the effort of writing this post, I've put some final touches to it and published it regardless.

So, by now you should be aware that the GOOG has swapped out YouTube's ancient comments system for the newer one they built for Google+. Perhaps through the angry screams from the various vocal YouTubers upset by the changes. Maybe from Google Plus users who feel that YouTube users are now invading their cultivated comment streams.
Perchance even from people like me. Those who just welcome the changes on either sides, and look forward to using of the improved integration features!

Google Plus and me

I've watched Google Plus grow and change over the years, and while I've not agreed with all the changes (and those who have me in their circles know I can be very verbal about it), overall I really like how the social network has turned out.
I do check Google Plus daily for updates from the people I know; more so even than I check Facebook these days. To me, G+ is more about reading about topics that interest me, than following every shit and fart of the people I know from 'meatspace'. I like the network and it's part of my daily communications. I like its features and most of its layout.

Interface issues

Most of the layout yes, definitely not all. I still think for instance the columns / post boxes are way too narrow. The hiding top-bar was utterly annoying as well, though luckily they have now fixed that! The circles lists and management interfaces are horrible to work with too.
However, with userstyle tools such as Stylish and Stylebot, I can override just about any styling. They allow me to make G+ (or any other website) look the way I want it to look. So, all in all, the layout issue isn't much of a problem to me either. Yet, I do agree that it has some user experience flaws that Google should work on.

Accounts

Of course I understand though that needing to migrate your account onto the new system upset some people. It's frustrating to go through any changes and to need a different login. It's even more appalling that those who kept denying the merge choices, got their accounts merged after all. A better option would've been to keep those accounts read-only, or to lock them perhaps.
Yet, Google+ as a service isn't to blame. It's more a Google Account thing.

As a back-end developer –no, not for Google– I can understand the desire/need to merge these comment back-ends. It means they'll only have a single codebase to maintain. This in turn allows them to find more ways of integrating their services. It also can make it easier to bring more traffic and interaction to YouTube (and yes, also vice versa to Google+). This change actually has already brought some useful features to both platforms, at least in my opinion. More about that further down though.

Not unexpected

Also, it's not like this is a completely unexpected change. It's been coming for quite some time now. They've offered migration options and postponed the merger for longer than many other would've.

'Real name'-policy

I also don't quite get the 'I don't want to post under my real name'-argument that a lot are raising. Most of the comments I post on YouTube use my FiXato alias. This username connects to my +FiXato Google+ Page. While this page is part of my main profile, Google doesn't that the Page belongs to my Profile.
Everyone can merge their YT account with such a Google+ Page for which Google doesn't require a 'real name'. As such, one can keep the same name as for their YT account name.
Various people higher up at Google+ have even acknowledged they allow pseudonyms now for G+ Profiles. Though you might have to go through an appeal process. This allows you to submit "Links to online locations where a significant community knows you by this name."

But let's not focus on the bad things. Let's have a look at some of the improvements, at least as how I, as a long-time user of both platforms, see them.

Benefits

Now, before this integration, if I wanted to leave a comment after watching an embedded video on Google+, I always had to go to YouTube. This always kinda bothered me, as it forced me to leave my current environment. The video would reload (which can be a pain on slow connections) and it would start playing all over again while I wrote my comment.

Sure, I could leave a comment on the shared G+ post, but that would only start a discussion with the G+ poster (who doesn't necessarily have to be the uploader of the video). It wouldn't reach the YouTube community.

No longer do I have to leave my G+ Stream now and load up the video again in YT, just to leave a comment or join a discussion. I can just type up my comment as I watch the video, include any timestamps as reference, +mention any relevant people and post it when I'm done. The only thing I am missing out on, is the existing other discussions on the video.

Extra source of feedback

Let's also talk about another benefit of this for YouTube channel owners.
Before, if someone really liked your video, and wanted to share it to his friends on Google+, the only way you —as the content creator– could perhaps tell, was by an increased view count, and perhaps in your YouTube Analytics for playback sources and referrals.
With this new level of integration however, you'll get instant feedback on YouTube of people sharing and talking about your video outside of YT, in the form of a YT 'comment'. It opens up a whole extra platform through which you can get feedback. Though I do wish I could disable the sharing to YouTube on a per-video-basis.

Just imagine how much more feedback and interaction you could get if the same level of integration was also possible with other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook? Imagine being able to instantly see everything people write about your video as they link it outside of YouTube.

What other new features do I like?

I like that we can finally edit our posts, include URLs and previously disallowed characters such as < and > and even use formatting using *bold*, _italic_ and -strike-through- text.
It's also quite useful we now have the ability to reference other users through +mentions and sort the comments by more relevant ones. Granted, these should've been standard features in YouTube from the beginning though, and don't necessarily need G+ integration.

Limited comment sharing

Another feature that seems quite useful to me, is the ability to limit your comments just to a selective audience, and that you can opt-in to share your (top-level) comments directly on Google+ too; it saves some copy/paste work on the longer and more in-depth comments I leave on videos.

Yes, I like being able to leave longer comments on videos, and not having to reply to myself if I go over the limit. More space for comments can lead to better discussions imho and might inspire people to leave something else than the dull "<3 it" (oh wait, that wasn't possible before because of the < in it) or "u suck" brilliance that a certain audience would leave.

Better moderation tools and filtering

I like that I can now add filters in my control panel for my channel to combat spam like the 'earn money by working from home' comments, and that I can more easily report comments as spam and block certain users, while providing a little more details to the reason for the report.

The new sorting method also is something I mostly like. It makes it a whole lot easier to see if I've left a comment on the video before, or to find back my comment to edit a typo, or to reference it elsewhere. Yes, I don't care about so-called 'celebrities', but I do care about the comments made by people who I've previously added to my circles, because they usually make thoughtful comments.

Closing words

All in all, people need to stop thinking about losing their precious old ways of doing things, and be more open to the whole new audience they can have more interaction with.

Not everyone is upset about the change though. Others, such as +Brian Healy of +The Droid Effect have made videos such as Google+ and YouTube, get over it!, acknowledging some of the benefits of the new system, and agreeing that Google has every right to make changes to their platform as they see fit. Understanding that just because you use a platform (and don't pay a dime for it) and provide it with content (for which quite some actually make a nice living or generate some added income by taking their share of ad revenue), doesn't make you part owner of the platform and entitle you to decide what course it should be taken.


Brian Healy's video, "Google+ and YouTube, get over it!"

Disclaimer: I am not a Google employee, nor am I being paid for my posts. 
Man, I wish I could get money for the various rants I've written against and for various changes throughout the years.
I have been a member of Google Plus from close to its birth though, back when the only way to get a G+ account was to get invited to a 'huddle'.