Tag Archives: Digital Society

Is YouTube making a big mistake with ads in the middle of their videos?

YouTube is a free commercial entertainment platform, and like any other online free service they make money by displaying ads. And it’s not just the company itself, but talented and hard-working content creators who profit from this system. Watching a few seconds of ads before a video is, in my mind, an acceptable trade-off to be able to watch some pretty unique and interesting content.

But lately the ads have been moving from the beginning of a video to the middle of it. And I’m wondering if this is a mistake by YouTube. Sure, YouTube is making money this way, but what about the advertisers and content creators? Are they better of with ads in the middle of videos?

Of course, interupting content to display ads is nothing new – it’s how television has operated for decades. But there is a distinct difference in how it’s being done. On TV, ads are usually presented at standardized intervals. And they usually aren’t a surprise. Dramatic TV-shows are edited to create a natural break for ads, and other shows have narrators or presenters informing the audience that “we’ll be right back after these messages”. Most of us are aware of the oncoming ads long before they appear on screen, being in the bathroom or making a cup of coffee long before the first fast-food commercial is shown.

But there is no such natural breaks or smooth transitions to ads on YouTube. The commercials pop ut on screen more abruptly than a monster in a horror movie. They often start playing while the narrator or presenter in the video is in mid-sentence. They are abrupt and sudden breaks in the content you’re enjoying. And while YouTube makes money this way, I’m starting to wonder if the content creators and advertising companies are better off not having ads in the middle of any videos.

In behavioral psychology the term “negative punishment” refers to the removal of a positive stimulus, like a child having his toy taken away as punishment for a behavior. On YouTube, enjoying a video is a positive stimulus that is abruptly taken away by ads. In such a situation it’s easy for the human mind to make a connection between this punishment and the ad itself, or even the video.

This is part speculation on my part, but being an avid YouTube-watcher I’m starting to feel the effects of these ads. Certain companies, who’s ads have been shown frequently to me in this way, have been associated with something negative in my mind – including companies and products that I’m generally positive to. And while I haven’t experienced it myself, I’m wondering if the presenters in the videos I watch could end up suffering the same fate.

I don’t know how much thought YouTube has put into this business model beyond the idea of presenting more ads to earn more money. And to be clear: I’m not opposed to ads on YouTube – the company and it’s content creators have to make money somehow. But the advertisers who pay good money to have their ads shown should be confident that their ads are placed in such a way that they have the best effect. And content creators should be confident that the integrity of their productions aren’t affected negatively. Not to mention that there might be a point where the audience feels overrun with ads and start loosing interest in the platform – at which point everyone looses.

 

YouTube image by Esther Vargas

Comment sections vs. Facebook

Today was a very special day. Today I handed in my master thesis in Digital Culture. I’ve been researching comments on news articles, trying to determine what is the difference between commenting on news articles on a newspapers comment section and its Facebook page. And by the end of it, I ended up creating a website where i present the research, as well as a creative work illustrating the difference between comments on the two platforms, called Comments and Platforms.

Now, after reading and researching comments for what seems like forever, I am left with a new outlook on commenting. I used to think, as many others, that comment sections were vile and horrible places, filled with racism and sexism. But this has not been my experience while researching them. I have read many comments over the past year, and read a lot about them, and I have rarely seen what I would call uncivil behavior. Now, it may be that I’ve been lucky: that the newspaper I have been studying has very civil readers (doubtful), or that its moderators are quick and effective at deleting what may be a swarm of derogatory comments. The latter is more likely, though if that was commonplace I would expect to see signs of it: weird “gaps” in a communication, like replies to comments that aren’t there.

What I have found among the thousands of comments I have read is mostly positive or neutral. There are certainly quite a few idiots writing comments on news stories, but there are also some genuinely informative comments that have shed new light on a story. And of course, there are those comments that are just entertaining to read. And even if 80-90% of the comments are pretty much useless, isn’t that also true for media in general? I’m sure that most of us scroll by most of the content presented to us on Facebook, news sites, YouTube, Spotify or wherever, only being interested in a fraction of it.

I have come to believe that comments, and the comment sections they are written in, can be quite valuable. The world wide web gives everyone a voice. But comment sections gives everyone a voice – and an audience of as much as millions of potential readers. And journalists have reported that comments have positively impacted their work in several ways, including providing enhanced critical reflection and new story leads (Graham and Wrigth 2015).

But there is a problem. Even if I haven’t seen much of it myself, uncivil behavior in comment sections do exist. And anonymity is often blamed for this – wrongly, according to my own research. So many news sites began to use a Facebook plugin to power their comment sections – requiring commenters to user their Facebook profile. And worse: it means that it’s becoming more and more common for a Facebook account to be reqired for participation in public debates.

Some news sites have decided to close their comment sections in favor of using their Facebook pages to engage with readers. This was the reason for my own research. I think it’s important to know what such a move to Facebook is doing to the democratic quality of commenting. What I found was that there is more conversations, debates, questions, arguments and informative comments on a newspaper’s comment section that its Facebook page. Comments on Facebook are shorter, more reactive, and rarely fuel discussions.

So the quality of commenting is much lower on Facebook than a newspapers comment section. But what does improve on Facebook is the spreadability of an article because of the higher number of interactions through commenting, likes and reactions – all of which are automatically shared and spread to other people. The cynical side of me is tempted to think that this is the real reason for some news sites to shift their focus to Facebook.

In the end, the question is what do we wan’t with comment sections. Do we want them to be a place for public debate? Do we want them to be a safe space? Or do we want them to be removed because they’re not really good for anything? Personally, I’m in favor of keeping and trying to improve those platforms that facilitate public debate. And what I have found is that comment sections, even with their shortcomings, are better at facilitating public debate than commenting on articles on Facebook.

 

Sources

Graham, Todd, and Scott Wright. 2015. ‘A Tale of Two Stories from “Below the Line”: Comment Fields at the Guardian’. The International Journal of Press/Politics 20, no. 3: 317-338. DOI: 10.1177/1940161215581926

 

How having more music has made me less interested in it

As Facebook is making a play for the music industry, commentators are speculating about how social media is affecting artists and music producers. Digby Pearson argues that social media is making music fans more fragmented, and that being a fan of an artist has gone from being about going to concerts to clicking “like” on Facebook. Vince Neilstein argues for social media in his article, claiming that social media has helped artists to reach more listeners (Source).

The arguments by Pearson and Neilstein are typical of the debate about music in a social media age. On the one side there are those who praise social media as a way to reach a larger audience. And on the other side there are those who think that social media belittles music by changing and simplifying the relationships between artists and fans. But reading Neilstein’s article made me think about another issue: how does the modern music industry, with Spotify as the main source of music for a lot of people, change our relationship to music as an art form? I have no answers to this question other than to reflect on how my own relationship to music has changed over the years.

 

The first music I can remember owning was a vinyl record by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, handed down to me from my father. Later, when my childhood bedroom was updated with a CD-player, most of the music I listened to was collections: movie soundtracks and rock- and pop collections. I never had a lot of music, and some of it was bad. But I listened to the music I had again and again, until I knew most of the songs by heart. And I appreciated every song, good or bad.

When I got my first computer at age 14, at a time of dial-up modems and a painfully slow internet connection, CD’s (and occasionally a floppy disk) with Mp3 files were traded amongst my friends. I remember having a collection of about 150 Mp3 files, including rock, rap, pop and some comedy songs. Just like with my earlier CD collection, I listen to these few songs so many times I can still remember the lyrics to many of them.

As internet speeds improved, and I discovered torrent sites, my music collection started to increase. For the first time I couldn’t listen to all my music in a day. I had to start organizing my files into folders. My collection of music, although not dramatically large, became something I had to manage. And even though all the music in the world was now easily obtainable, I built a carefully selected collection of music – I only wanted to have music I liked.

From my first vinyl record to my collection of less then legally obtained music, one thing was always true: I knew my music. I knew what music I had, what I liked and I knew some of it by heart. Today, I don’t own any vinyl records. My CD collection is very limited. And I don’t have a collection of downloaded Mp3-files, because I eventually grew up and wanted to get my music legally.

 

Today I have a Spotify subscription, and all the music in the world has never been so easily available to me. But what does that mean for my relationship to music? Unlike before, I no longer know my music. In stead of CD’s or folders with Mp3 files, I now have a collection of playlists on Spotify, many of which are labeled “something something – check out later”. Ironically, I felt more of an ownership of the music I previously downloaded from torrent sites. I at least had to work for that music – I had to battle sleazy ads for magic pills and dating sites, search for and find the right files, and risk getting a computer virus or a Scientology documentary instead of music (yeah, that really happened once).

On Spotify I don’t have to do anything. And everything is there. And yet, I never feel like there’s anything to listen to (talk about a first-world problem). There’s too much music to browse through, too much to feel any kind of ownership over. And Spotify is filter-bubbling me the same music suggestions all the time, so even when I do try finding something new, it’s still the same.

Of course I enjoy Spotify, and I’m not going to end my subscription anytime soon. But I can’t help feeling that, with the massive music library Spotify offers, something has been lost. And yes, I am spoiled – complaining about too much and too easy to find music. I guess if I have to find some sort of moral to this rambling, it’s that the more you have of something, the less it is worth.