When you read the words “YouTube Community” what immediately comes to mind? Do you think of your favorite big-time YouTube personalities and streamers? Do you think of more niche, Internet Gutter-type videos and the folks behind them? Do you think of hours and hours of political conspiracy theory rants? Or do you throw up in your mouth a little thinking about the torrents of hate-filled comments that exist under every video no matter how innocent?
These are all valid answers, and that’s a problem for a company that probably wants to have some control over its own image. With YouTube Community, YouTube is trying to add some positivity back it’s, well, community. Back in September, the video giant rolled out new features specifically for better connecting creators and fans. It’s a promising initiative, but YouTube Community still has a long way to go.
On participating YouTube channels, you’ll see the new “Community” tab. Click it, and you can scroll through a social feed from that channel. In between videos, creators can keep engaging with fans by posting text, pictures, live streams, other videos, or links to other sites like a Patreon page. John and Hank Green post weekly book reviews while ThreadBangers post new deals on apparel. GIFs are also plentiful. Subscribers get pinged when the feed is updated.
These features are useful but obvious and kind of basic. The way content is presented, in a linear feed inside the YouTube channel, comes across as a very generic take on a social network. Perhaps unsurprisingly, YouTube Community reminds me of Google Plus. It’s a solid enough foundation, but when Google talks about this being “the deepest product collaboration we’ve ever done with creators” I have to imagine the more unique tools creators asked for had to be scheduled after these more standard ones were established.
Even stranger, this handful of functionality is limited to a handful of channels. Right now you can only access YouTube Community on popular channels like The Key of Awesome, The Game Theorists, and Lilly Singh. Google says the features are still in beta, so we really have no way to judge how including social feeds on more channels might affect the overall YouTube atmosphere. But for fans of these specific channels, it’s really up to the creators to make the feeds worth reading. If there’s exclusive content to comment on that’s great, but most of the channels are just posting the kind of material you’d find on Facebook or Twitter. The only benefit is you’re not clicking on another tab, and YouTube keeps you ensnared in its ecosystem.
Compare YouTube Community to some of YouTube’s other big, bold moves recently. Whatever you think of the quality of the programming, launching YouTube Red, an entire subscription service for premium original shows, took some effort. It was also a smart way to leverage the increasingly professional content from some of the biggest YouTube creators.
Meanwhile, YouTube Heroes was a real attempt to acknowledge and try to clean up YouTube’s infamous toxicity. Granted, deputizing volunteer users and rewarding them with perks for flagging bad videos and comments may be better in theory than in practice, but at least the company tried something. It didn’t just continue to do absolutely nothing at all while harboring some of the worst people on the internet.
YouTube wants to own its identity a little more. It seeks to be a platform people care about for reasons beyond its status as the ubiquitous home for internet videos. It wants to be your home for original shows and video game live streams and bustling online communities, too. Robust, in-house social media features are a logical next step. But until it expands to more channels, it’s too early to judge the effectiveness of YouTube Community. How ironic would it be though if after all is said and done, YouTube ends up the most pleasant social network of them all?