The downfall of YouTube


Ani Gere-Miller

Let’s talk about YouTube. I was really into this site as a kid, like many kids were. It was just hard not to get excited by this digital world where you could discover all kinds of videos for absolutely free. People were expressing themselves, being creative, it was awesome. As I got older, the website continued to grow and support new kinds of content. Here, in the present day, YouTube is still thriving, introducing new creators to the mainstream and keeping independent creators relevant.

…Yeah, that’s not what happened. Maybe that’s how it went down in another dimension, but in this one, everything sucks.

YouTube has changed a lot over the years, mostly for the worst, to the point where I’d say modern day YouTube is genuinely very bad. It went from a website that allowed creators to share their work and for others to discover it, to yet another superficial social media platform full of attention seekers, money suckers and drama beggars. But how did this website make such a drastic transformation from something so cool to something so lame? Well, I’ll tell you! But first, we need to go back to the beginning of time… 2005.

In this year, a little free streaming site known as YouTube was founded by a couple of folks by the names of Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim. They had noticed at the time that it was hard to find videos on the internet, so they decided to create a website where video makers could publish their work. Back in the late 2000s/early 2010s, YouTube´s content landscape was very different from what it is now. I think the best way to describe it is that there was a lot more… artistry. I know considering the current state of YouTube that that sounds stupid, but hear me out. Back then, the algorithm and what you had to do to hit it was very different. Instead of just having to produce a lot of content all the time, the determining factor of a video’s popularity was how many people clicked on it. To hit the algorithm, you just had to make an original video that looked interesting and would grab people’s attention. Because of that, there was way more content that consisted of skits, animations, music, scripted pranks, that kinda stuff.

And it was great! It was a place where creative types could share their work with other people and have their voices heard and encouraged by the site instead of buried. Before this, if you wanted your skits, cartoons, etc. to be shown to the public through television of something, you would have to get approved by a bunch of people first, leading the stranger, less conceptually mainstream stuff to be rejected, since the higher-ups would think “We’re not gonna try and fund this. This is too weird. No one’s gonna find it funny or interesting.” But now, you don’t need to go through a long approval process to share your work. All it took was a couple of clicks and BAM! Your work is on display for the public to see! Obviously, there was some cheaper, less good stuff, but it didn’t dominate the site. Overall, it was just a great platform with a lot of cool stuff for you to watch and enjoy.

When I was just a wee small child, there were many warm, sunny days where would come home from school, ask my mom if I could play games on her laptop, she would give me the usual “internet safety is important” talk before giving it to me, and I would jump onto my bed, pull up YouTube, and start binging Minecraft lets-plays and mod reviews. And it was my paradise. There were so many fun Minecraft channels all with unique personalities, brands and styles of video-making. It was honestly inspiring to a young me. Back then, if you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, one of the many replies I would give was a Minecraft YouTuber. Even as I got older and my interest in one type of content faded, I would get sucked back in by the rise of another type of content. When I was in the latter half of elementary school and wanted to broaden my horizons into edgier, more chaotic territory, I became obsessed with those stupid videogame parody cartoons that were popular at the time. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of them honestly aren’t that great, but back then, this kind of stuff was hard to come by. Sure, this type of content centered around an unsubtle edgy twist on something innocent or childlike would become mainstream in the coming years, but back then, this kind of stuff was hard to find outside the internet. I was just fascinated by this world I had found myself in. Plus, It was just hilarious. Sure, I was immature back then so that was a factor, but the snappy, fast pace of these videos allowed them to deliver jokes at a much faster rate then what I was used to. I loved it all, and I have YouTube to thank for allowing me to find it.

These videos also had another effect on me. They opened my eyes to the idea that there’s more ways to make it on YouTube than just recording yourself screaming at a game. You can make animations and cartoons as well! And as a kid who was big into art, that spoke to me, and I became more interested in becoming a content creator. Eventually, making cartoons for YouTube became the career path I wanted and still want to pursue. I probably wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for those stupid videos.

Overall, throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s, YouTube was just a great platform full of great creators and it was rising in popularity to become the most popular free streaming platform around. Viewers got to watch all different kinds of hilarious content for free, and everyone was having a great time.

And then, 2012 happened.

Around this time, YouTube made a change to how the algorithm works that would affect the site all throughout the coming years. Instead of the amount of clicks, your algorithm boost was now determined by how much watchtime your viewers had, meaning that longer and more videos would now be the ones recommended to everyone instead of interesting short ones. This change, I believe, was fundamental to the downfall of YouTube’s content landscape and goes against everything YouTube was made for in the first place.

From this point on, those who uploaded short videos with long periods of silence in between videos would have a way harder time gaining viewership and therefore making money off their channel, meaning that sketch channels, animation channels, ETC would now be receiving less money. The new rule is that if you wanna make money here, you need to prioritize quantity over quality, which leads to different kinds of content becoming dominant on the site. Gaming videos are easy to make as opposed to an animation or skit that requires skill, experience, writers, actors, editors, technology, time, money, and a whole lot of other things to make. To make a lets-play video, you literally just have to record yourself playing a video game, do some minor editing afterwards, and there. You have a video ready to post. Do this once a week and bam. You have a recipe for money. Don’t get me wrong, as I said earlier, some of these gaming channels around this time are very fun and entertaining, but because of how much success and money these channels were making, it created another problem by gaining the attention of non-creative type outsiders who were looking for an easy way to make money.

Since making money became so much easier on the site for channels who put in little to no effort, corporations started seeing it as an opportunity to make money for themselves, giving rise to corporate channels that regularly produced long but substanceless videos that raked in mountains of cash. Because of this, in the upcoming years, YouTube would be dominated not by creative people, but by shovelware brands and influencers. Kids videos, vlogs, fail compilations, reaction channels, etc. None of this content was created because someone felt passionate about the idea and wanted to share it, no. It was created just to make money and absolutely nothing else. YouTube was no longer a place for creative people to express themselves. It was just another place for brands to run around and suck in cash.

This resulted in a new mentality for content creators throughout the late 2010s. Everyone has figured out at this point that if you’re original or take your time with your projects, YouTube isn’t gonna reward you anymore. It’s become too big to support risky ideas. So everyone just… stopped trying. Skit channels, non-storytime animation channels, those were all gone. Those people stopped trying to express themselves, because they knew it wasn’t gonna get them anywhere in YouTube’s modern system. Since it was now so much harder for creative types to make a career out of making videos for YouTube, they started doing it as just a hobby instead. This gave rise to what I’m going to call hobbyist YouTube. An underground part of YouTube where people who still do art, animation, acting and other such things make short and simple projects as a hobby and upload them for the dozen people who get a kick out of it. Despite how sad that previous sentence probably sounded, a lot of these content creators are actually very talented and creative. The problem is that this is all they can do now. In the old days, they probably could’ve made a full-time career out of YouTube and make more ambitious content with more resources, but this isn’t the past. This is the present, so their creative potential isn’t being rewarded by the algorithm at all. Instead of lounging in the upper class, they’re now all scrounging for scraps in the alleyways of the lower class while much less deserving people are taking their spotlight. And they’ve all just accepted it.

And so, here we are in the present day. The trending tab is now infested with drama channels, whatever-degree knife challenges, fake vlogs, the usual at this point. Thanks to big brands being prioritized over independent creators, the site has now just become another shallow pit of celebrities and companies, including the YouTube company itself, exploiting money and attention out of each other.

It’s hard not to feel sad about what’s happened to YouTube, but I feel like there’s still a little bit of hope for the future of the site, because, like I said, the original brand of creators still exist, and some are even gaining traction in their own underground community kind of way. I have so much respect for the artistic people who are keeping the old creative flame of the website alive through everything, and that flame needs to be kindled. We can’t insist that the YouTube company itself will just magically fix the site some day. It’s up to us to give the creators who truly deserve it the attention they deserve. So please, if you find an original YouTube video you genuinely like, click the like button and leave a comment. It will make it more visible to the algorithm. share it with a friend. Talk about it. Seek the creators’ other work and share that too. Spread word of mouth! It won’t automatically turn their channel into a widespread success, but it will at least be something. Even though YouTube is mostly bad nowadays, that doesn’t mean the good stuff doesn’t exist, and we should support it. Even if it doesn’t mean they’ll become internet royalty overnight, it’s important to support the creators we love so that there’s even a slight possibility that there will be more like them in the future.