Google executive gives vague answers on effectiveness of clickbait on YouTube

It seems clickbait could actually be effective in some situations but the exec doesn't say whether it's ever actively penalized.


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During his over one-and-a-half-half hour-long appearance on Lex Fridman’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Podcast, Cristos Goodrow, VP of Engineering at Google and head of Search and Discovery at YouTube (aka YouTube Algorithm) – spoke about many issues, including how those whose livelihoods depend on performing well on YouTube might be looking for ways to maximize their presence, under YouTube’s ever-changing “rules of engagement.”

At one point, the host referred to creators essentially tying their monetizing game to this system just to get more attention, i.e.., clicks, and revenues – and asking the YouTube channel owner if this might be “right or wrong?”

What does Goodrow really think of YouTubers coming up with strategies that boost engagement to stay alive in the ecosystem?

Suffice it to say – he doesn’t think too highly of it.

And that concerns anything from creators trying to stay alive amid an onslaught of various – sometimes politically and ideologically motivated “apocalypses” – to creators simply reaching for things like clickbait in video titles for the sake of promoting their “general purpose” videos.

To his credit, the host, Lex Fridman – while unfortunately hardly ever making eye-contact with his Google interviewee – does refine the problem to simply videos objectively having high-quality content, but feeling the need to go for “clickbait” thumbnails and titles – just so they could get a fair chance of surfacing on YouTube.

Goodrow was essentially asked about the mischiefs of some YouTube creators “gaming” the platform’s algorithms in order to surface on the platform that now seems far more interested in luring in conventional celebrity than propping up its native talent.

This is what Cristos had to say:

“(…) Even if you were to take the algorithm out of it, and just say, ok, all these video happen to be lined up – the algorithm didn’t make any decision about which one to put on the top or the bottom, but they’re all lined up there – which ones are the people gonna choose?,” said Goodrow.

There’s so many things for any democratic society taking into account YouTube’s impact to unpack right here – not least in terms of a Google exec saying this stuff on record – in view of Google’s near-complete dominance of the market.

“Even if you were” – suggests you don’t have to make any informed choice at this time; so Google’s “choice” of what to surface on its huge platform apparently has every right “to put on the top or the bottom” of recommendations pretty much anything.

And Goodrow’s tl;dr reply reads like: you’ll just have to be smart enough not to fall for any BS depending on alluring titles or imagery. Google’s immense “AI” and their power has no interest in doing any of that legwork for you.

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Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovic is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovic is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]