Yesterday afternoon, I admit, was a bit rough. In a good way, but still rough. A piece from months ago by Andrew Egan, my regular contributor to the site, hit the Reddit front page completely unexpectedly, bringing my server to its knees. It was not exactly how I saw myself spending a Tuesday afternoon, but I got things worked out. Bump up the specs on the cloud server a little bit, change some server settings to make sure it's working to the best of its abilities, and back in business. I let the site have its 12 hours of extra processing power, then quietly kicked things back down.
Now, here’s the thing I’ll tell you—if I was running this site on, say, Medium or Tumblr, it would not have buckled. But to me, I think that independence from platforms is a hugely important thing to have in 2017. If you can spin up the server yourself and figure out a way to cobble together funding, you may miss out on some of the perks of larger sites, but you call the shots.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube these days, and I’ve been seeing some channels I’ve grown to love, like that of video game collector The Immortal John Hancock, draw attention to the fact that YouTube, burned by controversies like the one surrounding PewDiePie, has gotten very aggressive about its advertising rules.
Hancock, a likable vlogger who is a K-12 teacher when he’s not donning his Altered Beast cap, is literally the polar opposite of the stuff that got YouTube in trouble with advertisers earlier this year. He doesn’t swear on his channel, he says thanks to his viewers on pretty much every episode, and he talks about video games largely from the pre-blood-and-gore era. He's authentic and he knows his stuff, which is why he's worth watching.
But even he's gotten his videos “demonetized” by YouTube, pending appeal. What’s going on here? I think the answer is hiding in a Digiday article published earlier today that puts a voice to “the demonetized,” as they call it. In an effort to convince advertisers that YouTube is a safe place for their content, Google has basically put stricter standards on its content than the three major networks do. And it’s not even properly following those standards.
Here’s the problem, in a nutshell: YouTube has so much video getting uploaded to it every second that there’s no way that humans can check everything going through. So algorithms are used, and those algorithms screw up. And while those video creators make YouTube worth going to, it’s not a one-to-one relationship. They have to live with it—the potential that a week’s worth of work can’t be monetized because an algorithm doesn’t understand what it's looking at. For a small-time creator with an audience, that may be the difference between making rent or paying employees.
“Ultimately, the creators’ situation points to the risk of publishing on someone else’s platform, whose own business goals may not be aligned with those who supply the content,” DigiDay’s Sahil Patel writes.
With that one sentence, Patel nailed the whole problem.
I’m fortunate to a degree, because my tool of choice is the written word, I’ve been at this a while so I know the ins and outs, and this isn’t my main gig. With my last site, I also dealt with the whims of a platform that brought me an audience, and in the end, I decided the platform was holding me back.
There isn’t a good alternative to YouTube for vloggers, and that’s unfortunate—there’s a massive opportunity right now, one Twitch should look into. But I’m not stuck using Medium, a platform I’ve been skeptical of recently due to its monetization hiccups, because I have email. Maybe I’ll dip my toes in, but I don’t have to bend to the whims of a platform that seems OK shaping creativity in the name of revenue.
Maybe that means I’ll have to fix my own server sometimes, but so be it.