YouTube isn’t just a source of free and paid entertainment; it’s also the go-to video service that can help out with most of your problems. You’ll find tutorials, how-tos, reviews, and step-by-step explanations that can be more useful than anything else when it comes to dealing with everyday issues. The service makes it easy to subscribe and follow creators, and also to provide feedback to the overall experience via likes/dislikes and comments. But Google is looking at altering a vital piece of the YouTube user interface, and it has already started testing the change on a select group of people.
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“In response to creator feedback around well-being and targeted dislike campaigns, we’re testing a few new designs that don’t show the public dislike count,” YouTube said on Twitter, providing the following example of what the UI change will look like.
Videos will still show the number of likes, but the dislike count will be completely hidden. Users will still be able to dislike clips even if the dislike count is blocked from view, and creators will see both likes and dislikes in the YouTube studio.
It’s unclear whether the dislike count will be hidden on both the mobile and web apps, or only on phones and tablets.
The feature change isn’t meant to censor a metric that can be quite helpful. The like-to-dislike ratio might be something that people check out before playing a new video. Google is only looking to prevent mobs of people from targeting videos with dislike campaigns that might have nothing to do with the content itself. The number of likes and dislikes directly affects a video’s visibility, as Google’s algorithms take these factors into account.
Google is certainly the kind of company that can leverage its own artificial intelligence and machine learning abilities to determine whether the dislikes are genuine or socially engineered, and experiments like this one could also determine whether hiding the dislike count impacts a user’s interaction with the clip in any way.
It’s unlikely that Google will remove the dislike count from all YouTube videos permanently. On the other hand, Facebook never had a dislike button, although it changed the way its users “like” content that others post.
The like-to-dislike ratio can still be a valuable metric for what people think about certain types of content, assuming there’s no foul play. A good example is from mid-March 2020, which generated massive interest from fans. Millions of people streamed the event, but many of them choose to show their discontent with the way Sony handled the event by disliking the clip. A year later, the clip has over 347,000 likes and more than 119,000 dislikes. Sony described how it developed the PS5 hardware without revealing any juicy bits during the event. The final design, price, and release dates were announced several months later.
A more recent example comes from Intel’s anti-M1 ad campaign on YouTube that backfired almost immediately. Justin Long appears in several ads touting the advantages of Windows 10 laptops compared to Macs. All the commercials had a ratio of 1 like for every 2 dislikes, if not worse, at the time of this writing.
Were Apple fans disliking these clips purposefully? Did the PS5 video dislikes come from Xbox fans? Experiments like the one Google is now conducting might help explain targeted dislike campaigns and lead to permanent changes in the future. But if Google ever decides that the dislike count needs to go away, the like count should probably also be hidden.
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