What YouTuber Nasim Aghdam did on Wednesday of last week, in taking a special trip up to San Bruno all the way from San Diego, was horrible. She traved to YouTube Headquarters with the specific intent of killing people who represent the company I love.
I’m Zennie Abraham, and I’ve been an active YouTuber on my Zennie62 channel since April 29, 2006, and a YouTube Partner since April of 2008. This marks my 10th year as a YouTube Partner and 12th year on YouTube, and over 72 million views, 13,000 videos, including two Democratic National Conventions, two presidential inaugurations, 13 years of NFL Drafts, 9 years of The Oscars and The Night of 100 Stars Oscars Party, The White House Press List, and I managed to work in several Super Bowls, tech events, and sports contests, and interviews with notables and the new.
I’ve seen a lot, thanks to YouTube, and it’s changed my life in so many ways. So much good has come to me because of YouTube, that the idea of anyone doing what Ms. Aghdam did is something I can’t imagine. But she did it, and we’re all pretty messed up about it. The obvious question is, how did we get here?
I’ve watched a number of people try and explain this in the media. Most of the writers were journalists who had zero or limited experience with YouTube, and were not daily uploaders to the site, as I am or Logan Paul is. Kara Swisher of Recode, who knee-jerk attacked me in 2009, when I tweeted to her that Twitter was anything but simple, resumed her for-no-good-reason-but-gauche behavior toward me last week, and after I (once again) gave her my version of YouTube history that she could have referred to in a follow-up article to what (in my opinion) was the inaccurate one she posted.
So it was that experience, and the myriad number of just plain wrong takes on YouTube, plus the fact that none of the journalists writing about what happened bothered to reach out to this YouTube Partner, that got me going in this direction. What happened at YouTube can be summed up in this way: it got too big too fast, then really too big a bit faster.
When I started as a YouTube Partner, where one earns money on a per-view basis from their video uploads, there were maybe about 8,000 of us. The program started in November of 2007, and just about a month after Google bought YouTube, and hooked in its Google AdSense program so that ads would appear on our video pages. Today, one has to apply to be in the YouTube Partner Program; then, Steve Grove, the YouTube News And Politics Editor, took notice of my politically-oriented YouTube videos, and invited me to become a YouTube Partner. Then, Mia Quagliarello, who’s now with Flipboard, reached out to me, and I was made a YouTube Partner.
Between 2008 and 2010, the compensation was rather basic: about .002 cents for every view, which may not sound like much, until your video his, say, 1 million views, and then you earned $2,000. At first, my monthly earnings were small: around $100 to $300. Then, I joined the San Francisco Chronicle’s blogging experiment called the City Brights Program.
I was invited to be a part of the City Brights Program by John Diaz, who said “but we can’t pay you.” I asked if they didn’t mind if I installed my YouTube Playlist code at the top of my page. He said “no”. So, I did, and that video set, combined with my understanding of how to get caused my monthly earnings to jump to between $2,000 and $3,000. Not bad. My monthly videos zoomed to almost 1 million. And I was invited to meet with YouTube’s staff on many occasions – like this one:
But the one that was most important for this explanation of what happened to YouTube happened late in 2010 – at my first visit to YouTube Headquarters in San Bruno.
After a great gathering with YouTube staff and other YouTube Partners, we were asked to help sign up new partners on an informal basis. By that time, our ranks swelled to 20,000, but clearly YouTube wasn’t happy with that number. I recall asking if YouTube had a chart of how many staffers they needed to serve the ranks as they grew – the answer was no. Regadless, starting in 2012, the doors were opened to let anyone and their mom become a YouTube Partner. If you had a Google AdSense account, and your video went viral, you were in.
That year, YouTube started to become littered with spam gaming videos – screen shots of games that were obviously done to make a quick buck. Then, between 2012 and continuing through 2013, YouTube and Google reduced the percentage share of revenue partners received in stages from 68 percent to 55 percent – a big difference for many. Its not written, about, but the real issue is the revenue share Google takes – moving up to what it was in 2012 could help many today.
But what happened was YouTube added so many partners that, by 2013 the numbers were about 2 million – a huge jump from 2010 to say the least – but they didn’t stop adding partners by 2013.
That year, I noticed a very interesting change in messaging: YouTube stopped saying they wanted vlogging to be our full-time job. I think the reason for that was simple: YouTube literally stretched itself to a point where it could not afford to pay the level of compensation common in the past. And by 2013, YouTube started calling us “creators” and not “partners” – even though I’m still to this day called a partner, and YouTube still has the YouTube Partner Program. But there was a kind of backpeddalling of the idea that we could make a full-time-equivalent living wage.
Also by 2013, there were not only too many YouTube Partners, but YouTube changed what was the lifeblood of earnings for many, like me, the automatic, code-generated, “suggested videos”. A lot of my videos that were once in that area by the ton were removed, as was true for many YouTube Partners. It wasn’t until after a giant collective cry that the “suggested videos” system was reintroduced in 2014. But, for me, the other problem was presented by the use of the Schema program in Google search. Schema allows news pages that have a video code to wind up taking the place of YouTube video results in search on Google! This problem still exists, though to a lesser extent, today. In my view it should have never been allowed! The ability to find a YouTube video in Google search is one best way for the video-maker to earn money as a YouTube Partner.
After Schema, and in 2016, YouTube installed the “restricted mode” video sets, where the system would hide certain videos from search that the algothryms “saw” as something children should not see. The problem posed by “restricted mode” was made worse after advertisers complained about their ads next to videos with questionable content. And then, that was when the “demonitization” effort started – “news and politics” videos, which had become increasingly toxic in the Post-Obama presidency, Donald Trump era, were so frequently demonitized that YouTube Partner vloggers like Phil DeFranco and David Packman lost 95 percent of their monthly income.
It seems Nasim Aghdam, though not well known, was impacted by these changes. But, something else has happened which may have caused her to react in a violent way: YouTube’s public relations campaign promoting YouTuber Partners who had millions of subscribers and who cleared at least $100,000 in annual revenue. The overall impact was to make one feel inadequate – like there was something wrong with them for not reaching the level of, say, Pew Die Pie or Logan Paul. It’s an even harder pilll to swallow when you see reports of use of “fake views” and “fake subscribers” and wonder if the whole game is just rigged against you. I have certainly felt that way, but then I saw it was happening to YouTubers in general, and I began to realize there was a real problem.
Just how widespread the issue of lost revenue was didn’t hit me until I attended YouTube Creator Day 2017 in Atlanta (Should call it YouTube Partners Day.) Anyway, the end of this kind of day-long talk about YouTube best-practices kind of degenerated into a massive complaint session, and with a number of pointed questions directed at the YouTube staff who flew out from San Bruno. All of the complaints had to do with the awful “restricted mode” system, and how to get videos out of that pergatory. The YouTube Creators were nice in asking about how to get around “restricted mode”, but also very anguished. Myself, included.
I upload YouTube news commentary videos many times a day: over 13,000 to date. I’ve developed a great ‘feel’ for what happens to a video I post. There was a time, starting two years ago, when a video I uploaded wasn’t visible in YouTube search for a whole day – sometimes more.
And in the case of “restricted mode” and “limited monetization” it seemed that whenever I uploaded a video with the harmless “Oakland Raiders” name in it, that immediately triggered the “limited monetization” status, and I had to ask for help to stop that. Of late, the YouTube system returns monetization to normal after starting with “limited monetization” for some of my Raiders videos. And all of them were just me talking about the team! Weird!
Fortunately, my Zennie62Media network is such that one video becomes a blog post on about 20 of my 97 blogs – and also is auto-distributed via email and social media. So, for me there’s more real estate to monetize than just the video itself. But it took me a long time to build my Zennie62Media network; regular YouTubers like Nasim Aghdam don’t have that.
YouTube’s history of trying to first establish a new form of full-time work in video-blogging, then after gaining too many monetized YouTubers, pulling back on the effort because (it seems) the costs associated with too many partners was greater than the revenue returns, created the conditions that pushed the already emotionally unstable Nasim Aghdam over the edge. That must not ever happen again.
Rather than dismiss Nasim Aghdam, YouTube should change the platform to give video-promotion priority to those who use YouTube as news and entertainment production sites. If you are regularly credentialed to, say, cover the White House, or sports teams, or if your channel is already on Google News, your videos should be positioned to get more traffic on YouTube and Google platforms, and the YouTube Partner should be able to keep more money in revenue sharing.
YouTube Partners who just post screen-grabs of game action should be demonetized immediately. Only those who use YouTube for video-blogging should be allowed to monetize their content. No reposting of TV shows or movie scenes, unless they are the property of the original content owner. And Google should increase the overall revenue sharing rate to 58 percent – by getting rid of ‘junk upload’ partners, we save money that can go to real producers of original content.
Also, “content ID”, the system where YouTube’s sensors pick up duplicate uploads of YouTube Partner vidoes, should be extended for use by all YouTube Partners, and not just some.
Finally, we need to make a YouTube Partner Support Network: a large set of volunteers who reach out and help and encourage other YouTubers. YouTube would sponsor local meetups and events to bring the community together under the YouTube Partner Support Network. This would take some pressure off of the YouTube staff. And Google could give YouTube Partner Support Network producers and managers special meal gift certificates, not just clothes, as a way of compensating them for their time at events.
Google must take this time to bring the YouTube Community together in ways it never has done before – or for years. I remember how popular YouTube meetups were, and how much fun YouTube Creator Day was last year. We need more of that, and we need to make more money, too.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media