Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 29, 2020
My echo chamber

I am interested in a large number of different subjects, as you might have noticed when reading my blog. But obviously those interests do not all exist at the same time at the same intensity. Currently I am very much interested in board games, but then I am not so much interested in World of Tanks anymore. When I am interested in a subject, I might look for information about it on various websites. And quite often, YouTube is one of those websites. If you want for example to learn a new game, or learn *about* a new game, a video is often more informative than text. Somebody playing a board game on YouTube will at the same time teach me the rules of that game, and give me a pretty good idea about whether this is a game that I would like to play.

When I get interested in a subject, I tend to concentrate on that one subject for some time. And the effect on YouTube is that the AI of YouTube "learns" that I am interested in this one subject. So YouTube is currently putting a lot of videos about board games on the home page. And while I see the advantages of that, I can also see that YouTube isn't proposing any 3D printing videos to me anymore, because I didn't watch any of those for some months. So YouTube creates an echo chamber, that pushes me deeper into whatever subject I'm currently into, and "forgets" my other subjects of interest.

I don't really like that. Last weekend I basically made a list of different subjects I am interested in, and tried to "train" the YouTube AI that I am interested in *all* that, by watching different videos on different subjects. But unlike other websites, e.g. Flipboard, you can't provide YouTube with a list of your interests and assure that there will always be some recommendations from those. So unless I regularly watch videos about a subject, YouTube forgets that I am interested in that, and feeds me a bland diet of videos all about the same stuff. Maybe I should from time to time just reset my history to get recommendations from a wider field. Seeing new stuff for me has always been one of the main strong point of the internet. Creating echo chambers (especially political ones) is a very bad idea.

Youtube shows me mostly music videos, with a strong bias towards artists I have watched recently. On incognito, it is mostly random innocuous cultural stuff. But I make a point of going incognito before viewing anything politically controversial, be it left or right, as I have a suspicion that that stuff is 'stickier' than most. (Lene Lovich, in contrast - who has somehow acquired a dominating position over the last week - will soon go away, or at least be relegated to the bottom of the page!)
I modded YouTube to show me no recoomendations at all on my own home page. It shows me only the latest videos from channels to which I'm subscribed. I find that hugely more useful than the almost entirely irrelevant recommendations it used to show me.

When I'm using YouTube as a search engine, something I do almost every day, I find it's generally pretty good at giving me useful, relevant recommendations based on the specific searches I'm doing.

It took me a long time to train it to do what I want but at least until Google messes things up again, as they surely will, for now I feel I have YouTube pretty much where I want it.
I think the training of Youtube is more effective if you "Subscribe" to the channels showing topics of interest. Got 146 of them currently, most of which I added, then forgot about them for a year or more.

Youtube Home quite gamely shows me 75-85% assorted stuff from said subscribed channels and 15-25% stuff from new channels that are maybe somewhat related to them - some of which are good and added to the subscription list, and some of which evoke "why the f- is this shown to me" reactions. At which point, the best reaction is to click on the three dots and indicate Not Interested or Don't Show This Channel To Me.

Lining the top of the Home page are a bunch of tags - from cats (yes, I watch cat videos, sue me) to campaigns (of the RPG variety, thanks Critical Role) and more.

If I actually want to see the most recent stuff from my subscribed channels, there's the Subscriptions link in the side bar as well.

Now if I can only convince Youtube to stop recommending me the video channel of the local news websites every now and then, we're golden. Stop it, Youtube, I -read- news, I don't sit through videos of news.
Facebook and twitter also do similar things with their feeds. One of the reasons social media is so effective at radicalizing people is it pushes you further and further down a rabbit hole on a particular subject.

YouTube is especially annoying though because unless you want dozens or hundreds of notifications a day the only reliable way to find out if a particular channel you watch infrequently has videos is by checking their channel directly. The subscribe button doesn't seem to do anything unless you regularly watch a channel.
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