back to article YouTube's recommendation engine is pretty naff, Mozilla study finds

The majority of YouTube videos that netizens taking part in a study said they regretted watching were recommended by the website's space-age AI algorithms. “This problem with YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is part of a bigger story about the opaque, mysterious influence that commercial algorithms can have on our lives,” …

  1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    You don't say

    There's a lot of great stuff on Youtube but then there's the other 99.9% of stuff on Youtube.

    I'd love Youtube to stop recommending videos I've ignored for weeks on end. Mix it up, generate a new recommended list every time the page is refreshed. There must be a few videos to choose from.

    When I give up on a video after 30 seconds, that's not an indication that I want to be recommended everything else from the same channel.

    I'd love Youtube to stop repeatedly recommending videos I'VE ALREADY WATCHED.

    Youtube are you listening? (apparently not)

    1. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: You don't say

      Indeed, YouTube's recommendations are as much of running joke as Amazon's. It should be absolutely trivial to avoid recommending the exact thing I just watched/bought, yet they somehow two of the biggest companies in the world can't figure it out.

      I suspect that the problem is there's simply no reason for them to bother. YouTube doesn't care if it's recommendations are relevant. As long as you're watching something, you're making them money. Regret watching something? Doesn't matter. Ignore recommendations entirely? Doesn't matter. Check lots of videos for a short time without watching the whole thing? Doesn't matter. As long as you don't leave the site to find videos somewhere else, YouTube is perfectly happy. Without any penalty from providing bad recommendations, there's simply no incentive for them to make it work.

      1. Antonius_Prime

        Re: You don't say

        This comment officer. Right here.

        It's clear, well thought out, articulated and 100% on point.

        Obviously we can't be having that, here, on the internet...

        :D

        In all fairness, you are 100% spot on. Youtube really does have the monopoly on non-studio produced streaming video. There are simply no alternatives that have amarket or audience share anywhere near threatening to them.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: You don't say

          The big problem is that it has all the subtlety and sensitivity of a brick in a sock... watch one video on how to take an engine to bits, and that's all you see. Watch one on paragliding and that's all you see. Watch one on vintage computers and that's all you see... surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise an algorithm that assumes that you might be interested in more than one thing (and incidentally, not keep showing you the same video you haven't been watching, as indicated above)?

          Or - just speculating here, you understand - is it simply dumping the videos with the highest advert count? I don't see the adverts so I can't really comment. But surely youtube wouldn't be that obvious?

          1. Diogenes

            Re: You don't say

            Its even more bizarre than that. I spend about 2 minutes looking at a video tutorial made on the subcontinent & all of a sudden the algorithm thinks I am interested in Bollywood . Whatever music I DO listen to using Youtube is from the time of Henry IV through to Queen Victoria (90% is Tudor era) , so how they get Bollywood or a Vevo recommendation out of that I have no idea.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You don't say

      Dare to fall asleep while watching youtube and you will be certain to wake up to a watch history full of utter crap.

      I have found, however, that immediately removing crap content from the view history seems to have a positive effect on the suggestions and every now and then the suggestions are mind blowing good, at least on technical topics.

      Don't even want to think about how effective platforms such as youtube would be, should our great overlords decide to engage in the business of targeted manipulation disguised under the realms of AI algorithms, so let's just quickly ignore that possibility.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You don't say

        "Dare to fall asleep while watching youtube and you will be certain to wake up to a watch history full of utter crap."

        Turn off auto play is my advice. A friend swears if he falls asleep while watching anything on YouTube he always wakes up to find it playing a Mr Carlson's Lab video*. Not something I'd consider a problem as I love those videos, but said friend finds the eponymous Mr Carlson creepy for some reason.

        * Incredibly in depth videos on restoring electronic test equipment.

      2. stiine Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: You don't say

        How do you get it to do that? Whenever I walk away from youtube while its playing, it stops, in the case of songs, 10 seconds into a track to ask if I'm still there.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: You don't say

      "I'd love Youtube to stop repeatedly recommending videos I'VE ALREADY WATCHED."

      Maybe that's YouTube/Alphabets way of pretending they don't track you when you turn off history and all the other tracking options?

      Additionally, I'm not signed in, despite their constant exhortations to set up an account.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: You don't say

        My complaints are also based on not being signed in. Signed in users likely have a different experience.

        I did run a test once to see what I could achieve by signing in. Apparently not much, as it turned out.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: You don't say

          "My complaints are also based on not being signed in. Signed in users likely have a different experience."

          They don't. I'm currently signed into YouTube, and 6 of the first 10 recommendations are videos that YouTube is also actively telling me I've already watched.

  2. Andy Non Silver badge

    YouTube's recomendations are crap

    If I watch a short film, it thinks I must want to watch it repeatedly. If I click that I'm "not interested" one of the options is that "I've already watched it", well YouTube knows that already as it shows the red progress bar all the way along the film, so why does it keep shoving the same videos at me all the time. Maybe I'd like to watch something different, for a change you know or are there only a dozen short films on YouTube?

  3. Richard 12 Silver badge

    It's the ads that irritate me most

    My 3 year old daughter likes to watch the same few videos over and over. So she does.

    And yes, she knows how to work the player (and press the skip ad button)

    The inserted ads are almost always highly inappropriate for the content, sometimes even banned-before-watershed. In a video aimed at toddlers.

    1. Kennelly

      Re: It's the ads that irritate me most

      Google "adblock plus" - I routinely install the chrome extension, mainly to stop YouTube showing unwanted ads

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: It's the ads that irritate me most

        Absolutely. Also for an alternative mobile app that doesn't show ads there's Skytube Extra, although because it's not on Youtube's systems, it gives only generic recommendations. Best to hide that screen entirely.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Youtube has ads?

      I never see them, whether that's because I'm running an ad blocker on my PC and iPhone or because my PC is Linux, I have no idea.

      I'm still (happily) stunned that a company as rich as Google can't figure out a way to integrate ads into the stream so they are unblockable. I know someday the party will be over, cheers for incompetence!

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: Youtube has ads?

        It has to be a deliberate decision. Either ad blocking isn't a significant problem for Youtube yet or they're more interested in market dominance at the moment. I'm sure the time will come.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Youtube has ads?

          Perhaps, but I don't know how much more dominant Youtube can become. What could they be waiting for?

    3. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: It's the ads that irritate me most

      uBlock Origin, Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Privacy Badger.

      No ads, no tracking.

      As for the in-vid ads, skipping forward several seconds using right arrow key is a handy habit.

  4. vtcodger Silver badge

    A Journey through the digital sewer

    Youtube has content policies? You're kidding, right?

    I'd block the site if I didn't want watch the occasional how-to video and didn't, for some obscure reason, find the lock-picking lawyer (https://www.youtube.com/c/lockpickinglawyer) entertaining.

    1. Totally not a Cylon
      Thumb Up

      Re: A Journey through the digital sewer

      Upvoted fol LPL, if you like him check one of his collaborators: Bosnian Bill.

      1. Jamesit

        Re: A Journey through the digital sewer

        Here's a link https://www.youtube.com/c/bosnianbill

        Is locklab.com or lock-lab.com down?

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Stuff I've already seen

    YouTube recommends videos I've already seen, and channels I'm already subscribed to. WTAF.

    It's frustrating to know there's a ton of interesting stuff out there, and I can't find any of it.

    It's like the internet before search engines, where you had to find stuff by hearing about it from other people.

  6. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    They probably don't know. It's just another ML black box, with no reason or rhyme : just pattern matching. And nobody knows what the patterns are.

    It's about time we dropped this crap in favour of actual AI

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Merge with Facebook...

    I think the problem here is that Youtube is recommending based on what you have seen before. There'd be a lot less complaints if it recommended based on who your friends are. So if Facebook ran the recommendations you'd only get stuff from your own silo! Problem solved!

    Of course, some people might have to have more than one account, you know, for the stuff you do in the woods at night...

    (AC, so no Joke icon!)

  8. richardcox13
    Facepalm

    YouTube's recommendation engine is pretty naff, and in other news

    The head of The Universal Church is a member of said church; and ursidae defecate in aboral zones.

  9. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Joke

    Relevant

    "inappropriate raunchy parodies of smash-hit movie Toy Story"

    You have my attention.

    1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: Relevant

      DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT search for that!!!

      You have been warned.

  10. werdsmith Silver badge

    Same with ads. This morning an ad for tennis shoes came up. I skipped it at the earliest opportunity. It came up again, I skipped. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Take the hint ML engine. Take the hint.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Take the hint ML engine. Take the hint."

      The L is superfluous.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Install Ublock Origin (superb ad blocker for Firefox on desktop and mobile). Voila, no more of Google's adverts on YouTube videos. It doesn't remove the adverts that content creators inline for their own sponsors, but it's still a MASSIVE improvement.

  11. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Meh

    In fairness ...

    The Mozilla test group is a pretty self-selecting bunch: people with the discernment to be running Firefox and the willingness to install this add-on and participate in the test. I would guess this population is not representative of YouTube consumers as a whole. Which is not to say they don't have a valid point, but I suspect that most people will happily stare slack-jawed at the screen until Wall-E comes around with a soda.

  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Windows

    "connect viewers with content they love"

    To do that, I use a revolutionary new technology. It's called bookmarks. The channels I'm actually interested in, I bookmark them.

    I have scores of channels bookmarked. I don't have enough time in the day to watch all of them, especially since some of them regularly propose content that lasts 40+ minutes at a time (Timeline, Absolute History, etc).

    I have absolutely no need for Youtube's homepage and I practically never go there unless I want to search for new channel that I got a referral for.

    Really people, learn how to use your browser. And brain.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: "connect viewers with content they love"

      The subscribe feature is actually useful and works.

      You can then go to https://www.youtube.com/feed/subscriptions and can see at a glance if there's any new videos from the channels you follow.

      Shoot, some of the podcasts I watch are over an hour and a half. Personally I download them and watch&delete them as I have time and feel bored.

  13. Warm Braw Silver badge

    So, that's GitHub Copilot & YouTube recommendations..

    ... so far this week.

    Just as well no-one's planning to give AI free rein in making genuinely important decisions for us.

    1. Il'Geller

      Re: So, that's GitHub Copilot & YouTube recommendations..

      As you know, AI finds answers to the questions asked by comparing the contexts and subtexts of both. So, in order for Youtube to recommend something, it needs a lot of explanatory (both to the question and the answer) texts. But if Google solved the problem with clarifying texts (for questions) by creating giant (mostly mannually structured) models, then Google does not have enough texts to explain texts in Youtube database. Really, where can Google get these on stupid lyrics for a rap song, or on a not less silly commercial?

      Therefore, Google (and any other company) should provide the opportunity to attach the needed explanatory texts, with their subsequent profiling. So far I see not how Google solves this urgent and difficult engineering problem.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: So, that's GitHub Copilot & YouTube recommendations..

        The problem there is that so called AI can barely handle the text and context, let alone the subtext.

        As for proper textual and contextual descriptions of the videos, relying on that from the users/uploaders is just asking for trouble. People will game the systems with lots of irrelevant keywords, just like used to happen with web sites. Your solution would require Youtube/Google to identify, with reliability, speech on the video. If you've ever used the auto-generated subtitle option in the same language as the recording, you'll know just how very poor that can be, even with their home language of "American English" and it's various accents, dialects and local/personal foibles. Give someone speaking English in local British accent, and it gets even worse. Using speech recognition as the source for a translation is often downright hilarious. And don't tell me that all they need is more source material. They already have more then enough. Same goes for computing power. What they are lacking is any actual AI or decent ML.

        1. Il'Geller

          Re: So, that's GitHub Copilot & YouTube recommendations..

          I agree with you, you have expressed the essence quite nicely! Indeed, naive and stupid to hope that people will consciously provide the right context and subtext. Yes, "people will game the systems with lots of irrelevant keywords, just like used to happen with web sites". Therefore, I believe "what they are lacking is any actual AI or decent ML".

          I believe that there should be a download program that creates AI on a personal computer-phone, which does everything, for example annotates all used texts. We must own our profiles and have 100% privacy. And all these monsters, like FB and Google, can go to hell!

  14. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I stay well away from the trending page as rarely anything of interest to me is on there. Occasionally the YT algorithm has shown me a video from a new channel and its been good and i have then subscribed to the channel. But then conversely i've watched just one video from a channel and never subscribed and it still keeps recommending other videos for months even though I never click on them

    But the constant showing of previously watched videos is so annoying, The only videos i have ever watched more than one are some music videos and the odd instructional video that I might need to go over again for it to sink in.

  15. Franco Silver badge

    It never seems to recommend to me anything like my subscriptions (mostly music, some cooking channels as well) but if I watch a video on some DIY job I've never done before I get a million recommendations of similar videos.

    One of the cooking channels I subscribe to is FoodTribe (as James May is the only former Top Gear presenter I can remotely stand) but of course that generates constant recommendations for Top Gear, Grand Tour and Clarkson and Hammond videos and apparently "Clarkson is a cunt" and "Hammond is an angry little rodent" are apparently not valid reasons for not recommending more similar videos.

  16. Andy Non Silver badge

    The search feature is equally bad

    I like to watch "sci fi short film" but the search algorithm isn't smart enough to suggest films I haven't already watched at the top of the search list. I'm lucky now if it lists any unwatched films anywhere in the list, I can only stumble on them by accident now. Net result I visit YouTube much less.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But....

    1. Are you logged in?

    2. Do you have any ad blocking running?

    3. Do you have youtube history disabled / pruned?

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: But....

      Personally I log in, which doesn't help as it knows the films I've already watched, it shows the red progress bar all the way along on every film, so it must think I'm there to watch the same films over and over rather than offering any new ones of the same genre.

      It's kinda like reading a monthly magazine which you happened to like, so the publisher keeps sending you exactly the same edition of the magazine every month.... That's not too bad an analogy, because for some reason, in the YouTube trending news section it keeps offering me an article in the Sun about flooding from eight months ago. For one I'm not a Sun reader and two, why does YouTube keep suggesting very old news?

  18. Anonymous Coward
  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's definitely a "History Channel" problem on YouTube. I have never clicked on a World War II or Third Reich related video, but despite selecting the "never recommend this channel" option I still find lots of that stuff in my "recommendations". I only watch electronic music or vintage computer related videos, so unless there's some common overlap between those interests among other YouTubers I don't understand what the algorithm is doing.

    1. PTW
      Happy

      Sorry, that'll be me with the overlap!

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "unless there's some common overlap between those interests among other YouTubers I don't understand what the algorithm is doing."

      Could Youtube be going through the same keyword stuffing that search engines had to deal with and overcome years ago? Maybe they'll eventually spot that and "learn lessons"?

      Or maybe bots "watching" the uploaders videos every 5th or 6th run with randomly selected ones between, gaming the "viewer also watched" part of the algorithm

  20. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
    Mushroom

    Optional sensible title here

    Must admit I think something changed 'recently' (ie within the last year or two) but when you are logged in and select 'not interested' in a video you used to be given the option to explain why.

    IIRC (and that's a big 'if') something like:

    -- In a foreign language

    -- Not relevant to me

    -- Seen before

    -- Something something

    Tick one

    Don't remember it being all that good but made you feel like they would do something about it in future. Seemed to cut down the chaff a bit.

    Now it's basically 'not interested' 'don't recommend channel' or 'report'.

    And all the chaff has returned.

    At least I don't see ads.

  21. Dinanziame Silver badge

    Pretty good results actually!

    The study had 37k people participating to the study over a whole year. At just one video per day, they would have watched ~10M videos.If they regretted watching only 3k videos, that looks like they didn't regret watching the video 99.97% of the time... I wish my own quality metrics were that high.

  22. anonanonanonanonanon

    Needs an "Only watched it to see if it really was that insane" option

    I watch YT through my playstation, for the most part, it's pretty good and sticks to the stuff I like on the recommended for you section. But I've madde the mistake once of watching some truly insane nutter out of curiosity and then said nutter and associates kept popping up, and I had to go and start them so I could dislike them before thy eventually went away. If I want to see something like that now I got to private mode on my iPad and watch it there.

    Also, don't make the mistake of watching anything gun related, even if't is some odd antique weapon, coz YT is suddenly, oh you like guns? I'll give you guns, nothing but guns.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Needs an "Only watched it to see if it really was that insane" option

      Try deleting them from your history. I think that works.

  23. OldSoCalCoder

    YouTube's 'suggestions' algorithms have truly turned to shit. I watch videos on a tablet, so I can see the main video plus some of the 'you might be interested in these related videos' either on the side or below. The suggested videos are usually better than the suggestions on my home YT page, but why does YT have so few listed? Is that all YT thinks I'm interested in?

    Has anyone else scrolled down their home YT page and hit the bottom? The place where YouTube has actually run out of ideas? This is where they've said 'We give up, we can't think of anything else we think you'd be interested in. This is the bottom. There is no more. There isn't anything else we can possibly think of to show you that you might be vaguely interested in, even though you have a full list of 'subscribed' channels and we're not showing you one of them, even though you've said 'not interested' in hundreds, 'liked' thousands, 'save for later' multitudes and have 800 Million videos in our library. YT says 'yes, we give up. We have no idea what to show you next.' This is insane.

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