Youtube cutting off the long tail

On Feb. 20, the rules for participation in the YouTube Partner Program will change. Among the benefits of being a partner was the opportunity to earn revenue from the ads that run when a Youtube video is displayed. Before this date, a creator became eligible for ad revenue once he/she had accumulated 10,000 lifetime views. After this date, you must have 4000 hours of viewing time in the last running 12 month period and 1000 subscribers.

Google indicates that the change will:

“will allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community and help drive more ad revenue to them (and away from bad actors).”

I am the type of creator that will be penalized by this change. I meet the 10,000 view metric, but fail both the 4000 hours and 1000 subscriber standard.

I am not a bad actor. I post instructional videos for educators wanting to use technology applications in their classrooms. I have a couple of textbooks devoted to this goal, but made the decision several years ago to create much smaller and less expensive textbooks (available via Amazon) in combination with free online resources (supplemental information and instructional videos). The price when my textbook was last published by Cengage was $140. The Amazon price is now $9 and the Kindle combination with the online resources offers more and more current content than the $140 version.

I originally offered the video content I created from the server I rent. As more and more content was added, I became concerned with the load serving the video required. Moving the content to YouTube was a way to avoid this issue, to offer content to those who had no interest in my other educational products, and to make a little money (a few dollars a month when my instructional videos are viewed). Just for the record, when my YouTube video is embedded within a web page I serve, viewing the embedded video generates no revenue.

Consider the reality of reaching the 1000 subscribers and 4000 hour thresholds. Nearly all of my videos are say 8-10 minutes in length. Several are recommended by YouTube and have been viewed in the 1.5K range. Still, my estimate is that my annual viewing time would be about 18,000 minutes (YouTube analytics are reported in minutes). This is a long way from 240,000. I also do not have a lot of subscribers. People come to my individual videos when searching for a particular need or perhaps when assigned by a college professor. I make no effort to continually create videos which is what tends to attract and hold subscribers. I create videos when the issue or product presented fits an instructional need related to my other content. I could continually create videos on the many similar products available to educators but the replication in this approach has little benefit.

The YouTube decision fits a disturbing trend I see with tech service providers. The initial promise that all could become creators (this was what Chris Anderson described as the long tail) has given way to only the big content generators will be supported. The few dollars YouTube might compensate me is of little actual consequence, but the cost to YouTube was also quite minimal. It is the principle here that is disturbing (see Rushkoff’s “Throwing rocks at the Google bus”).

Accepting change

We made the decision some 5-6 years ago to abandon the traditional textbook model. We felt most textbooks were too quickly dated and this was certainly the case for those of us who write about the educational uses of technology. It was more than this. We proposed that authors combine a core textbook (we called it a Primer) with online resources. This now happens on a primitive basis with many textbooks, but the commitment to this hybrid approach is what the textbook  companies do not fully understand. Yes, some content is best presented online and flexibility and multimedia are available when a company commits to combining a book and online content. What textbook companies do not want to do is support authors who write continuously. Because of the editing and production process, books are dated by the time they are actually printed. In order to combat this reality, we argued that proven authors should be paid to write continuously. Meeting a delivery date and then waiting to be given the approval to develop new content until a new edition is approved three years later is not good enough. Even after multiple successful editions, it was this factor that led us to break away from Cengage some years ago.

The other side of this is that as an author you have to be willing to back up your commitment. I understand this issue as a faculty member and as an author. I use our Kindle book and other resources in the graduate course I teach. While the course that will begin in a week or so draws students from various backgrounds, the course is focused on the use of technology in K-12. The university supplies me with great tools for teaching online (e.g., Blackboard, Adobe Connect with a phone bridge), but I try to make reasonable use of online tools that some might regard as less sophisticated. How educators learn with technology influences how they will teach with technology. Most K-12 districts will not be in a position to make Adobe Connect or a phone bridge available to their students.

One of the tools I have used in past courses has been Google Hangouts on Air. In smaller summer courses, I could use this tool for the synchronous portion of the course. I could send the recording of the classes to YouTube for those students who could not participate in the live class because of geography or an occasional conflict. Hangouts on Air was available to anyone and the educators in my class could use the same tool to link their classroom with others. [Maybe I should explain a phone bridge. As the phrase implies, a phone bridge uses phone audio rather than VOIP. You just cannot count on all students having sufficient bandwidth for quality audio and the audio stream ends up being most easily degraded in a way that influences the quality of interaction. A phone bridge creates what is essentially a giant conference call synched to the other resources and perhaps the audio fed from a traditional classroom.]

So, I am a week away from starting the Fall semester. The syllabus is ready to go and students have had the opportunity to take a look at what will be expected. I learn that in September Google will eliminate Google Hangouts on Air as it presently exists and wants users to move to Youtube Live Stream. The timing and the brief lead time here are problematic. I must say that Google has eliminated several tools that I thought were great. Google Reader comes to mind. I need to heed my own advice and not complain about free.

This has happened so quickly that I have not really had the time to fully research the new option. I thought Hangouts on Air was great because it was simple to use, easily saved content to YouTube, and made use of Google Circles which I thought was a great way to provide a reasonable level of access and security. The content available explaining the new opportunity seems very sketchy at present. There are more settings to consider and it seems this is more focused on a concept emphasizing broadcast rather than group interaction. I will wait a bit before developing new tutorials, but it seems it is down to delete the present content on Hangouts.

YouTube Isolates Educational Content

YouTube has been willing to offer everyone the opportunity to serve video content. Being open to everyone has been both a blessing and a curse. It seems we have very different opinions regarding what represents useful and entertaining content. In education settings what might be funny or entertaining to someone in some other context ends being inappropriate and distracting. Since schools cannot control which videas are available, a common solution has been to block access entirely.

Google has responded with YouTube for Schools. The idea (at least as I understand it) is to isolate content from YouTube Education in a way that allows schools to    move this content through the filter in a predictable and controllable way. You might want to start with this page for the official description.

Sometimes teachers need to advocate – this site offered for teachers may provide some encouragement.

UND on YouTube

I spend little time on YouTube, but an event in which I participated recently ended up as a YouTube video. Amazing they could talk 1/3 of us into doing this.

YouTube finds related posts and offers them to viewers. In this case, the next UND video on the list is something about a drunk student participating in a campus parade. I guess this is the reality of the participatory web in action.

Oh, I’m the guy in the green shirt about half way up just to the right of the D.