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The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross
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Open Letter to Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
This open letter explains why Google should take into consideration the objection of YouTube's channel owners to Google's forced redesign of the channels on YouTube.
To: Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google.
In light of the recent channel design changes that Google has implemented on YouTube, I would like to address this open letter to you since you have stated that you are interested in receiving feedback about what the internet means to people. So I would like to give you my feedback about what the internet means to me and why I believe Google is damaging an important aspect of the internet.
The internet to me is the power to connect up the collective consciousness of humanity and thereby to heighten the collective consciousness (awareness) of humanity. The two main forces that are responsible for this are Facebook and YouTube. It is Facebook that connects humanity and YouTube that informs humanity. In the big picture, it is YouTube that plays a more crucial role than Facebook, since if there was no Facebook there would still be regular e-mail mailing lists with which to spread around YouTube videos. However, if there was no central site into which humanity could pour its collective experiences and opinions and instead they were to be spread out over various internet sites, those experiences and opinions wouldn't receive the same exposure as they get today on YouTube.
It is YouTube that has played a more instrumental role than Facebook in the social protests that we see today around the world, chiefly among them "Occupy Wall Street" and the "Arab Spring", due to the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words and video even more so. So while Facebook connects up humanity, without the graphic scenes broadcast by the general public on YouTube for instance with regard to the violent Syrian uprising, humanity would be less motivated to take up a certain cause. A prime example of this is the Joseph Kony 2020 YouTube video. Had the Joseph Kony story been spread around on Facebook without that powerful video to accompany it, the story would never have garnered the kind of attention that it has received. So in the big picture it is YouTube that is changing the world more than any other internet site.
Enter Google, a company the likes the world has never seen before. In less than 14 years it has grown from nothing into a company with a market value equal to the GDP of a good sized country, with revenue of almost 38 billion dollars (as of 2020) and profits of almost 8 billion dollars (as of 2020). With its rapid growth has come an insatiable appetite for even more profit. The reasons for this could be one or both of the following - a desire to continuously boost Google's share price (let's be honest, the wealth of executives of publicly traded companies are more a factor of their stock options than of their salaries) and / or pure and simple greed. It isn't surprising to find greed in the tech world, a world that creates billionaires practically overnight before they have even reached 30 years of age.
So it is no surprise that Google acquired YouTube, a website that gets a trillion page views a year and has 800 million users. No doubt that Google sees YouTube as a "cash cow", and is eager to "milk" this cow as much as possible. And what better way to milk this cash cow than to turn it into TV.
So along come Google and declare that they are making sweeping changes to YouTube regardless if users like it or not. We know that Google could not care less about user feedback, since Google has absolutely ignored all user protests. It is incredible to see the extent of how our protests have been ignored. It has served nothing but to damage Google's image.
But here's the thing - the relationship between Google / YouTube and its users (and when I say users, I mean YouTube's channel owners - the people responsible for uploading the vast majority of content on YouTube) is a symbiotic one - YouTube provides the platform and in turn the channel owners provide the content. One could look at YouTube like a supermarket - YouTube provides the shelves (the platform) while the general public (the channel owners) provide the products on the shelves (the uploaded videos).
So in light of this symbiotic relationship it would be expected that Google consider the opinions of the channel owners with regard to the channel design changes especially when those design changes have destroyed hours of work the average channel owner put into his / her channel, and in many cases (like my own) it has virtually rendered useless the message of the channel by hiding the vast majority of the channel description and user profile behind a "more" button. One could compare Google's conduct to a supermarket owner who unilaterally decides to place on the supermarket shelves his own products in front of his supplier's products and then expects his suppliers to be content with that arrangement. Another way of looking at Google's conduct would be like this - it is the equivalent of a publicly run company telling its shareholders to disappear now that they have done their job and grown the company into what it is.
So while Google can say - "This is our business, we can do with it what we like, we paid over a billion dollars for it", the channel owners can also say - "Well, these are our products on your shelves. We put in many hours to create them. Therefore they are the equivalent of our investment in your company, since this investment of ours grew your company into what it is today just like your company would have grown had we invested actual money in it".
This brings me to the damage I believe Google is doing to the internet - by chasing away amateur content providers or at the very least marginalizing their videos to the sidelines where they hardly get exposure and instead putting commercialized videos front and center, Google is doing a disservice to humanity, since it is important that YouTube remain a place where humanity can share its collective experiences and opinions. And it is also important that YouTube remain a vibrant social networking site, since social networking plays an important role in getting videos exposure. The new channel design absolutely discourages social networking. No doubt this was one of Google's goals in implementing the new channel design. Why else would Google hide the "send message" function on the channel page, the "friends" and "subscribers" module, and hide the vast majority of the channel description and user description? Google is interested in YouTube being about the video and not about the social interaction. That is a distraction to advertisers.
But even without taking all this into consideration, turning YouTube into TV is just a bad idea. Has Google done a survey that they believe that is what the public want, or has Google simply been blinded by dreams of making additional billions off of YouTube? You would do well to read Mike Hale's article on YouTube's design change to understand why it is a bad idea.
Mr. Cerf, if Google wants to create online TV, then create GoogleTV or acquire some other video sharing site, but leave YouTube the way it was - a vibrant social networking ecosystem and a place for humanity to share its collective experiences and opinions. While Google has been engaging in "Clash of the Titans" with the other "Big Four" (Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) over domination of the internet by among other things trying to draw away people from Facebook and over to Google+, did it ever occur to the executives at Google that Google had in its possession one of the best products of creativity, expression and individualism the internet has ever known - a YouTube channel the way it was designed before the 8th of March, 2020 -with which Google could have utilized to create a real alternative to Facebook? If you are interested in promoting creativity on the internet as you state you are, then how about bringing it back.
Mr. Cerf, I wish you and Google all the prosperity in the world, but not at the expense of the channel owners or of humanity. I am sure YouTube could be profitable for Google just the way the channels were designed before the 8th of March. In fact, I believe that YouTube could become much more profitable if YouTube were to aggressively showcase the old design, since an old design YouTube channel offers the public something that a Facebook wall does not - individuality and creativity. The reason everyone is on Facebook is not because of the product itself but because that is simply where everyone is. As the young daughter of John Whitaker, Google's former Google+ designer mentioned to her dad - "It's not about the product. It's about the people".
The social networking product that you were looking for in order to get the internet public to move over and socialize at Google was right before your eyes yet you threw it away. It's still not too late to bring it back. I hope the issue won't be about a failure of the executives to admit to their mistake. We all make mistakes. We are only human.
Let me end by saying that the world is in the midst of an era of greed never before witnessed. This greed is what brought about the economic recession of 2020 yet it seems like it is back to business as usual. The last time the world witnessed such greed and the general population had it so hard, the world was witness to the French Revolution and heads rolled. The ruling business elite of the world would be wise to learn from history.
This protest is not as much about a channel design change as it is about a fight for the heart and soul of YouTube. YouTube must remain a place where humanity can share its collective experiences and opinions and not turned into another commercialized tool for making billions of dollars. That is why if you think that it is only a matter of time until the protests eventually die down then you are mistaken. We are in this for the long run until we are given back the option to switch back to the old design and YouTube stops marginalizing amateur videos and prioritizing commercial videos. If you listen to our voices then Google will live up to its motto - "Don't Be Evil". We the public built YouTube into the beast that it is, therefore our voices deserve to be heard.