YouTube is a Toilet

I watched it. Well, actually I watched a ‘reaction’ video, in which a thumbnail of the video was playing in the corner while the camera was focussed on the guy watching it. So in this hall-of-mirrors existence we lead, I’m blogging about my reaction to a reaction video to a video. Got that? Good.

So, do you know what *that* video was? It was a video posted by YouTube celebrity (don’t look at me like that – I had to Google him too) Logan Paul. The setup was that he was going to spend a day in Japan’s “haunted forest” of Aokigahara, but his plans ran adrift when he found the body of a recent suicide, and took the decision to film both the body and his own reaction. Uploading it to YouTube, his 15,000,000 subscribers had ‘liked’ the video 500,000 times until the media got a hold of the story, he removed it and issued an apology (of sorts) via his Twitter account.

Firstly, it’s worth a quick exploration of why he was there in the first place before we come to ponder briefly on what this episode tells us about a certain strand of internet life.

The forest has gained its infamy largely due to the phenomenal number of people who have taken their own lives there. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it has acquired some kind of magnetic power in the minds of those looking to end their own lives, and they are drawn to the woods in the last extremities of their desperation. In a bid to dampen the dark allure of the place, the number of suicides is no longer publicised – although in 2003 no fewer than 105 bodies were found there, to give you some perspective.

Even before it became a mecca for suicides, Aokigahara was known as a ‘haunted forest’. It is alleged to have been used for ‘ubasute‘ in the 19th century: the practice of leaving elderly or infirm relatives in a remote location to die, which – as remarkable as it seems to modern sensibilities – is weakly documented as having been an actual practice. As with our own culture, the spirits of the dead are believed by some to continue to reside in the place of their deaths and so the combination of ancient legend and the general creepiness of forests makes for an eerie, sombre place that certainly would tickle the interest of anyone with a taste for the morbid.

Quite a few YouTubers have made videos of themselves spending a night in the woods, ending the night with a few minutes of guffawing sub-Blair Witch night-vision footage of them saying “Shit! Did you hear that?” and running around in the dark as part of their exploration of Japanese culture, or in search of clicks (depending on your general attitude towards this kind of stunt). It’s almost a sub genre of video in itself – along with “holy shit! I’m eating a live octopus, guys!” and “our hotel room is crazy, yo!”

And so we reach Logan Paul. Entering the woods, he and his team had walked just a hundred yards from the car park before finding a body hanging, dressed in a purple, double-breasted woollen coat, dangling lifelessly against a tree trunk. To he and his crew’s credit, their initial response was actually within the bounds of how you might expect humans to react. They called to the person from some distance (“Hello..? Are you OK?”), proceeded closer, noticed the facts of the situation (noose, discoloured skin) and shouted at each other to phone the police. Presumably – hopefully, even – one of them actually made that call.

But it’s what happened next that is instructive. Firstly, they kept the camera rolling and focussed on the body. Their concession to taste ended at blurring his face out, but that pretty distinctive coat I mentioned earlier would surely give away the identity of that poor soul to anyone who knew him. Then Paul and a couple of his crew made some stumbling statements along the lines of “don’t do this” and “suicide is not an answer, guys” as well as incoherently documenting how they feel about finding a body – which we can imagine was as genuinely shocking to them as it would be to anyone else.

Already we’ve reached the point where human decency would demand that nobody should be filming this, but true to the modern idiom of endless narcissistic voyeurism it takes them a couple of short minutes to come to terms with what they’re seeing and pass into the “we’d better get some more footage of this!” mode. And so, Logan Paul – with his audience of 15,000,000, mainly young, subscribers – decides to get into frame with the body, wearing his dorky Pokémon hat and veering from shock to a kind of “holy shit, bro!” tone.

And now this person – dead for only a handful of hours – became a grotesque prop for one man’s ego.

So. They go into a wood that is a notorious suicide hotspot. They find the body of man, hanging in those woods. They keep the camera rolling. They decide it’s fine to get into the frame with him. They laugh (and seriously, his two companions cannot stop smirking and openly laughing throughout). They then take that video, edit it, film a disingenuous introduction (“I’m not monetising this video”), and upload it to YouTube with this thumbnail.

logan

In one day, 6 million people watch the video before it comes to the attention of the ‘normie’ world and a “monsoon of negativity” forces the berk to take it down. He issues the following apology on Twitter.

logan

Note the following aspects of his apology.

  • “I didn’t do it for views… I thought I could make a positive ripple on the internet.”
  • “I’ve made a 15 minute TV show EVERY SINGLE DAY for the past 460+ days.”
  • “‘…it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.”
  • “With great power comes great responsibility.”

As is now commonplace with these kinds of public displays of contrition, it is sickeningly mealy-mouthed, and as much a denial as it is an apology.

Remember I said I watched this sort-of second hand via a reaction video? Well the guy in the reaction video stopped halfway through, because his own sister had taken her life by hanging. No surprise then that he broke down in tears for several minutes during his own video. But then he himself continued to watch… in search of…. what? Closure? Answers? Or his own little slice of the clickbait money?

I don’t know what’s wrong with us any more. I don’t know why I’m writing this. But YouTube is another Google property that is a toilet, and a perfect little microcosm of how social media connectivity is often a conduit for our worst, rather than our better sides.

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Fare well, Google Authorship…

So it’s a fond-farewell to the occasional little portrait that accompanied things you submitted via or wrote on Google+. It’s officially dead in the water

I’ll just pause here for a moment for you to dry your eyes.

The whole thing was always a little bit shonky. The take-up was low, the benefits seemingly minimal,  and it became yet another thing used solely by SEOs to try and improve their rankings in organic listings.

In some ways, this highlights once again the shortcomings of Google’s mission to ‘organise the world’s information.’ It was easy enough to set up a profile if you could be bothered, but doing so didn’t somehow magically confer authority on either you or your content. In effect, some no-mark from Leeds like me could get their fizzog into the rankings alongside Polly Toynbee or Robert Scoble or whoever.

But that was just an attribution and a tiny sprinkle of glitz in the SERPs. It didn’t make you suddenly an expert in whatever you were talking about. It wasn’t a signal of quality or…. anything really. Just occasionally an extremely mild tingle of delight at seeing your face (or that of a friend) in the rankings.

And in a way, this only further serves to highlight the problem that Google has in the social space. I predicted (in a spirit of larkfulness) that Google+ would be dead in the water by 2013. I was obviously wrong, but only by a matter of time. Google cannot attract content users to seriously engage with its space. The game has been lost, and really all that is left is a disorganised retreat. The abandonment of Google Authorship is merely a waymarker on that long and dismal road.

Another Google+ feature? Images on Brand Search

In my recent vein of doing the one thing I don’t want to have to do (namely: keep a G+ page up to date) I noticed this happen today for a brand search – showing images we posted to the G+ stream directly into the search results.

gplus

Nothing more than you’d expect, but it’s probably something you could misuse if you were so minded 😉

Google Plus Profiles: Muddying the Waters

As the administrator of Trusted Dealers’ Google+ page, I’ve been trained like one of Pavlov’s famous dogs to update it fairly regularly for branding reasons, despite my inherent dislike of G+ as a medium for, well, anything.

Despite my craven acceptance of the necessity of keeping it up to date, I’ve also noticed that Google are now making a correlation between my G+ profile and my ownership of the G+ page and the website itself. Here’s what I see when I search for ‘site:trusteddealers.co.uk’ right now – without being logged in or anything else.

td-plus

It’s interesting in a minor way, as there are no rel author tags in the blog or other connections between it and my Google account – but buried away in my G+ profile is this, which I don’t even remember setting up:

contributor

Despite that, Google maintain that they won’t give you credit for a link between content and profile without you going round the houses and tagging up web properties.

must

This is something that patently I have never done. Instead, Google is inferring a connection between my profile and content because of other signals, such as my use of Webmaster Tools or the aforementioned ownership of the G+ page. In fact, the Google account I use for maintaining Trusted Dealers’ web properties is basically an empty shell and not even my ‘real’ Google profile anyway – just another login to maintain that allows me to keep my personal and ‘professional’ stuff in separate spheres.

I haven’t explored this is in any way, but if they’re being loose with it then it opens up scope for interesting things which you might fairly consider to be errors – like this example below, which credits David Whitehouse with authorship of Dave Naylor’s blog:

naylor

I know that Whitehouse works at Bronco with Dave and has probably been involved with setting up Webmaster Tools or G+ on his behalf, but it smacks a little of sloppiness for Google to then attribute Dave’s entire blog to Whitehouse!

As I said, I’ve not had chance to experiment further, but next up: can you claim credit for someone else’s work?

Using Google+ to promote your content

I’m still not a fan of Google+. Aside from a lack of ‘real people’ on there – by which I mean people who aren’t SEOs, marketers, scammers etc – it feels disjointed, purposeless and almost completely free of real organic interest.

Nonetheless, it still gets brought up as an area of interest in the trade press and Matt Cutts keeps mentioning it in his podcasts so it seems that it is another thing to add to the roster of things website owners will have to pay attention to in some form or other.

Anyway, it’s a small thing, but I noticed a little update to it today. Until recently, if you had a brand page and you searched for the brand, you’d get a big fat logo parked on the right hand side of the SERPs. As a demo to people it had a certain cachet for the sort of people who like to see their logo.

BUT, if you didn’t update your G+ page for a week or two (and I never pinned down the exact length of time) this would be removed. Google wants you to respond like one of Pavlov’s dogs when you don’t see your logo in the SERPs, so this is another way they’re trying to force your hand to “use” your G+ page. If your boss searches for your brand and the G+ stuff doesn’t appear, you’ll cop some flack – so make sure you’re “doing Google Plus” for brownie points.

When you did so, the results were hardly striking. If you posted a ‘status update’ or a link into your G+ page, that appeared as a badly formatted plain text bit in your G+ box. As of today, that’s changed slightly: if you post a link on G+ it now actually appears as a link:

gplus1

Still got the ugly full URL on display, but it’s a step forward to have a link. It responds quite quickly to new additions too:

gplus2

As you can see, it correctly notes that the page was updated “1 minute ago”, which is a pretty rapid turnaround.

This is actually a decent way to use G+ (at last!) If you have something time sensitive you want to promote, you normally have to rely on PPC or try and frig your site architecture to get it to appear within your extended organic SERP listing as a sitelink.

Using your G+ page, you can now put something on your site and give it priority listing in the search results (albeit only for your brand). For sales, company news and – as mentioned – any other time-sensitive issue, this is a relatively neat way to put it in front of people who are searching for your brand. I guess Google are still treading carefully around this to avoid it becoming a spammer’s paradise and it’s still pretty basic but it’s the most promising branding aspect I’ve yet seen from G+.

Still, another baby step towards G+ becoming a proper part of the SEO/marketing ecosphere.

Facebook’s Failure in a Single Image

I am 37. I live  – and always have done – in Leeds. I’m married, have a couple of kids, work in online marketing, have had some fairly well documented health problems, follow the fortunes of Leeds United, play in a band and am bald.

All of this information I have given freely to Facebook over 6 or 7 years of near-daily use. My location, workplace, interests, relationships and music taste are exhaustively documented there for everyone to see and while my involvement with the site has fallen off over the last year, it is still the place I go to share life’s dramas and bad jokes with my nearest and dearest.

That stuff should be a goldmine for advertisers: “here’s a married man in Leeds, with kids, disposable income and who loves music.” Even without all the other stuff thrown in, it should be pretty easy to match me against some good ads.

Furthermore my statuses often reflect direct intent. Two random statuses from recent weeks:

“Having a loft conversion: Anyone want a futon? Getting rid for space reasons. Message me.”

“Anyone know a good pub for food in York?”

And that’s the fundamental premise of Facebook to advertisers: TV levels of exposure with a global audience of hundreds of millions, allied to personal profiles of every one and intent.

Based on this stuff, I’d probably expect/hope to see ads for local decorators, pubs, offers from music stores and things which just some obvious.

And yet, every day I see advertising like the stuff in the image on the right there. At the single most fundamental level, it’s not even the right country. I can’t buy Tyson Chicken Nuggets. There are no participating Simon Malls anywhere for me to use my Amex. None of them reflect my interests, location, tastes or needs.

Given what they know, Facebook should be better than Google at serving ads. Love it though I do, if they can’t sort this out they’re toast.

 

Zuckerberg heads for the iceberg

“All that bubbly good feeling that erupted through the investment markets as Zuckerberg rang the bell on Wall Street on Friday lasted as long as mid-afternoon. The big institutional investors stepped in to make sure that the stock price didn’t actually fall below the opening trade of $38 per share, costing them money just to save face.”

I wrote that sentence on Friday night, and in the days since (while this post has been in draft) the price has continued to drift down – currently touching $31 a share as I write now. (UPDATE: by 22nd August, the stock is just above $19. Wow!)

I’ve said before that the dotcom bubble is still here but FB’s feeble open day showing on the NASDAQ perhaps indicates that investors are maybe wiser than I give them credit for. Why do I think Facebook is a fail?

Taking Myspace as a template for Facebook is maybe a bit facile. The actual numbers for Facebook are phenomenal in direct comparison:

Regardless of size, there are some interesting comparisons.

For all the interest, the hundreds of millions of active users and an unparalleled depth of profiling information, FB have still not found a way to make realy money from their users. Google’s business model had money-making baked into it from the start. While their recent attempts to diversify into the social sphere have been dismal, the core operation of Google continues to print cash for the company at insanely profitable levels. Why? Because their model is, uniquely, based around intent.

A core component of Facebook’s money comes from third parties such as Zynga – whose games often encourage people to buy “Facebook credits” to access feature sets unavailable to players of the otherwise free games they offer. How are they doing through their use of the Facebook platform? Well over the first quarter of 2012, they posted a cool $85,000,000 in losses.

It’s obviously not unknown for companies in the tech sector to take a long time to reach profitability, but permissable timescales aren’t what they were. Back in the 00s with lax financial markets and phantom growth from hedge funds and CDSs swilling about, people were happy to punt on tech as a long term bet. In today’s environment of a shaky economic backdrop and advertisers looking for direct ROI from their marketing, FB as an advertising channel just doesn’t cut the mustard.

While it might be suitable for people who can afford to punt on demographics FB is an option (just as advertising during Coronation Street is) it just isn’t a viable route to market for most businesses. Partly this is because of FB’s woeful advertising. Whether it is due to the FB platform itself, or incompetent advertisers I can’t recall ever seeing an ad I wanted to click. Sorting this out has to now be Zuck’s top priority, and the only conclusion is that the user experience will start to suffer. The truth is (as GM pointed out) that a free FB page for a business is as good a channel – in fact probably better than – the advertising that FB is banking on.

So Zuckerberg, for all his Harvard smarts, is in a stupid place.

Now Facebook is half publicly owned, the pressure will start to grow on Zuck to produce the goods, money-wise. After Google floated, the pressure on them grew to do “other stuff”, which has led them into terrible decisions like Google+, while knocking on the head the science-y fun stuff they used to do. Next in line: Twitter – who surely will face pressure to float from investors looking for a return.