YouTube stars express frustration over algorithm tests

Tim Maytom

A number of YouTube's most popular content creators have criticised the platform for "experimenting" with how their videos are delivered to fans without warning, potentially damaging their viewership numbers and reducing the amount of ad revenue they receive.

The outcry surrounds YouTube testing an algorithm within the subscription feed section of the platform, which has previously been kept in strict chronological order. This section typically collects all the latest videos by channels a user has subscribed to, enabling them to curate a personalised feed full of content they are interested in.

The testing, which was carried out without any public notification by YouTube, shifted the subscription feed order from chronological to one determined by an algorithm, and many smaller channels complained that this made it more difficult for their content to be seen, especially in the feeds of users with a large number of subscriptions.

Once the tests came to light on social media, many video makers decried the move. Lifestyle vlogger Alfie Deyes, who boasts over 5m subscribers, called it "the worst decision YouTube has made in the past nine years I've been making videos", while games reviewer Sean McLoughlin, who produces content as Jacksepticeye, said, "People use the subscription tab to mainly avoid this sort of algorithmic behaviour on the platform."

YouTube has responded, saying that the test only appeared for a "small number" of users. The Google-owned platform emphasised that the "personalised" feed presented in the experiment was optional, and there were no plans to remove the standard chronological feed for subscribers, but that the results of its testing showed that people were watching videos for longer.

"We're testing a setting that allows users to sort the subscriptions feed based on the content a user usually engages with the most," said a YouTube spokespoerson. "This is one of many small experiments we run all the time on YouTube."