How YouTube perfected the feed of recommendations

How YouTube perfected the feed of recommendationsFor 12 years, YouTube from a search engine-managed site has become an independent resource. This required hundreds of experiments, several redesigns and a couple of really important steps towards artificial intelligence. But what actually allowed YouTube to grow to such a scale, is its evolution into the tape.

Now it’s hard to remember, but once YouTube was slightly more than just an infrastructure: it allowed you to quickly and easily embed video on other sites, and as the resource grew, it also became a repository for archive TV clips and viral hits. Today this is the most famous resource on a par with Wikipedia.

In the meantime, Facebook invented the format of the news feed – an endless stream of updates, personalized based on the interests of the user. Soon the tape moved to Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and even LinkedIn. But YouTube with this innovation was in no hurry, leaving dominance over the channels subscribed to by the user. Today these channels no longer dominate. Open YouTube on your smartphone and see – they are hidden in a separate tab, and on the main you’ll see a tape from the video you’ve adapted to your interests. To make recommendations personalized, YouTube developed ultra-precise tools, and this helped to increase the time spent by the user on the site.

“We knew that people come to YouTube only when they know what they want to find. But we wanted to attract them, even if they do not know what they want, “says YouTube technical manager Jim McFadden.
McFadden joined the company in 2011. Just like now, 6 years ago, YouTube’s goal was to keep the user on the site as long as possible and not let it go. The company tried everything a little: bought professional equipment for the best bloggers, introduced the function of “queue” (the list of the following videos in the playback window of the current video), redesigned the main page to raise the percentage of subscription to the channels. But the statistics remained the same until YouTube changed the algorithm for issuing recommendations. Instead of showing users the most viewed videos in the tape, the algorithm selected clips that looked longer than others.

The counters of views of the most popular bloggers, spreading videos with cunning headlines and colorful miniatures, collapsed in just one night. A video of a higher quality, for viewing which users spent more time, on the contrary, gained momentum. Over the next three years, the total watch time on YouTube increased by 50% per year. After a while it became clear that the users subscribed to interesting channels – they could now be considered regular visitors. But to become more, to become a site that the user visits several times a day, YouTube needs new tools. By the way, they began to appear only a year and a half ago.

Well-chosen YouTube recommendations are the result of Google Brain. The unit, working with artificial intelligence technologies, joined YouTube in 2015, although it was not a pioneer in this field. Prior to that, the company used the Sibyl machine learning system to make recommendations, but the new technology of uncontrolled learning surpassed all previous efforts.

“One of the main features of this technology is generalization. If earlier I watched a comic performance, then in the recommendations there was one more video from this comedian. The Google Brain model will find similar videos with other comedians, even more ridiculous – it can make up less obvious chains, “says McFadden.
For example, the Brain algorithm recommends shorter videos for users of the mobile application and longer for those who watch YouTube in the application on the TV. Algorithm guessed, and it is correct that changing the recommendations for the length of the video, depending on the platform, will lead to an increase in the average viewing time. In 2016, YouTube launched 190 such changes, in 2017 the platform will add another 300. Brain algorithms also work faster than before. Literally a couple of years ago to include recommendations in the current behavior of the user would take several days, whereas now the delay is not even a few hours, but only minutes. Today, more than 70% of the time on the site people spend on watching videos, which are based on recommendations. Every day YouTube produces about 200 million different videos in 76 languages ​​- the total time of viewing on the main page has grown 20 times over the past three years.

This roughly corresponds to my behavior (journalist The Verge – prim.red). A few years ago, I began regularly to open the YouTube home page at dinner to watch something interesting while I was eating. The recommendations were so good that I began to open YouTube even more often. This week, I did log in to YouTube on my PlayStation 4 to watch all the great recommendations on the big screen – is not that the power of a personalized tape?

But I’m still amazed by the fact that the YouTube tape is fundamentally different from other tapes in my life. For example, on Facebook I see posts of friends and those pages to which I am subscribed. It is useful if you want to know who married someone or who gave birth to a child, but sometimes the events of friends do not greatly disturb me and even irritate me. In Twitter, I see the messages of the people on whom it is signed, and all their retweets. As a journalist, I need to “live” there, but the chronology of the home page today is hell. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – it seems that all these tapes ask you to do something for them. YouTube, however, exists at the expense of a not very large audience, uploading a video, and even on it it does not crush. YouTube can be enjoyed passively – like television channels.

In 2013, Alexis Madrigal wrote for Atlantic that the tape in its usual form reached its peak in development. He suggested that the future for the selected content: e-mail mailings, collections on Medium, stories on 10 series from Netflix. An endless stream of content tires, in the end. Four years after Madrigal’s article, the YouTube approach shows us that the tape is becoming a more important element. It will be difficult to resist the constantly growing number of commercials and advanced personalization technologies. Now the service determines how much users like the content offered to them, and over time the results of the research will make the resource even smarter. Make sure that the videos on YouTube will look even more.

Picture Credit: geralt

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