When YouTube announced it was removing the “dislike” count from all videos on its platform last week, not everyone was happy with the decision.
One of those critics: YouTube cofounder Jawed Karim.
Karim founded YouTube alongside Chad Hurley and Steve Chen in 2005. And even if you’re not familiar with any of YouTube’s three cofounders, you’ve probably seen a video of Karim.
That’s because Karim uploaded the now-famous first-ever video to YouTube, “Me at the zoo.” With more than 200 million views, the 18-second video features Karim talking to the camera about the elephants in the enclosure behind him.
While Karim’s video may be more than 16 years old, the video description is very new. The YouTube cofounder is using the historic old video to his advantage in his protest of the very current YouTube decision to remove the dislike count from videos.
“Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change?” says Karim in the description. “There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. Instead, there will be references to various studies. Studies that apparently contradict the common sense of every YouTuber.”
Karim is referencing YouTube’s announcement last week where the company explained it was removing dislikes after finding that smaller channels benefitted from the removal as it deterred coordinated “dislike mobs” who would hit the thumbs down button en masse on a video. There have been a few conspiracy theories surrounding this decision and Karim appears to be referencing at least one of them, yet he never specifies which.
According to Karim, the dislike feature was part of a process that worked, which he deems “the wisdom of crowds.”
“The process breaks when the platform interferes with it,” he explains. “Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre? Because nothing can be great if nothing is bad.”
While Karim is clearly against the removal of dislikes, it’s not the first time YouTube has made a sweeping change to its rating system. In fact, no such “dislike” feature existed back when Karim cofounded the video platform; there was a 5-star rating system. YouTube was acquired by Google in 2006 and the search engine removed the 5-star system in 2009 in favor of the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons.
It should also be noted that YouTube is just removing the public dislike counts. Users will still be able to dislike a video to signal to the platform that it did not like a video.
This isn’t the first time Jawed Karim utilized the first-ever YouTube video to voice his displeasure with a company decision. In 2013, he protested YouTube’s requirement to have an account with Google’s since-shuttered social network, Google+, in order to leave comments.
The YouTube cofounder has edited it since originally voicing his disapproval and took out a more succinct summary of his thoughts: “When all youtubers agree that removing dislikes is a stupid idea, it probably is. Try again, YouTube.”
Karim’s full thoughts on the removal of the dislike count can be read below:
Watching Matt Koval’s announcement about the removal of dislikes, I thought something was off.
The spoken words did not match the eyes. The video reminded me of an interview Admiral Jeremiah Denton gave in 1966. I have never seen a less enthusiastic, more reluctant announcement of something that is supposed to be great.
Calling the removal of dislikes a good thing for creators cannot be done without conflict by someone holding the title of “YouTube’s Creator Liaison”. We know this because there exists not a single YouTube Creator who thinks removing dislikes is a good idea — for YouTube or for Creators.
Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change? There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. Instead, there will be references to various studies. Studies that apparently contradict the common sense of every YouTuber.
The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform. Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. The idea was never that all content is good. The idea WAS, however, that among the flood of content, there are great creations waiting to be exposed. And for that to happen, the stuff that’s not great has to fall by the side as quickly as possible.
The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre? Because nothing can be great if nothing is bad.
In business, there’s only one thing more important than “Make it better”. And that’s “Don’t fuck it up”.