News

YouTube Axes Community Captions Feature, Citing Low Usage

The tool, which enables viewers to contribute subtitles to a channel’s videos, will be retired in two months’ time.

In a YouTube Help article, the video sharing platform said it would be “discontinued across all channels after 28 September 2020”.

“This feature was rarely used and had problems with spam/abuse so we’re removing them to focus on other creator tools.

“You can still use your own captions, automatic captions and third-party tools and services.

“You have until September 28, 2020 to publish your community contributions before they’re removed,” it reads.

The news follows a previous announcement on the Creator Insider channel in April, where Product Manager James Dillard said in a video: “The reason that we’re considering it ultimately comes down to not that many creators are ultimately using it.”

James went on to reveal that less than one-thousandth of a percent of channels approved a community captions track in the last month prior to the video going live.

Meanwhile, around 0.2% of watch time comes from a video with a community caption track selected.

“Some of the things that we heard [from users] were, ‘well, I really love that it exists” – everyone is positive on the theory – and then they said ‘but…’

“They say things like, ‘but I’ve had problems with spam’, or, ‘it’s not reliable enough for me’,” James added.

The abuse of the the community captions feature was flagged by commentary YouTuber JT in August last year, when he revealed that viewers were exploiting the translations tool on videos by popular creators such as Pewdiepie and Jacksepticeye.

YouTube later announced that there would be new changes to community contributions in response to the creator’s findings.

“Moving forward, creators that have turned on this feature will need to manually review their Community Contributions and check for spam before publishing,” the platform tweeted.

James continued to say that while “it sounds really great in theory”, the feature “only works for the biggest channels”, who then encounter spam and abuse.

“Then people turn it off,” he said.

However, the initial proposals faced criticism from deaf creators and viewers, with deaf YouTuber Rikki Poynter telling the online magazine TenEighty UK in April that she thinks community captions shouldn’t be retired.

“While I do acknowledge and have called out the fact that the feature gets abused by trolls, I know that the feature brings accessibility that we didn’t have before to the table.

“Community contributions gave us more captioned channels and now we will risk having less of that. I’m also taking issue with the fact that [the Creator Insider channel] doesn’t caption their stuff properly, especially on videos about captions.

“It’s inaccessible, difficult to read, and just shouldn’t look that way coming from YouTube,” she said.

Former host of Creator Insider, Tom Leung, later responded to the feedback in a video in May, confirming that they are going to “try and experiment with improving the quality of our English captions”, with subtitles being available on content a day after a video is uploaded.

The deprecation of community contributions is the latest step from YouTube in its work on captioning tools, with the site previously announcing that captions would soon be made available through the platform’s permissions feature.

Elsewhere, users are currently testing out a new captions editor on YouTube Studio, to replace the current version from the old Creator Studio Classic interface, which has been phased out.

James has also confirmed that work is continuing on the site’s automated captions, which are generated using automatic speech recognition software.

The product manager revealed that they are looking into “making them more accurate, supporting more languages [and] making them better [by supporting] punctuation and grammar capitalisation”.

More information about the deprecation of community captions can be found on the YouTube Help website.


Update: In a forum post, YouTube said that while they had hoped the feature would be “a wide-scale, community-driven source of quality translations” for users, the tool was “rarely used and people continue to report spam and abuse”.

However, YouTube went on to add that they are aware many of their creators rely on community captions.

“Thanks to the feedback we received, we’ll be covering the cost of a 6 month subscription of Amara.org for all creators who have used the Community Contribution feature for at least 3 videos in the last 60 days.

“These creators will receive a notification on their YouTube Studio Dashboard (News Card) in the coming weeks with more information about how to sign up for the service.

They continued to say that they have also secured special pricing and benefits from other captions providers.

“We’re committed to improving existing accessibility and caption features, as well as introducing new and better tools for creators to reach the broadest possible audience,” they said.

Update: Today’s announcement follows news yesterday that a new ‘editor without access to revenue data’ role has been created in permissions for YouTube Studio.
 
New features have also been announced, including endscreens and “pretty soon, captions”.
 
It is not known if captions through permissions will act as an official replacement for the retired feature.
 
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition has been set up protesting YouTube’s decision, with over 1,000 signatures at the time of writing.
 
Both viewers and creators have taken to Twitter to voice their concern over the social media platform’s announcement, with YouTubers Rikki Poynter and Emma Blackery commenting on the news.
 
Blackery, a British creator with over one million subscribers on YouTube, described the move as “an awful decision”.
 
YouTube is yet to issue a further comment in response to the criticism.

Featured Image: StockSnap/Pixabay.

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