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YouTube’s Community Captions replacement still isn’t ready – a year after they were axed

YouTube deprecated its community contributions feature, which allowed viewers to submit captions and translations for videos on a creator’s channel, on 28 September 2020.

YouTube’s replacement for its community captions feature is yet to be introduced, Liam O’Dell can reveal, despite the tool being axed exactly a year ago due to spam and low usage.

In April 2020, the social media platform announced that it would be considering whether or not to remove the feature, before going ahead with the deprecation in September – despite trending hashtags, petitions and prominent creators speaking out against the move.

Writing in a Community post published at the time, a YouTube employee said future developments in captioning would include a new captions editor in YouTube Studio – with a new “smart timing feature” – and a “trusted captioner” role in channel permissions.

“[Trusted Captioner] is a new Channel Permission in YouTube Studio that allows creators to delegate caption creation on their channel to those they trust.

“We’ve heard a lot of creators say they need to share the work of captioning with others, and we’ve also heard how meaningful it is for people to create captions for their favorite creators – we hope this feature achieves some of that,” they said.

YouTube also said that it would cover the cost of a six-month subscription to the third party captioning service Amara.org for creators who had used community contributions and met specific criteria. They went on to extend this offer to 12 months from September 2020.

“We know some creators have worried about what they’ll do when the free Amara membership ends. This is fair feedback and we’re extending our partnership with Amara from 6 to 12 months for eligible creators to make sure the new Trusted Captioner role is available by the time that free period ends,” the forum post reads.

In an unlisted video posted to YouTube’s Creator Insider channel in August, the company’s vice president of product management at the time, Ariel Bardin, said: “We would like to add like a permissions role and access level that only allows someone to edit your captions or translated tracks. I think in a lot of ways, this gives the best of the community captions experience.”

However, in a statement to this website earlier this month, a YouTube spokesperson admitted that the rollout of the permissions tool was “taking longer than anticipated”.

“We have a dedicated team working on this and it’s something we’re committed to getting right. From a technical perspective, it’s a difficult problem to solve.

“We acknowledge that it’s taking longer than expected, which is why we’re extending the subscription of Amara.org for eligible creators.

“Outside of this feature, we’ve made strides with other accessibility features and will be making an announcement in the coming weeks,” they said.

The delay has been criticised by Rikki Poynter, a Deaf YouTuber who condemned the platform for its decision to scrap the feature last year.

In a statement emailed to Liam O’Dell, she said: “It’s been, what, well over a year and we don’t have anything that is this supposed improvement? As creators and viewers, we’ve been suffering from [a] lack of accessible content for what, exactly?

“I don’t even know what changes they’ve made to captions beyond censoring stuff which only made it all worse.”

Poynter’s comments reference a change to automatic captions on YouTube, whereby “potentially inappropriate” words in captions generated by speech recognition are replaced with ‘[__]’ – a decision which has been branded “infantilising” by Deaf activists.

“Honestly, they should’ve just been keeping the community contribution until they actually finished with whatever ‘fix’ or ‘improvements’ they wanted to come out with. This isn’t helping us at all,” she added.

Liam O’Dell has contacted YouTube to ask for how long the Amara.org subscription will be extended, but is yet to receive a response.

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