YouTube has launched a pilot for a feature which sees viewers correct automatic captions on a channel’s video, without these changes being added to the transcript available for every viewer.
Touch Captions, unveiled in an upload to YouTube’s Creator Insider channel on Thursday, will rollout on desktop for “a small number of English-speaking channels” in “late September”.
Pierce Vollucci, a senior product manager at YouTube, said in the video: “Touch Captions will allow viewers to suggest automatic caption corrections directly through the Transcripts panel. We’re hoping this improves the automatic captions quality, and reduces work for both creators and viewers looking to contribute to a channel.”
However, a YouTube spokesperson confirmed to this website that users with access to the pilot will only be able to see their own contributed corrections to a video’s automatic captions, with the updates to the transcript not visible to the channel hosting the video or any other viewer.
“Our goal with this initial experiment is to assess the quality of user suggestions and to improve our spam and abuse protections before making this more widely available to creators,” they said.
The pilot, which relies on user contributions, comes two years after YouTube went aheadith its plans to deprecate its community captions feature – a tool which allowed viewers to volunteer translations and captions to a channel for creators to approve.
Despite opposition from both YouTubers and viewers, including a Change.org petition with more than half a million signatures, the video sharing platform scrapped the feature in September 2020 citing spam and low usage.
A replacement for the feature, a Channel Permissions role known as ‘Subtitle Editor’, was introduced 18 months later and enabled “trusted users” limited access to a channel for the purpose of adding captions.
The YouTube spokesperson added: “With our Subtitle Editor feature, creators delegate which users have access to update captions for the videos on their channels. With Touch Captions, any user watching a video on a creator’s channel is able to suggest a correction.
“Community captions enabled users to create entirely new captions tracks in YouTube Studio, this feature is different in that users can easily suggest corrections to existing automatic captions directly on the watch page.”
When asked how the website would tackle spam and low usage which led to the removal of community captions, the spokesperson replied that the aim of Touch Captions is to “make it easier for viewers to contribute to improving the quality of automatic captions”.
“We recognise automatic captions can make mistakes, so we’re introducing this pilot to understand if this feature could help address that.
“We are planning to use the results of this experiment to assess the quality of user suggestions and to improve our spam and abuse protections before expanding availability and visibility to all users,” they said.
Automatic captions on YouTube have previously come under fire for their accuracy following reports of the computer-generated text including the n-word in transcripts when the word wasn’t uttered in the video.
The issue led to the platform introducing a text replacement feature to swap “potentially inappropriate words” with “I_]” – a move which was described as “infantilising” by Deaf campaigners.
In response to a question about whether this new user-based feature was an admission of a mistake over its decision to scrap community contributions, YouTube did not comment either way and instead said: “Touch Captions is a separate feature that we hope makes it easier for users to contribute quality corrections to captions while protecting them from spam and abuse.
“The feature is our latest effort in our commitment to improve captions quality on YouTube.”
More information about Touch Captions can be found in the video on the Creator Insider channel.