We Can Be Heroes, Just For No Pay

By Dan Speerin


Last week at the IWCC we found ourselves being asked to give our thoughts on YouTube’s latest community idea/controversy: “YouTube Heroes”.

As we begin our fourth year as an organization, it's great to see media picking up on the stories that affect so many digital creators and companies.

Which is why, this week our blog will be giving you the deeper dive on the issues of "YouTube Heroes".

But before we do, I really need to get this GIF out of my system.

Okay, I'm good. Let's do this.

After a decade of amazing creativity and entertainment disruption, it feels like YouTube has finally decided who it is. And as the online video economy has crystallized around one platform, creator questions about how this all could shake out are front and centre. But in 2016, being a YouTube creator feels a bit like being a fan of the tv series LOST, where you get to the last episode and find out that none of your questions have been answered.  The platform’s frustrating habit of unleashing ideas without giving the slightest hint at "how it will work in practice" is becoming a fine art.

Q: So what is YouTube Heroes?

A: For those who haven't seen it yet, we'll let you get this straight from Google.


And here’s their take from the website

Q: Um okay, this sounds like a REALLY BAD IDEA! Doesn't it?

A:  We like to be optimists here at the IWCC, so we follow this old chestnut...


You know, it feels like it was just the other week that we were talking about the pitfalls of rolling out a big idea, without enough information. Probably, because it was literally just the other week.



So yeah, you know... that. And now we'll give you one guess what happened after this video was launched.

Ladies and Gentlemen of YouTube, start your tweet storms.

And let's end things off with that famous YouTube subtlety.

If you could all just look away for a second, we need to do something.

I told you so.gif

Once again, we have something that could possibly be beneficial and something that previously existed (more on that in a second) drowned out in a sea of panic. But now that you've seen the predictable reaction. Let's talk about the reality.

What can these Heroes actually do?


Okay, let’s first deal with a couple of things upfront.

Did you know The YouTube “Trusted Flagger” program even existed?

By the sounds of the outcry last week and the fact it’s launch video has less than 10,000 views (versus over half million dislikes for Heroes) – we’re thinking this 2012 program was probably not that well known.

So friends, before you completely freak out - a lot of the fear folks have about Heroes – was actually already happening, but on a smaller scale. Here’s the literal description of the program on Google’s site.

Upset about the unpaid labour shtick and worried about the flag wars? Welp, that’s been happening since 2012. Does that mean it’s not deserving of questioning in 2016? Not at all.

But two days after they released the video - they put out this statement clarifying the program on YouTube's blog. Which of course is not even close to the visibility of a YouTube video even for the wonks among us.

This blog post included a statistic that is crucial to understanding why Google decided this was something they wanted to scale. According to Google, the "trusted flaggers" are about three times more accurate than the regular old YouTube community.

You can take this information two ways. As a calming notion, that perhaps YouTube Heroes is just a competent scaling of the flagging program. Or that when the program is scaled larger, this could lead to some serious issues and the accuracy percentage will obviously go down considering the overall community isn't so great at this.

Wherever you fall on that discussion, it does make us wonder - Why didn't YouTube tout the success of that program and explain how well it worked when originally rolling out the new one?

If broadening the flagger program was in fact just a logical progression and one that they feel is easy enough to do, rolling it out like that but with more information on how they want to scale it, may have been the way to go. Instead the community felt something completely new and different was "launching" without much information, which once again caused panic.

By the way, not only has the flagger program existed for years but Google has already had a summit of these real life YouTube Heroes, where they got capes - CAPES!


Okay, so what do these volunteer worker bees aka Heroes actually do now?

As some cynical users put it - "It's like frequent flyer points for unpaid interns". We all agree, that there's no doubt these tasks need to be done. And from a community standpoint, there's no doubt we need more users helping other users. In theory, you would ideally see lower tier creators getting help simply because of game theory.  And speaking of game theory

The reward that drew the most ire of the community is the one that speaks volumes to a classic YouTube issue.

The new “YouTube fuzz/community watch” will receive something many top creators have trouble getting; somebody from YouTube on the phone. Google has a history of offering YouTuber’s customer service on par with your favourite local cable company.  Perhaps it’s the cynic in us but “Contact somebody from YouTube directly” is probably not as fantastic as it sounds – and most likely folks will only be allowed to do so to talk “Heroes” related issues and not say “How can I brand my channel more effectively”? But once again, nobody is sure what that means. Either way, it definitely reinforced the idea that the community seems unsatisfied with the current customer relationship between themselves and the folks behind the walls at YouTube.


The problem with this entire program is you need to start most sentences critiquing it with “in theory”. Because really, nobody knows how it will be run - outside of the fact it could be close to the Trusted Flagger Program (which most people also don't know much about).

In theory, you can make the argument that the folks who responsibly flag, caption videos and answer questions in the help section are doing a job that many users don't want to do. And in an age where it’s harder and harder to unlock the perks of subscriber mountain (10,000 subs is the starter for most courses, classes and mixer nights at YouTube Spaces) that allowing a “working class” YouTuber access to these types of perks, is a great idea for new YouTubers to gain knowledge and experience, all the while helping the community.

Except also “in theory”, you would want the smartest, most experienced users doing this work – and we’re not sure if the rewards alone are strong enough to entice those folks.

This is also completely ignoring the fact that having teams of teenagers captioning to their hearts content and hanging out in the YouTube comment mines for no pay, brings up a lot of bad PR images for Google.

The question for us becomes – how many old school lurkers are there? Outside of that awesome cape photo is there a large hero class of YouTuber? How many “long time listener, first time caller” types can successfully be engaged here after years of living in the viewing shadows? Or is the community underestimating the altruism of YouTubers, who despite having large followings, will answer the call to duty to help their native platform?

And finally, and for many most importantly -  can all of this happen without it turning into this?

At this point we hope YouTube does some long overdue community outreach and public relations to let creators and the audience feel more secure after a summer of community uncertainity. The end of Thursday's Heroes YouTube blog gave a fairly vague "early days of the program" answer that implies all of this is coming... eventually. But in the 2016 YouTube economy, we feel creators deserve more information at the beginning of these roll outs.

Despite the outrage last week, most creators understand that YouTube’s mass library of content makes some type of "unpaid" community engagement inevitable. It’s not that the YouTube community idea alone is completely outrageous. It’s more about the lack of community faith that it will be rolled out properly. And in 2016, that should be taken seriously by YouTube.

It all boils down to this question which we really hope YouTube will shed light on in the coming days.

What does Google’s #YouTubeHeroes look like at YouTube HQ?

On the heels of the de-monetization, YouTube picked a pretty bad time to roll this out. But with censorship fresh in the mind of creators, perhaps YouTube just decided to get yelled at this year, all at once.

After the initial rage blackout subsides, we think creators want to participate in the future of their platform. We also think most creators at the end of the day understand with the sheer volume of content YouTube is dealing with, community outsourcing is going to have to be some part of the solution. But whether this succeeds or fails highly depends on the oversight and implementation on Google’s end.

As simple as these questions sound, nobody really knows the true answers.  If creators understood from the beginning that there was a large team of paid employees around the world dedicated to making YouTube Heroes run smoothly, creators might not mind having a role in helping paid YouTube staff scale this initiative. But being that staff without real compensation is an idea that isn't sitting well with creators and rightly so.

A look behind the curtain from time to time is only fair, when you're asking millions of creators to bring their business to you. In this case, a simple video about the success of the trusted flagger program would've gone a long way during this launch, instead of a quiet blog post two days later.

Will YouTube Heroes be a great moment for the YouTube community and the evolution of video creation? Or will we look back at 2016 as the beginning of a new kind of gatekeeper culture?

In the end, like most things with YouTube, we will have to wait and see. And that's really the problem, isn't it?

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