An experiment with auto-highlights

Back in February, I came across a video promising an easy way to game the YouTube algorithm:

Video description

Youtube is the greatest video sharing platform on the web and every now and again everyone finds a new way to exploit the website to glitch and bug the algorithm to become the largest channels on the website. In the 2010s we saw gaming channels accidentally use an algorithm glitch to become the only things youtube recommended. Now however youtube has a new secret exploit! There are many ways of explaining how to grow on youtube or how to get more views or how to get subscribers. Today however we will be using an algorithm glitch to gain more views than we should ever get as well as thousands of subscribers and preferential promotion in the algorithm. Have you ever wandered how the youtube algorithm works well guess what the new youtube algorithm 2021 edition is completely broken and full of bugs, glitches and exploits! If you ever wanted to know how to grow on youtube then you probably thought the answer was to make more videos but no! instead the spiffing brit will explain the youtube algorithm to show how dream exploited the youtube algorithm 2020 to gain millions of subscribers.

So today I show you how to Break the youtube algorithm by beating it by creating shorts that overpower the youtube short shelf and get millions of views!

In short, the video states that you can “[use] an algorithm glitch to gain … thousands of subscribers” by uploading Shorts (vertical format, <1min long Youtube videos).

I would probably call this “promoting Youtube’s latest new feature” rather than a “glitch”. It seems a bit like calling Netflix giving preferential treatment to its Original series, “gaming the algorithm”.

But still, I was curious. Could it really be that easy?

The plan?

  • Autogenerate clips of spectacular goals and woodwork strikes (that is, from shots with the lowest xG). I already had some code that I could re-purpose to this end from Fully Automated Luxury Commentary.
  • Upload them to Youtube in Shorts format
  • ???
  • Profit

The results

It went terribly! Didn’t work at all!

I uploaded 28 videos (scheduled at a rate 1-2 per day) which received 101 views total.

Some things which seemed to have some (positive) effect on the number of views:

  • Watching the video back on Youtube after uploading - I’m guessing that the initial boost to the views number is favourable to the algorithm
  • Videos with household name players or top teams in the title
  • Clickbaity titles - unsurprisingly ambiguous ones tended to result in more views than ones which clearly stated what the video was about

Some things which didn’t seem to have an effect (for me):

  • Manually picking thumbnails (in fairness, I put very little effort into the custom thumbnails)
  • Uploading 2 videos in a day (vs 1 video)

So far, pretty unsurprising and pretty uninspiring.

So what did I learn?

This project had little intrinsic value to me; I don’t tend to watch short-format videos on any platform. And if I’ not that interested in my videos, I’m not sure why I could persuade anyone else to be interested[1]. Perhaps if my primary motivation was fame or money, it would be different?

On reflection, I think the project was sort of doomed to fail from the start. The idea that short football clips might have widespread appeal was misguided; it wasn’t based on any theory or understanding of why we like the sport. Sure, some moments of football may have an intrinsic aesthetic appeal, but the clips I used fell completely flat when stripped of context and culture.

Ultimately, I think the values of what I created was at odds with the values of football. I think it’s very difficult to make something like that succeed (we don’t have a European Super League yet, for instance), and I don’t particularly want to try.

So, lesson learned[2] - stick to making things I don’t hate.

  1. That’s not to say these are inherently uninteresting. There are many talented artists, educators, and entertainers using these platforms. I’m just not able to tap into any internal sense of value as a viewer, resulting in flat, uninteresting ideas like the one described here. ↩︎

  2. Lesson confirmed? It’s not exactly a new idea, is it? ↩︎