Could Youtube be the next Reddit?

Anyone who’s been around youtube from the early days will know just how bad the comments were. Trolling was rampant, the experience was just plain bad.

Sometime in the last 1-1.5 years, youtube made a change not just to their over UI but also the way comments were getting displayed. Top comments now appear on above the rest. This had a profoundly strong impact on the quality of comments that I’ve been reading over the last year. It used to be such that I would watch the video and ignore the comments knowing them to be an utter waste of time. Now, the comments are just as time-worthy as the video itself (if not more). They are often quite funny and meme-related. Not too long ago, every top comment went along the lines of taking something to the knee, a Skyrim reference.

So what’s this gotta do with Reddit? As any Redditor can tell you, one core retention driver for Reddit is about one-upping each other with witty comments in any given thread. If you ‘win’, you are bestowed ┬ákarma, if you ‘lose’, you get down voted into oblivion. What can you do with karma points? Absolutely nothing. However, the accumulation of karma (by karma whores) is one of the core driving usages on the site. This ‘witty content’ alone is powering an entire army of lurkers and upvoters. As someone who is becoming more of a content creator as opposed to content consumer of late, I certainly appreciate the upvotes and karma whenever I leave a ‘witty’ comment. And it makes me want to do more more more. Engagement goes up an order of magnitude. Such ‘point mechanics’ have been discussed to death over the last couple of years. It works but you need to adapt it to your context (website).

So what’s stopping Youtube from becoming like Reddit? The game of comments on a Youtube video works in exactly the same fashion. Who can come up with the wittiest comment gets visibility and ‘thumbs up’ points. The strange thing about this is that your comment score, via the number of thumbs up you have received, is not visible anywhere at all. Not on your profile, not next to your nick, not anywhere.

Now, the smart folks at youtube are probably very aware of this. They are deliberately not presenting such information to the audience. I can only thing of one reason for doing this: they want to keep the main thing, the main thing. Come to youtube to watch videos, not leave witty comments. They do not want to disturb the underlying retention driver that has seen them grow to become the largest viral video site (and also the largest video search engine).

Is this where arguments for Google’s ‘dont get social’ comes in? Perhaps. What I do know is that if they were to start displaying thumb’s up scores, the social dynamics of the site will lead to something like Reddit’s. Whether they want this or not is another matter altogether. Oh, they also need to fix the way comment replies are being done at the moment. It’s a bloody pain in the arse to keep track of sub comment threads.