YouTube’s Community Posts are tragically killing the Discussion Tab

YouTube’s Community Posts are tragically killing the Discussion Tab

A few days ago YouTube announced that millions of channels would gain access to Community Posts next month. Unfortunately, many people have missed the footnote that they are removing the similar Discussion feature which was already available to all channels. Read on to learn more about how this update will affect YouTube.

Index
Image Credits: YouTube Blog

Community Posts? What are those?

YouTube’s Community Posts were introduced in 2017, as a way for channels to interact with their viewers and fans. These are typically short texts, images, GIFs or polls; you might think of them as Tweets native to YouTube. They appear both on the channel itself, under the so-called Community Tab, and also in the recommendations on the YouTube Homepage and the Subscriptions Feed. Initially, Community Postswere available only to a number of big channels, such as grav3yardgirl and Vidya Vox.

After some initial success, the feature gradually became available to more channels, albeit not all, circa 2019. You can learn more about how it works on YouTube’s Creator Academy. Earlier this year, The Spiffing Brit made a video which brought a lot of attention to Community Posts, with some exaggerations, pointing out that they were especially prominent on the mobile-view and they could be used to amass a lot of subscribers very quickly.

For reference, a short community post with only a GIF can take up around 80% of the screen!
Image Credit: Pringus McDingus

What is new this October, is that Community Posts will be rolling out to all channels above 500 subscribers, beginning on October 12, 2021. Still not all channels, though we are getting there. Then what is the catch? This update will also remove the old discussion tab which was, formerly, available to all channels.

There’s a Discussion Tab? I have never seen it before?

YouTube first introduced comments on videos sometime in the Summer of 2005. Comments were immediately a hit, but there was a problem; people were not just commenting about the videos themselves, they were sometimes asking the uploader general questions. Unfortunately, channels had to divide their attention between all of their uploads to keep up with their commenters. So some time around April of 2006, YouTube introducedChannel Comments, because somebody had had the genius idea of making a channel-wide comment section. It took the form of a long comment thread appearing at the bottom of channel profiles.

Most Recent Channel Comments on jawed‘s channel from 2011, courtesy of the Wayback Machine.

Now these Channel Comments have almost been around since YouTube started, but today they are known as Channel Discussions and have their own, specialised Discussion Tab. Even at this very moment, if you look into a channel’s Discussion, you might catch a glimpse of comments from over a decade ago carrying on memories long forgotten!

Right now, on 21 September 2021, you can still see comments from 13 years ago on YouTube veteran ozwalled’s channel discussion.

Sadly, like many legacy features on YouTube, Discussions were never fully implemented on the mobile apps and they still remain out of view even today. If you mostly browse YouTube on the app, it is very likely that you have never seen any Discussion before.

Why is YouTube removing Discussions? Can’t they co-exist with Community Posts?

In a sense, Discussions were the predecessor to Community Posts. Yet they certainly have not received the same care and attention in recent years, with Discussions still showing hints of the Google+ transition attempted a few years ago. In short, Discussions have been obsoleted.

Unlike Community Posts which were engineered specifically to take advantage of the UI of the mobile app, Discussions remained largely a desktop-only feature. In a mobile-user dominated web, YouTube finds itself with a significant share of mobile users. There are contradictory reports on whether or not YouTube has more mobile or desktop users, with Statista reporting a ~20%-80% global share for mobile vs. desktop users in early 2021 and Comscore reporting a ~70-30% split in the US/UK in 2017. Still, YouTube has made it clear that they are designing with a mobile-first mindset. They have set a track record in removing features missing from mobile, such as video annotations in 2019, and the community contributions editor in 2020. Thus it comes as no surprise that Discussions should come next.

Spammy comments at the top of smosh’s channel comments on September 30, 2007.

It is also safe to assume that the incredibly slow roll-out of the Community Posts feature to all channels is entirely deliberate. Channel Discussions had a few kinks which needed hammering out, such as often being a frequent target for spam comments. In case you have not noticed, Community Posts are oriented in such a way that they emphasize the channel itself, over commenters. Spam comments are often hidden a screen or two behind the Community Posts themselves, which are mostly kept clean at the channel’s own discretion. They are easier to moderate for channels, and more readable for commenters; that’s a win-win from YouTube’s perspective.

Could YouTube have fixed the way Discussions were organised? Probably, given that they have preserved the channel comments from 15 years ago, through countless layout changes to channels. Yet it seems that YouTube is determined to remove the feature, no matter what.

If you don’t yet have access to Community posts you can use Comments on your videos to engage your viewers.

Team YouTube on the Google Support Page, having seemingly forgotten the original reason channel comments were added in the first place.

InterestinglyDiscussionswere once available on the mobile version of the YouTube website, but even those have been removed, some time earlier this year. If that was not self-sabotage, it certainly was a sign that the design team had been tasked with removing Discussions for good.

From a practical standpoint, it does make sense for YouTube to remove Discussions now with Community Posts as an adequate replacement. Yet the answer to why YouTube would break a years’ long tradition of preserving these ancient comments, is anyone’s guess.

Which channels have a discussion tab?

Even channels started as recently as September 2021 have had Discussions at some point. That sentence is in the present perfect, because many channels which used to have a Discussion section no longer have it:

  • Big Channels such as Vsauce, or eddsworld who have already switched to Community Posts have their Discussion history hidden. Not deleted, hidden. There is at least a 30-day rule which allows commenters to view, edit or delete comments they have made on the Discussion page of a channel who has recently switched to Community Posts, from their Google Account’s My Activity Section.
Memoriam comments on Edd Gould‘s Discussion Page, when he posthumously passed a million subscribers in 2016, once again, courtesy of the Wayback Machine.
  • At some point, the switch to Community Posts was mandated to channels above a certain subscriber count. The current requirement applies to channels strictly above 1000 subscribers. This update to Community Posts is forced even if the channel has been inactive for years, such as in the case of Fred or, more tragically, geriatric1927 or KKD1247.

Do I have a discussion tab?

  • If it exists, your channel’s Discussion page will be located at https://www.youtube.com/channel/{CHANNEL ID GOES HERE}/discussion or https://www.youtube.com/user/{USER ID GOES HERE}/discussion.
  • Following COPPA compliance changes introduced in 2020, channels which have declared their content to be “Made for Kids”, have all comments disabled across their channel. This includes Discussions. Luckily, past comments are not deleted. Switching the channel out of the “Made for Kids” option will restore all hidden comments intact.
  • The road to October 12, will see any other old channels which go over 1000 subscribers lose their Discussion tab as well. That means anyone who passes 1000 subscribers, get the update early! Global removal will begin right after October 12, and community tabs will roll out to channels above 500 subs within an estimated time of a week. Anyone with less than 500 subscribers, will no longer have a Discussion tab and nor will they receive a Communitytab replacement. Please note once more, that the 30-day rule allows commenters to view, edit or delete comments they have made on the Discussion page of a channel who has recently switched to Community Posts.

Concluding Remarks

While Community Posts present an overall upgrade to the YouTube user experience, especially for mobile users, the removal of Channel Discussions is yet another dent to the internet’s short memory span. Seeing people who you would have never thought to have ever talked to each other commenting on one another’s Discussions, is in a sense like scrolling through the threads of an ancient forum. Ironically, the Community Posts still lack this sense of community, instead emphasising a dichotomy between channels and viewers.

Relevant to archivists and data hoarders, a non-API endpoint for Discussions is unknown at this time. Furthermore, given the mandated update having already hidden the Discussions for many channels, options are severely limited. Existing archives besides WayBack Machine snapshots remain undiscovered. Perhaps the interconnectivity of the Discussions between older channels might prove to be useful in crawling out other channels which still have a Discussion tab. One thing is for certain: this will go down as a very unusual moment in YouTube’s history…

On a final, albeit related note, YouTube’s video attributions which were expected to be removed in September, went offline yesterday on September 20. One of the last captures of the attributions endpoint, was taken at 5:19 (GMT) Sep 20, and reported to have shut down by 20:25.

8 Comments

  1. Alex

    there has to be some way to preserve discussion, right?

    • themadprogramer

      I’ve heard that there might be a few tricks using Innertube to grab discussion comments. Expect to hear more about that in a week or two :]

      • mike

        I just use the youtube API to save comments of channels. I only have about 300 channels, so I may need a better method.

  2. Anonymous

    I have just been using the youtube api to save comments. However, I only have 300 or so channels, so I may need a better method.

    • themadprogramer

      I’m sharing this around if you don’t mind 😉

  3. Yau

    I’d occasionally read the comments on my channel for the nostalgia, lol. Now they’re gone. RIP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.