YouTube upgrades its comments system to give creators more control

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YouTube today is rolling out an upgrade to its comments system, with the goal of putting creators more in control of which comments get featured in the feed, as well as the ability to better interact with their viewers and fans. Along with the ability to pin comments to the top of the feed and hold back inappropriate comments for review, creators will also have their own usernames highlighted when they respond to commenters on the site, and they’ll be able to show their fans attention by “hearting” (favoriting) the comments they want to stand out.

Says YouTube, the idea with the new features is to give creators a better way to connect with their community on its service, while making interactions with fans feel more personal.

The changes come following YouTube’s more recent attempts to transform its growing video platform into something that’s more akin to a social network. In September, the company launched YouTube Community, a dedicated tab on creators’ channels where they could post news and other text-based content, along with images and GIFs to keep fans engaged. However, video comments are still where a lot of fan-to-creator interactions continue to take place.

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According to YouTube’s announcement, creators will now be able to promote any comments to the top of the feed using the new pinning feature. They’ll only be able to pin a single comment at a time, YouTube tells us.

This is only one way YouTube has been addressing the problems of its commenting system, which has developed a bad reputation over the years. Also in September, the company rolled out a new program which would allow trusted moderators to help vet the comments on its site, by flagging inappropriate comments and performing other tasks to earn points and gain early access to new features.

But prior to that, YouTube had also given creators the direct ability to designate specific people to moderate the comments on their own channels, which included the ability to remove public comments from creators’ videos.

In addition, there’s been a blacklisting feature available since 2013 that lets video creators hold back comments that contain certain words and phrases, so they can be reviewed before going live.

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Today, YouTube is also introducing a new commenting review feature into beta. Creators can opt-in to test this new system that will involve a new algorithm that will automatically detect potentially inappropriate comments, and hold them back for a final review. Creators can then read these flagged comments, and choose to then approve them, hide them, or even report them, as needed.

The company warns that the system, which is still in development, may have false positives and it could also miss comments that should have been caught. However, the algorithms get better over time as it learns from the actions that are taken.

Hearts & Creator Usernames 

The other two new features rolling out today – hearts and creator usernames – are meant to help YouTube’s video stars better network with their community within the comments section. Hearts are a simple, universally understood, way of showing appreciation on social networks, while the username feature just highlights the creator’s username so it stands out.

The username will be colored so fans can easily see when the creator is involved in a thread. The company is working on making the colors customizable so they can match the channel’s colors, but this isn’t yet live. Meanwhile, verified creators will also have a checkmark beside their name, similar to how verified accounts appear on other social networks, like Twitter and Facebook.

youtube-google-plus-tranIt’s somewhat surprising how long it has taken to roll out features like these to YouTube, given that they’re practically the baseline for any social network or community site on today’s web. But social is not an area where Google has excelled.

In the past, the company hoped that by connecting YouTube to its larger social initiative, Google+, it could encourage more responsible behavior in the comments section, as users would have to post using their real identities.

But that system was met with backlash, not only because of the forced migration to Google+, but because it didn’t acknowledge that YouTube is a place where users often want to have a separate identity, disconnected from their more public, Google account and web presence.

Today’s new features are nowhere near as earth-shattering as the Google+ move, but instead represent a more realistic view of comment management – like elsewhere on the web, automated systems combined with human-led moderation seem to work best.

Featured Image: ERIC PIERMONT/Getty Images