On May 2nd, YouTube annotations are going away forever.
More accurately, you will be unable to add new ones or edit old ones – you can only delete them. So why is this a big deal for us?
A few years ago, I discovered an incredible use for the YouTube clickable onscreen annotations. Because you can link them to the video you’re already watching to any timestamp, I figured out that it’s possible to make a menu that’s always present with each item on it outlined as a clickable annotation that takes you to the part of the video where that item is being demo’d. This allows you to hear any two things in rapid succession, giving you the unprecedented ability to A/B things in real-time at your bidding.
This was so revolutionary that every pedal manufacturer I told about it wanted in, and we were able to shoot videos with 50+ pedals. The implications of this ability are far-reaching for YouTube creators – choose-your-own-adventure style videos could be the most fun anyone could have on YouTube. Rob Scallon made excellent use of this concept in his YouTube video game Does It Djent? YouTube depends on the creativity of its creators for everything, and taking away an important tool like this will just hamstring the creative process.
Their reasoning is that most people are watching YouTube videos on mobile devices, which don’t allow annotations, and most people turn them off anyway. Ok, fine. That’s still millions upon millions of people every day watching on desktop who could be taking part in our interactive shootouts, knowing that they don’t work on mobile and waiting until they get home from work/school/whatever to use them. The alternative is far easier and better – have annotations off by default. That way, at the beginning of every video we need them on, simply let the audience know, a sort of modern-day “Put your 3-d glasses on now!” for a special experience.
I understand that what we do is niche, but I think if YouTube could see the potential, it would be a different story. Either they need to replace them with an equivalent that works on mobile, or just leave them alone and have them off by default. I feel like I’m trying to preserve an endangered species here that has no rights of its own, but I really feel that this is an important turning point in the storytelling aspect of YouTube. The overblown yelling video above is an example of the kind of stuff that YouTube is already full of, a single, linear thread that you have to follow from Point A to Point B – but what if we want to give the audience some autonomy? That ability, along with the countless amount of art that could be made with it, will soon be gone. It’s like a certain color of paint being removed from a palette, or the musical form of a symphony being outlawed.
YouTube and Google are private entities, and when we upload to their service, we are subject to their rules. They can do whatever they want – but I think what they’re doing is a mistake. Save the annotations by signing this petition and making your voice heard to Google!