Big changes coming to YouTube (that will affect you and me)
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Big changes coming to YouTube (that will affect you and me)

In case you haven't already heard, YouTube will soon be adding a couple of big new features: @handles and paid courses.

Handles (which are now slowly rolling out, I already got mine: @dominey) are a much needed addition to the platform. Handles will simplify channel URLs, provide better tagging and attribution, cross-linking between channels, and help combat bots and fake accounts. They should also create better parity with the functionality of other social networks and perhaps make the experience of using YouTube feel more social and communal.

YouTube is currently generating handles using existing custom channel URLs, but users may customize them thereafter. That means registering your preferred handle (before someone else does) will be important, so keep an eye on your email inbox and notifications inside YouTube to know when handles have been enabled in your account.

What else might handles do in the future? Wouldn't surprise me if handles are a first step towards YouTube offering direct messaging (DMs) between users. I don't have any inside knowledge or reason to believe this will actually happen, other than (as a channel owner) DMs would make contacting viewers better and easier, and it would keep viewers inside YouTube instead of sending them away to communicate through an outside social network or email. Could also help fuel channel subscriptions, for YouTube could provide channel owners the option of allowing DMs only from their subscribers.

But for now, handles are notable addition that should improve everyone's experience at YouTube, and hopefully cut down on fake accounts and bots spamming comment feeds.

The next intriguing feature coming to YouTube is paid courses, expected to beta launch in the United States and South Korea sometime next year. With paid courses, YouTube channels will be able to create paywalls around premium educational content (ad free) and host those classes inside YouTube instead of sending viewers to outside websites.

Everything about this makes perfect sense. YouTube has the infrastructure, the eyeballs, the search traffic, and all the requisite parts already developed (playlists, payment processing, promotional cards, etc). It also creates a new revenue stream for YouTube, for they will likely earn a small percentage from every course sale. For creators, paid courses could be a good vehicle to offer viewers deeper, richer video based content. It would also be easier for paid courses to be organically discovered through YouTube search results and potentially receive more traffic than they would hosted elsewhere.

I think paid courses could be a great revenue stream for many creators, but there may be a few downsides.

One, paid courses could lead to less free, ad-supported content. Learning is a huge part of what makes YouTube such an incredible platform (eg, this mom who built a house using YouTube), and it would be a shame for more freely accessible knowledge to be diluted or locked behind a paywall.

Two, paywalls create friction and frustrate users (pay up!). Used too frequently, it could make YouTube feel like the iTunes store; nickel and diming users at every turn. YouTube would also have a vested interested in promoting paid courses to earn revenue, and could heighten their visibility in their content recommendation algorithm.

Three, for content creators like myself, paid courses would only further silo customer data inside the walled garden of YouTube. For example, if 100 people purchased a paid course through YouTube, it might be impossible for the course instructor to contact those people via email (or with DMs, again to my earlier point) and provide additional materials, downloadable files, or announce new courses in the future. All communication would have to happen through YouTube.

The silo'ing of audience data is already a problem. A content creator with 1 million subscribers can't contact or do much of anything with those subscribers outside of publishing new videos or writing posts inside YouTube. It's not possible to export or connect subscriber data with another service or platform. If YouTube were to go under (not that they would, but hypothetically) or deactivate an account, all that data would be gone.

It'll be interesting to see how YouTube rolls out paid courses, how the content will be integrated into the user interface, and how other learning and instructional platforms (eg, Masterclass, Skillshare, Podia and more) differentiate their products competitively.

That's it for today — see you again Sunday with my review of the new Anglerfish LED lights and modifiers from iFootage.

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