Should YouTube launch more robust social networking features?


As anyone who has logged on to Facebook in the last few months can attest, its native video player has become ubiquitous. So ubiquitous that people are beginning to take it seriously as a competitor against YouTube. And it should be taken seriously. As detailed by a new study from SocialBakers, more people are now sharing native Facebook videos than YouTube videos on Facebook.

facebook video

Given that Facebook is one of the largest traffic referrers on the internet, it’s effectively choking off a key point of distribution from YouTube. This is no accident on Facebook’s part. As John Herman argues cynically-but-accurately at The Awl, Facebook “views links to outside pages as a problem to be solved, and that it sees Facebook-hosted video as an example of the solution.”

So how did Facebook, in a matter of just a few months, become a serious challenger to YouTube’s dominance — a dominance that it maintained for more than half a decade? A key to understanding this sudden upset can be found in a Medium post from Jason Calacanis that doesn’t even mention Facebook video. Instead, he argues that Twitter’s future video product, which hasn’t even launched yet, will quickly be adopted by its users and will finally prove Twitter’s dominance as the real-time pulse of the internet. There were two paragraph in particular that brilliantly exposed YouTube’s key weakness:

Most celebrities, influencers, journalists, business leaders, and world leaders do not have YouTube channels. If they happen to have a YouTube channel they probably never log into it personally, and they probably update infrequently. In other words, the most powerful folks in the world are not active on YouTube.

The most important people in the world — the influencers referenced above — are personally hyperactive on Twitter. When given the ability to upload videos natively from their phone — and have them play in the Twitter stream — they will experience the tsunami of attention that YouTube stars have been addicted to for the last five years.

He’s right. Most celebrities either don’t have an account on YouTube, or if they do they’re not the ones who run and operate it. But nearly every celebrity has and runs his or her own Twitter account. It’s not just celebrities either. A very sizable portion of a YouTube video’s viewers watch the video because it’s either linked to from an outside source or embedded somewhere. They’re not logging into YouTube to subscribe and watch videos in their feed. Why? Well, there’s little utility to YouTube if you’re not a video creator. Basically your options are to subscribe to video channels, upload your own videos, or comment on videos. It’s very limited in functionality.

Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, have the crucial benefit of being the natural newsfeeds for hundreds of millions of people. Their video tools then simply become natural extensions of those newsfeeds, a means for capturing more of their users and keeping them on-platform. Why would Justin Bieber, with his 59 million Twitter followers, try to send them away to another website when he can keep them on Twitter and sharing his video through that platform? It eliminates the inefficiencies.

So that all being said, how should YouTube respond? It seems evident that the only way to battle these other social networks is to become more of a social network itself. Yes, it already has some social networking qualities, but like I mentioned earlier they’re of little use to you if you’re not a video creator. What if YouTube were to modify its ecosystem so that, in addition to videos, you could also begin publishing text and photos to the platform? Suddenly, it gains utility beyond just video, and becomes a destination for users to take the time to actually log in to the platform rather than watching a few videos and leaving.


Of course I’m being a little flippant about what would actually be a gargantuan task. If there’s one thing we know about YouTube’s hardcore users, it’s that they’re by now incredibly wary of any major changes that are made to the platform. They revolted en masse when YouTube tried to force them to connect their YouTube accounts to their Google+ accounts, and Google finally gave up on forced integration between the two.

You could also argue that Google Hangouts On Air is an innovative tool that weaves video into Google’s Google+ platform, but that only caters to a specific kind of video: webcam video chats between two or more people.

Google as a company is not one to rest on its laurels and allow other companies to disrupt it, so I have no doubt that it’s already developing new features to battle Facebook, but it must do so while preparing for a full-on onslaught not only from Facebook, but Twitter and Tumblr as well, both of which are launching enhanced video capabilities and have millions of young users they hope will start uploading video natively. It seems clear that the future of online video no longer centers on who has the best video platform, but who controls the feed where users congregate. And YouTube is woefully behind on that front.


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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.