How Real Names Will Change YouTube for the Better

How Real Names Will Change YouTube for the BetterWith Google’s anonymity-altering move in July, asking YouTube users to reveal their real names, a new wave of reason seems poised to strike the comments section of a variety of channels.

The World Before

In the past, YouTube was known for its less-than-witty commenters, with comments ranging from monosyllabic taunts to long, multi-post diatribes on how incorrect a creator’s opinions were.

As the Huffington Post pointed out in their article on the changeover back in July, there is even a blog dedicated to “Stupid YouTube Comments.” The push to make people stand up and identify themselves by name and, by extension, Google+ profile, is definitely a much-desired one in the web creator community.

A World Without Comments?

I’d been previously in awe of a post from the ANIMAL blog, written in April of 2012 before the YouTube changeover, called “Comments are Bad Business for Online Media,” in which writer Joel Johnson describes comments, not just from YouTube, but from the Internet as a whole, as being utterly useless.

Johnson found that blog and website comments don’t generate revenue, they don’t provoke discussion, and that “people who actually read comments are a small fraction of one percent of [a site’s] entire readership.”

The people who leave comments are a larger percentage than the people that read comments. This means that there are people who comment without reading the previous discussion.

YouTube and Comments

YouTube has a higher apparent percentage of people interacting with comments, voting them up or down, or even replying to them. Some of those replies can be something as simple as an insult to the original commenter’s intelligence, but the potential for a conversation to start is higher than you might find on a blog or other website.

In addition to my work at Content Equals Money, I work as a web creator and co-host of my own web series, Geek Crash Course. The show, a weekly educational series based on geek topics, is often besieged by inane comments on my female co-host’s anatomy, minor errors in information we discuss, or even the dreaded “FIRST” – a comment born of the last vestiges of flag-planting inanity that leads to dreams of empire and world-spanning war.

There are other web creators, like toy reviewer CCLemon99, who also try to avoid some of the comment shenanigans. CCLemon99 will close the comments section of a new video entirely after it is up for a week. His explanation, drawn from five years of experience on YouTube, is simple: “Nothing of use will EVER be left in the comment section after the first week the video has been published.” (Emphasis by bolding is his.)

But maybe the key isn’t to just get rid of comments, as Johnson did in his ANIMAL blog post on the subject. Maybe the key is to foster a higher class of comment by attributing a human name to the words posted.

I don’t have illusions that attaching a proper name to something will make it instantly better. We may live in an increasingly surveillance-heavy world, but that doesn’t mean that a single person among 7 billion other people still can’t feel secure in their anonymity on a massive video service like YouTube.

There is, however, a slightly more impressive potential driver for people to think about opinions and start real conversations.

The Shape of Things to Come?

While we wonder how the opt-in choice to use a real name and associate a YouTube account could change the comments sphere, Google might have a push in mind to make the change mandatory in the future.

Back in November, Google made real names mandatory on another of their services, Google Play.

Google Play works as an answer to iTunes, operating in the cloud and storing a user’s music, movies, and podcasts, and allowing that user to buy new material for their entertainment.

While devoid of a comments section or a real social component, there is the potential for impending Google+ connections to create the sort of atmosphere of a YouTube comment feed. Google seems to be nipping this potential in the bud, placing real names and faces to the people talking.

Wild Predictions and Possible Futures

Could the mandatory nature of the name-display change be the first step in a move making the similar name-display change on YouTube mandatory?

With modifications to allow brands to show the name of the brand instead of a person’s name, the idea could work. The potential now exists to make the commenter sphere a lot more conversational and reasonable.

The is also potential for a slew of fake-names (or worse, co-opted names from stolen profiles) to continue posting asinine comments to the world, but just the idea of making commenters think before they post could really change the game for a lot of web creators, and inspire a more interesting field of conversation.

Would you like to see the display of real names become mandatory on YouTube?

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Michael is a graduate of New York University’s Film and Television program. He specialized in writing, channeling a passion for storytelling, no matter the medium. In addition to his work at CEM, Michael primarily works in web content production, including projects like Geek Crash Course, a geek-educational series, the Ansible, a comics-based interview show, live performance series The Next Lab Sessions, and many more. In addition, he’s written and edited for the digitally distributed Champion! Magazine.

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