Google+ and YouTube tech disaster report

Written by Adrian Holovaty on November 17, 2013

The Google+ / YouTube integration is a disaster.

Much has been written about this in the last few days, with people making great points about the value of anonymity and the poor new comment-ranking algorithms. Here's a good roundup of the various issues.

These are fantastic points, and I agree with them 100%. But they're fundamentally matters of philosophy. Whether real names are required in comments, whether a Google+ account is required to post comments/videos to YouTube, and how comments should be ranked/sorted — these are all judgment calls made by YouTube's developers and product managers. Though we may disagree with their philosophies, they have the right to build their products according to those philosophies.

Beyond that, it's important to consider that people don't like change. I've built web apps long enough to know that any time there's a substantial redesign or relaunch of a site, people will complain. They'll say "Version 1 was so much better than Version 2!" Then they eventually get used to it, and, ironically, when Version 3 comes along, they'll passionately defend Version 2.

But even accounting for these two things — people's normal resistance to change, plus Google's right to have its own philosophies/opinions on how their product should work — the YouTube changes still qualify as a disaster.

It's not that I'm upset things don't work in the same way they used to, or that I disagree with their philosophies on the product, it's that things don't work period. The implementation is just plain broken.

Here are three examples.

Connecting your YouTube channel to a Google+ account

I have a decent-sized YouTube channel, with 26,000 subscribers. (I post guitar videos.) I've spent several years building up this subscriber base and, naturally, I don't want to make any missteps that might mess up my channel or devalue it in any way. So I was super skeptical about linking my channel with a Google+ account, but I finally did it after YouTube made it too inconvenient/annoying not to.

Problem was, it didn't work.

When I bit the bullet and initiated the linking of YouTube/Google+ accounts, I got the following "YouTube is updating your channel" dialog box:

The dialog box contained nothing, and it was over a blank background, and...nothing happened. I initiated this several times, trying to narrow down the reasons it might be happening. I signed out of my other Google Accounts, I tried it in an incognito window, I tried doing it from the settings page as opposed to directly from the channel page. Each time, the same thing happened: only an empty dialog box with no response.

Then I looked at the JavaScript console and found this:

So it's some sort of cross-site frame problem. I looked in my browser's (Google Chrome's) preferences to try to disable whatever security setting was causing that, but I couldn't find anything. I finally tried it in Firefox, and it worked. Evidently Firefox (or at least my particular Firefox installation) doesn't care about that cross-site frame problem.

Google built something that doesn't even work in the company's own browser. And the problem is still happening, as of this writing, which means it's been like that for at least a week.

Posting comments

With my YouTube/Google+ accounts finally linked, I could finally post comments again. (YouTube is now requiring a Google+ account in order to comment.) I found a new video by one of my favorite YouTube guitarists, troubleclef, and I wanted to say some nice stuff. But commenting did not work.

I clicked in the "Share your thoughts" box. A new window popped up, immediately closed, and the page flickered a little bit. Nothing changed. Here's a video of the fiasco; it's begging to be mashed up with the Benny Hill theme song.

Chrome was telling me a pop-up was blocked, so I enabled popups for youtube.com. Same problem. I reloaded the page. Same problem.

I cannot post comments on YouTube videos now. It appears to be completely broken.

Viewing notifications

I get a fair number of comments on my videos (a handful each day), and I get an email notification each time I get a new comment. I haven't received a "new comment" email notification in a week or two, so I was wondering whether there was some new way to get comment notifications.

There's now a bell icon in the upper right of YouTube pages when I'm signed in, and it's the same icon they use on Google+ for its notifications, so I assume this is where I'll see YouTube notifications. I clicked the icon and got this:

"Please sign in to view your notifications"? Am I not already signed in? The fact that my username and avatar are being displayed in the upper right seems to indicate I'm signed in, no?

So I click "Sign in." Nothing happens. I open the JavaScript console. Not even any JavaScript errors. It's just plain broken.


I have no way of knowing how many people are being affected by these three issues. But for me, using Google's own browser, it's resulted in a YouTube experience that's extremely broken. Beyond the social problems of requiring a real name, beyond the content problems of ranking comments in a bad way, the new YouTube simply doesn't work.

To me, that's the most unforgivable thing about this. Given Google's history with Google Buzz, we know they don't have a subtle view of real names and privacy, so the tone-deaf real-name requirement isn't a huge surprise. The comment ordering, though wrong in several ways, is ultimately their judgment call. But the one thing Google is good at above all else — technology — its failure here is disastrous.

Comments

Posted by Matt on November 17, 2013 at 4:04 p.m.:

How does a company with such famously high standards of employment get into a mess like this?

Posted by Pau Fernández on November 17, 2013 at 4:13 p.m.:

I experienced a similar thing (popup appearing and closing immediately afterwards) when replying to a comment but I changed to Firefox and it worked... And I receive notifications of comments about my videos on Google+, at least that works for me.

Posted by Jaggs on November 17, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.:

There's clearly lots of back end stuff which is broken or glitchy. Earlier today I couldn't reply to any comments on my channel even though I was logged in. Disaster if you're trying to run a happy YouTube community.

I guess they'll get it right in the end, but you're right, this is a disastrous tech failure by a company which is supposed to be untouchable in this area - especially with all those massively expensive engineers running around.

It's the sort of thing you expect from Microsoft.

Posted by milsorgen on November 17, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.:

"I cannot post comments on YouTube videos now. It appears to be completely broken."

Had the same problem, people are reporting that you need to enable 3rd party cookies/data to bring the functionality back. Personally, I don't really feel like altering my browser settings just to accommodate something that worked fine not so long ago so I can't comment on the validity of the fix.

Posted by Yael Grauer on November 17, 2013 at 6:35 p.m.:

When this was announced, I was thinking about your xoxo talk and your chart on YouTube comments and how it would affect people who get a significant number of comments, so I'm bummed that it's so completely broken.

Posted by Chris on November 18, 2013 at 8:02 a.m.:

People don't want to use Google+, so Google is forcing it on users. Such as now if you try to delete your Google+ profile for instance you also must delete your Youtube Channel and lose your channel vanity name forever. Thus anyone who uses YouTube will have no option to delete their Google+ Profile.

Ultimately people will then leave YouTube and Google+ and where Google Drive is still light years behind Dropbox, Reader was destroyed and replaced by Feedly, and Blogger replaced by WordPress and Google Web Services far behind AWS the only thing Google still has to keep users is Gmail, Search and Google Maps. With Apple taking massive amounts of of traction from Google Maps, once Apple Maps improves their data over the next couple of years it will leave on Gmail and Search. If Dropbox, Amazon or Apple can ever build a real Gmail replacement (doubtful) then that will be the end of Google. Hope it will come sooner than later.

Posted by Cyril on November 18, 2013 at 9:10 a.m.:

Well, it reminds me a Tower of Babel, when it got tooo high, it had been destroyed. Google got too big and management is missing effectiveness, fast changing requirements drive developers to write bad code and overall this leads to the abyss.

Posted by Norah on November 18, 2013 at 4:20 p.m.:

Even the automatic links - a feature that used to work smoothly - are going nuts. Click on a time link in a comment and not only does the entire page refresh, but the player loads at the exact point where you left it. Click on a "in reply to" link and a new tab will open up, containing the exact same screen with the exact same comment.

Anyone notice that Gmail is acting up as well? Even getting your cursor to focus on the message box feels like an achievement. Aaah, but I remember when Google used to be the most efficient tool around. Those were the days. *shuffles away*

Posted by john on November 18, 2013 at 10:52 p.m.:

Big Brother gets blow back from their own shores of egotistical control mongering.

Are they working with the NSA? Why do want all this control over us?

Wimpy little self centered entitled kids that never matured.

Leave us alone jerkoffs.

Posted by Jared on November 18, 2013 at 11:54 p.m.:

Weird. I never had any of those issues when syncing my account. I'm just laughing at this ridiculous "Bob's Army" bullshit. Instead of making a petition and making everyone sign it, they're making YouTube worse for the viewers rather than Google, which is basically counterproductive, as everyone not spamming Bob's Army begins to hate those that do.

Posted by DenHeldert on November 20, 2013 at 5:21 a.m.:

I am no fan of this all, but here are some suggestions:

1) You do not have to use your real name, you need to create a Google Plus ROFILE for your main (GMail) account. If you want, you can disable everything, so only your name and avatar are shown when someone visits your page.
Then, create a Google+ PAGE for your Youtube-account.
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2848323
Link the two, and choose to use your to use you Nickname.
I am forced this way to have a Google+ profile (nothing displayed in it, though) and now have a Google+ pager for my Youtube account. I use them both simultaniously and dont get annoyed any more by the "Which name do you want to..." popups.

2) Posting comments requires one to have "Accept third-party cookies" enabled.
So for for being not evil... There is a workaround though.
In Firefox: right-click the comment box and choose 'Frame - show frame in new tab'
Alternatively, accept third-partyy cookies (not a good idea)

Posted by Dustykatt on November 21, 2013 at 7:40 p.m.:

The same thing is happening for me. I have tried all these things you have before I sent in a trouble ticket to Google.

I got the copy paste reply to tey everything I already have.

I dont think they care, I have over a million views on my channel and I HAVE to moderate it. Now I cant.

Posted by ShayneO on November 24, 2013 at 12:01 a.m.:

I managed to do something interesting. I created a G+ account (well specifically I re-created it. I deleted my old one after it betrayed my trust on privacy some time ago) , then after about an hour of it again betraying my trust on privacy, I deleted it again, resigned to the fact I might not be able to use youtube properly again.

Interestingly my account on youtube still works for comments , seemingly implying it only half deletes the account and leaves it with enough bits to enable youtube commenting.

So yeah, create the G+ account, link it, then delete the G+ account. Seems to have worked for me.

Posted by Sayna More on November 26, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.:

Wow.
Google doing a Titanic reenactment, but with their own iceberg.
Dumb to a ridiculously scary degree.

I'm no majorly active involved user - I had 2,000 comments.

Anyhow, I'm not bothered now.
I enjoyed discussing things with people around the world and learned from it. The one thing it was, was an instant way to share ideas and have anonymity, which is important to people in certain positions with certain views. Maybe vital to some, attractive to others. Can't understand why? You'll learn in time.
Sure, people abused it, we can disregard their comments.
Another company terrified that there may be demonstrably wise people that have different ideas? (Not implying myself). Wiser people? God no!
Pasteurised comments? For all those incredibly interesting, individually minded Fanbois?
Oh - Yawn.

I deleted everything. I switched search engines.

Posted by Ken Clarke on December 1, 2013 at 4:17 p.m.:

I run a Museum and Library in Chicago. We've been putting video up on YouTube since 2007. We started a G+ page a couple of years ago. We have a Google Places account that has an associated, obligatory and automatic G+ profile.

The problem is Google is not interested in helping us connect these products under one account -- even though this kind of situation seems to be exactly why they merged everything together in the first place.

My G+ account is a zombie account. We can still update content through Hootsuite, but because the employee who started the account has since left the organization, and Google's page manager assignment/delegation function simply does not work, and because Google refuses to do what it should in this very obvious situation regarding my company's brand identity, my only options are to keep updating the zombie account, or stop using the zombie account and start a whole different profile. Talk about a waste of time.

This leads to another problem.

My Google Places account automatically came with a G+ profile. I cannot connect any of the other Google profiles/product we have to it, including the zombie account and/or our YouTube channel.

This leads to another problem.

YouTube is now connected with an entirely separate G+ profile and the only way to get rid of this profile is by deleting my entire YouTube account. I've actually spend money advertising my YouTube channel and I'm really not interested in losing my viewer stats or having to re-upload everything.

I've actually called Google about this issue and while one person was mostly helpful, the second person actually hung up the phone on me - literally. This person was irritated because they couldn't understand why I didn't understand that Google Profile pages have nothing to do with Google Places accounts. The best part of him hanging up on me is the call was followed by an automated survey, which also allowed me to leave a voice message comment as well.

I humbly disagree with the Google employee who hangs up on people. These things are part of my company's brand and identity and they are irrevocably connected to G+ because Google has made it this way. To say I am frustrated by the complete lack of any kind of command and control in regards to something as important as my brand and identity is an understatement.

I most certainly don't have these issues with other social media providers.

Posted by NIl on December 11, 2013 at 4:35 p.m.:

@Chris

GMail was always obsolete in technical terms compared to Yahoo mail and others. Outlook, Mozilla, etc... forward e-mails as attachment. Gmail will not render the .eml attachment for you. It is a missing feature for ages. The UI is a pain, but it is subjective. (I have some friends with GTalk, so I must have GMail, which I don't use. I have my own mail server with IMAPS, Roundcube and all. And YM as secondary.)

Google search is inferior in many aspects, like privacy and portable links. Have you heard about the filter bubble? I stopped using Google search, I use DuckDuckGo and Yandex.

My general perception is that Google started to go downwards around 2007. That was when the arrogant oversimplification and "automagic personalization" of things begun.

I would say other two remainders from Google. Maps and Analytics. They are still awesome.

Posted by J. Slocum on December 19, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.:

I have to disagree with you a bit here Adrian Holovaty, this disaster is long and far from being a matter of philosophy, or that people hate change. Most people were not aware of what caused them to now have another Google product i.e. Google+ and that in itself should have been a RED FLAG warning that this was by hook or by crook you are going to use Google+. We kept saying No (or the equivelent) until somehow we were force fed Google+
And to address another issue: We are NOT required to have a Google+ account for Youtube. And up until a certain date you could separate these rather easily, but now I do not know if it is actually possible without losing any comments people made on your videos.

Many tutorials are to be found on line for separating them, the first wave circa 2011 were made obsolete in apparently 2013, the new ones circa pre-Nov. xx 2013 were made obsolete some time later in November 2013, then the new 2013 ones were made obsolete in the past few days (today is 12/19/2013) and now a search for a method to do so seem futile. But perhaps I'm missing the tutorials? How it worked very recently was you could "temporarily" seperate YT from G+ and then delete the G+ account, then restore the Youtube account to it's former state. Now the instructions are so vague on Google/Google+/Youtube on exactly what you will lose should you delete the Google+ that I'm not sure if it works at all.

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