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YouTube exploring changes to notification system after subscriber alert kerfuffle

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‘It’s an experiment that our team wants to try’

YouTube is exploring new ways to alert subscribers about their favorite creators’ new videos after facing backlash last week over the platform’s current model.

David Boyle, a product manager at YouTube, spoke to Creator Insider about the various methods YouTube has tried over the years for subscriber notifications. Boyle said YouTube doesn’t send push notification alerts to users for every subscriber because research data proved that constant push notifications led to more users actually unsubscribing. That doesn’t mean the team isn’t up for reworking the current notification model, though. Reflecting on comments and suggestions that YouTubers sent to the company via Twitter, Boyle said the team is looking into changes.

“There are some really good suggestions here,” Boyle said. “I saw [creator] Dave Trippin say on Twitter, ‘How about after when someone subscribes, we show a pop up that tells them what their settings are and makes it really, really easy for them to turn on all notifications?’ That’s a really good suggestion and it’s an experiment that our team wants to try.”

YouTube ‘subscribed’ bell for channel with 3.8 million subscribers
An example of the subscribe button sitting beside the bell icon.
YouTube

Under the current system, only people who click the bell icon next to the subscribe button get a push notification every time a new video is uploaded. That means that people who hit subscribe, but don’t click the bell, may not get notifications when a channel uploads a new video. As creators pointed out, that can lead to fewer views.

Boyle said the decision to include the bell feature and not send out notifications to every subscriber came after months of testing. In the long run, he said, channels benefited from not having too many notifications sent to their subscribers.

“Intuitively, it seems to everyone that we should just be sending as many notifications as possible to everybody’s subscribers,” Boyle said, when asked why YouTube wouldn’t want to bring in more traffic by sending out push notification blasts. “I definitely acknowledge that makes a lot of sense. [...] If we send too many notifications to too many subscribers, what we see is that a lot of them will turn off all notifications for the YouTube app in their iPhone and Android phone. When you turn off all notifications in the YouTube app, you’re turning off all notifications for creators.

“That’s really bad for everybody.”

Boyle points to channels for news organizations as an example of why YouTube turned off push notifications for some creator videos. Channels like CBS or NBC will often upload multiple times a day, and Boyle said that the team discovered through research that the high frequency of push notifications led to negative user behavior.

“What we saw is that if we turn on the bell for all new subscriptions, in the short term, we see all these things that you would expect,” Boyle said. “We see more people coming to YouTube to watch videos. But in the long term, we saw a few things happen. We saw a lot more people unsubscribing from creators because they didn’t necessarily want notifications on for every channel they subscribe to, but we also saw that over time, they were turning off all notifications in the YouTube app, which is then turning off all notifications for all creators.”

Moving forward, Boyle and his team are trying to figure out how to help creators make sense of the subscriber notification feature, and how to optimize it for their channels. Part of that includes exploring new ways to see how important notification blasts are for creators by surfacing data for YouTubers on their dashboard.

“This is an area that our team is doing some work to get the number of people who turn on the bell and turn off the bell into YouTube analytics, in the same way that you can see who’s subscribing and who isn’t subscribing,” Boyle said. “We agree that number is very, very important to creators.”

More information about how the bell notifications work can be read on YouTube’s FAQ page.