Cosmic Panda is a catastrophe!?Posted: May 25, 2012
Have you heard of Cosmic Panda?
You know, that new YouTube layout Google railroaded through the YouTube website, despite months of protests by the video-sharing community?
Well, it’s been six months now, and the consequences of Cosmic Panda are coming to light. Because, Cosmic Panda wasn’t just a layout, it’s a brand new business model for web entertainment.
YouTube’s economy was built on clicks and was that way since its inception. YouTubers developed full-time jobs on the site based on this click economy, and some even had six figure salaries, for years.
Cosmic Panda, however, is no longer about clicks, but user engagement, and now thousands of YouTubers are finding their traffic dropping anywhere from 30 – 90%, because of the new layout.
I wrote about the traffic and revenue losses here for the Daily Dot, but what I really wanted to write was a more opinionated piece about this rewriting of a digital economy, with insider-y explanations… and more colorful language.
Some choice quotes/sentences that were not included but I feel need to be on the Internet:
By redesigning the video-sharing site, however, Google also subsequently changed the way the entire economy on YouTube works. This is troubling because the digital giant didn’t stop to consider how this layout would affect the livelihood of the people on its site.
The heart of the change, which altered the YouTube universe forever, was the decision to remake the front page of the video-sharing site into something more personal and Facebook-like.
The front page, which most of the YouTube economy was built around, used to showcase the current most popular content across the site in various categories. It was a good browsing destination for news, skits and trending videos, and a daily must for any Internet citizen calling themselves a YouTuber. (Think Huffington Post but for independant web content creators.)
Thumbnails were especially important under the old system, and YouTubers strove to make them as bright and engaging as possible. (Think of thumbnails like an advertising banner or storefront sign.)
The new, Cosmic Panda-fied front page is a 180 degree change, divided into multiple vertical streams which include: a timeline of what the people you are subscribed are doing, YouTube-recommended videos, a handful of the latest trending videos and a menu that takes you to other categories. Gone is a simple aggregation, with big colorful thumbnails enticing you to click on them.
Long-time YouTuber of more than six years Jonathan Paula, who reached micro-Internet fame for his “Is It A Good Idea To Microwave This?” series, called the new homepage “a poor use of space” that “completely de-emphasizes the importance of channel names, view-counts, and most-importantly — the visibility and readability of the thumbnail.”
Because, under the old system, thumbnails were key.
Now, to browse the top videos in different categories on YouTube, one has to make an additional click, or two, or three, depending on where you want to go. It’s comparable to if a mall resigned its floor plan, with all the merchandise an elevator ride away and hiding behind obscurely labeled dingy doors.
It’s no surprise then, if less people are buying your product, because they can’t find it.
In the article, I mention briefly how the YouTube ecosystem revolved around the front page. Here is a quote from Reich, who used to work for Freddie Wong but now does “Minute Physics,” explaining that concept more in depth:
“Big channels (like freddiew) would release on Friday so that their videos would be on the front page over the weekend (when youtube has the highest traffic). And smaller channels, knowing this, would upload their new videos on different days so as not to compete with giants to get into the limited number of frontpage slots for each category.
I remember listening to Freddie and Brandon (of freddiew) and Sam and Niko (corridordigital) having lengthy strategy discussions about just when to upload their new videos, and I know other YouTubers d[id] likewise. It’s hard to describe the extent to which the frontpage was really a defining feature of the YouTube ecosystem.”
Long-standing YouTuber and community favorite MysteryGuitarMan wrote on Reddit he saw a 60 percent traffic drop following the switch, and just last week, Onision (along with Shane Dawson and literally every other top YouTuber including Smosh and Niga Higa) came forward with equally catastrophic traffic losses as well.
Here’s some context for all the Google+ quotes that were pulled in that article:
In a detailed blog post about the subject, controversial teen heart-throb Onision revealed many top YouTubers, some of whom were well known to make six figures from their full time YouTube work, have suffered 50% or more (even one instance of 90%) traffic losses since Cosmic Panda. That translates to a monthly pay cut of equal proportions.
Onision’s blog post was then shared last Friday by Margaret Healy, head of Strategic Partnerships at YouTube, on Google+, where it then collected more than 150 comments from frustrated YouTubers with similar stories of traffic and revenue loss.
Onision, whose views have dropped 50%, said the “biggest problem is watching something you’ve been working on for years slowly die” and believes YouTube’s biggest mistake is “trying to reinvent YouTube” into something it is not.
“If they want to compete with Hulu they need to start a new site, not one that has already been defined” added Onision, who then called the new layout and homepage “too complicated.”
“YouTube is about watching random crazy awesome videos!,” offered Reich, before calling YouTube “at its heart, just a giant search engine.”
The Google-owned company maintained the traffic loss is intentional in an Ad Age article, essentially saying Cosmic Panda is supposed to highlight engagement and time spent on the site, which is an easier sell for advertisers. YouTube is no longer emphasizing clicks, even though it used to for seven years.
Given Healy’s attempts at damage control over on Google+ regarding Onision’s blog post, it’s highly likely Google completely forgot about it’s hundreds of millions of users, the thousands of paid original content creators, and the economy already in place.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call corporate ignorance and user steam-rolling.