YTT — Fighting the YouTube Algorithm
My kid is an usual one.
It all started with a passion for building things. From Legos to Dominoes, he thrived on constructing intricate structures. With tech-savvy parents, it was only natural for him to gravitate toward video games. However, unlike most kids, he didn't find joy in simply playing games; he found joy in building within the games themselves. Starting with Minecraft, he ventured into complex redstone-based systems, bringing movement, excitement, and explosions to his worlds.
Super Mario Maker 2 quickly became his all-time favorite game. It allowed him to create "autoplay" levels that mirrored his original Domino creations. But then, his curiosity got the best of him, and he asked if it was cool to check out YouTube for some tips and tricks on building even more advanced stuff.
We had no idea this innocent search for information would kickstart a downward spiral.
The algorithm, doing its own thing, bombarded him with unrelated content unsuitable for his age. It all started mildly with content from adjacent games like Geometry Dash and Roblox, but then it went downhill with a flood of content-farming creations and mind-numbing memes. Even though I tried my best to clean up his viewing history and curate meaningful stuff, the algorithm kept pushing popular but irrelevant videos, making it harder to protect his experience. It was clear that while there were hidden gems on YouTube, they were buried under all the mindless popularity.
So, I've been on this experiment that's been eating up my precious free time for months: creating my own YouTube iOS client. I named it YTT (YouTube Tamer). The plan was to take back control over what my son is exposed to and counter the influence of the YouTube algorithm. YTT tries its best to look and behave like the original YouTube app, but I'm the one calling the shots here.
Since then, I've taken out dozens of "features" like YouTube Shorts, endless autoplay, local video downloading, "popular with people like you", and suggested searches. I've also put in place a keyword blocklist. So now, any video or channel with a blocked keyword won't appear anywhere. And if, by some chance, he stumbles upon a banned video ready to be played, The app kicks back to the main screen.
After months of careful development, it's almost time to "push it to production." Soon, I'll stealthily deploy it to my kid's device, and I'm super curious to see how he'll react to it.
As a side note, I'd love to share YTT with others. Many parents could benefit from a tool like this. However, releasing it on Apple's AppStore isn't possible — the app violates many guidelines, and they're unlikely to approve an application that tries to pass by the actual Youtube application.
To wrap it up, I must admit, this battle is kinda pointless. With YouTube and other BigTech companies constantly changing things up, I have to stay on top of my game and tweak my code and strategies to keep up with their ever-evolving algorithms. I can't do it forever.
BigTech uses algorithms to manipulate users, creating echo chambers reinforcing existing views. Hyper-personalization fosters addiction and intensifies emotions. Exposure to shocking content amplifies outrage and division. The algorithmic emphasis on user engagement perpetuates a harmful cycle of consumption that fuels addiction and anxiety.
In the end, I hope that YTT will serve as a small beacon of resistance against the tidal wave of algorithmic influence. It's about reclaiming some measure of control over what shapes my kids' minds and values. It's not a perfect solution, but it's my small contribution to the fight for a healthier digital environment. And who knows, maybe it might inspire others to take a stand too. So, here's to a future where technology enriches our lives instead of controlling it.