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YTT — Fighting the YouTube Algorithm

My kid is an usual one.

It all started with a passion for building things. From Legos to Dominoes, the kid thrived on constructing intricate structures. With tech-savvy parents, it was only natural to gravitate toward video games. However, unlike most kids, the joy wasn't simply playing games; the smiles come in building within the games themselves. Starting with Minecraft, venturing into complex redstone-based systems, bringing movement, excitement, and explosions to his worlds.

Super Mario Maker 2 quickly became the all-time favorite game. Soon, "autoplay" levels were crafted that mirrored his initial Domino creations. But then, curiosity was picked, and the dreaded question of whether it was cool to check out YouTube for some tips and tricks on building even more advanced stuff was in the air.

What we didn't expect was the rabbit hole that would open up before us. YouTube's algorithm started throwing all sorts of things at us. It began innocently enough with suggestions for related building games like Geometry Dash and Roblox, but it quickly spiraled into a vortex of clickbait and mindless content that I just couldn't seem to filter out. No matter how much I tried to curate a safe space, the algorithm was always one step ahead, flooding us with videos that had nothing to do with what we were actually interested in.

That's when I decided enough was enough. I couldn't just sit back and watch, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. It took every spare moment I had, but I managed to create our own little haven from the chaos – a YouTube app that I lovingly dubbed YTT, short for YouTube Tamer. This was my way of taking back control and ensuring my kid was only exposed to content that would nurture creativity, not stifle it.

I stripped that original YouTube app down to its bare essentials, getting rid of all the distractions and potential pitfalls like Shorts, autoplay, and those eerily accurate "suggested" videos. I even put together a keyword blocklist to keep the unwanted content at bay. And if, by some chance, a rogue video slipped through, YTT would gently get us back to safety.

The switch was seamless. When I swapped out the regular YouTube app for YTT, the only reaction I got was a casual, "Ah, YouTube updated itself!" My kid didn't suspect a thing, and that's exactly how I wanted it.

But this isn't a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal. I'm constantly on guard, watching what the algorithm tries to sneak past us. It's a weekly ritual now, reviewing and refining that blocklist to ensure it's as effective as possible.

I've really wanted to share YTT with the world. I know other parents out there are fighting the same battle and would love to have a tool like this in their arsenal. But the reality is, it's not something I can just put up on the AppStore. It bends the rules a bit too much for Apple's liking, and they're not too keen on apps that try to outsmart the big players like YouTube.

So here I am, doing my small part in this endless game of cat and mouse with the tech giants. It's a bit of a Sisyphean task, trying to keep up with their ever-changing algorithms. I know I can't keep this up forever.

The truth is these algorithms have a lot of power. They shape what we see, what we think, and what we believe. They create these echo chambers that reinforce our views, and they're designed to keep us hooked, to play on our emotions. And when they expose us to the more shocking or divisive content out there, it only deepens the rifts between us.

But despite all this, I hold onto the hope that YTT can be a small act of defiance, a way to reclaim a little control over the influences shaping my child's mind and values. It's not a perfect solution, but it's my contribution to the fight for a healthier digital space. Maybe, just maybe, it'll inspire others to stand up and do the same. Here's to a future where technology is a tool that enriches our lives, not one that controls them.

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