Chronological conundrum

Age of the Geek Column: YouTube is trying something out.

That sentence almost never ends well. This time the video platform has decided to run an experiment that, for a small percentage of viewers, replaces a creator's custom thumbnail with one of their procedurally generated screen captures.

They also didn't tell creators what they were doing, giving them a surprise when viewers suddenly started asking why they were seeing random screen grabs instead of the usual professional looking image.

Unsurprisingly, not many creators were thrilled with YouTube randomly making it look like they just up and forgot to make a proper thumbnail for a video.

Now this is just a temporary experiment to help YouTube gather data on how their algorithm generates thumbnails for users that don't make their own, but it's also part of a really aggravating attitude from the internet tech industry. One that thinks they know what you want better than you do.

If you've ever watched a YouTube video that asked you to click on the bell for notifications, that's because YouTube has gotten in the habit of hiding videos from subscribers. One would think that "subscribe" means you would always see the latest video of that particular channel show up in your feed. YouTube thinks differently.

Last May, they performed another experiment that rearranged subscription feed using an algorithm to predict which videos it thinks you actually want to watch, as opposed to the traditional chronological order.

YouTube is far from alone in their disregard for chronological order either. Several large web services seem to have a problem with the concept of linear time.

Facebook offers the option to order your news feed by "most recent," but they really resent you for it and will change it back to their "top stories" every time you close the browser. The default user experience is so nonsensical that I highly recommend to anybody using a Chrome browser to install the F.B. Purity extension, which restores a modicum of control to your feed.

You also have the geniuses behind Twitter and Instagram that also think they know what you want to see better than you do. Along with rearranging your feeds, Twitter is a big fan of clogging them up with unwanted "in case you missed it" posts. It's a ridiculous intrusion that highlights posts either too old to be relevant or so new that I can see the original and the reminder on the same screen at the same time.

At some level I understand what they're doing. They want to maximize user engagement by manipulating the way you interact with the product. This concept is not unfamiliar to people in the newspaper business. We have very talented people that lay out articles in ways that catch the eye and there are never-ending discussions about the pros and cons of jumping a story to another page.

But we don't demand you read stories in a particular order. Granted, we couldn't if we wanted to, but I feel confident in saying that if you want to jump to the sports and make your way backwards through the paper, we're fine with that.

Online though, they just can't leave things well enough alone.

It's such a bizarre attitude. Nobody asks for these changes and every time they're implemented they're always met with fierce resistance. And yet, these web services just don't take the hint.

Maybe one day they'll figure out that they don't need to figure anything out. Until then, we'll just have to deal with their nonsense the same way we want to read our Facebook feed. One at a time, in chronological order.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is perfectly capable of deciding which YouTube videos he wants to watch for himself.