Sunday, 16 December 2012

Wailing those old "No YouTube Video Blues" - why do they keep doing this to us?

Someone else's YouTube nightmare
So yesterday I watched a video on the Fox News website. It’s interesting, so I click through to YouTube to get the “embed” code so I can stick it on this blog. But there’s just a black rectangle where the video should be, and no control panel underneath it. I try a few more videos and about half of them aren’t working. After a while I start getting a Google “Server Error” message. (No, I have no idea.)

I quit my browser (Safari) and rev up Google Crome. No videos at all are working on that (some nonsense about not being able to upload the latest version of Adobe Flash because my Mac operating system is too old – or something).

I begin the familiar hunt for enlightenment on various forums. Turns out I’m just one of many currently being driven mad. Almost instantly, I’m faced with at least ten suggested fixes. Eschewing the ones that evidently require a degree in computer technology, I try all the easy-sounding ones - download this app, change that bit-rate etc. None of which works, of course.

After an hour and a half of this, I’m startlng to get frazzled (it’s one in the morning by now, and that’s not helping). Then I find an answer suggesting that those of us suffering from NWYTVS (Non-Working YouTube Video Syndrome) either need to get on or remove ourselves from a trial Google is conducting involving the delivery of video using HTML5 (don’t ask – I couldn’t be bothered looking into it, but it seems to be Google’s attempt to obviate the need for people to use third-party Flash software). I click on another link to discover that I’m not actually part of the trial – so I sign up for it, just in case this would help matters. I check YouTube again. Nothing has changed.

I remove myself from the trial. I’m about to go off to bed in a bad mood, when something makes me check YouTube one last time (admit it - it's exactly what you do). Every video is now working perfectly.

How come?

I can only assume I’d somehow been placed on the trial, despite not having opted in, and without Google even knowing I was on the trial – and that I’d cured the problem by positively opting out of their experiment.

I love computers. I love the internet. I can’t imagine what retired people did before all this stuff was invented (watch day-time TV, write to their MPs and drink themselves to death, I suppose). But I do sometimes wonder if we’re ever going to reach the stage where companies like Google stop doing stuff which has millions - billions? - of us wasting hours trying to figure out why something that was working a few hours ago has now stopped working. I realise that testing this stuff is an expensive drag – at the BBC, we used to have to test every new interactive TV application on every existing digital set-top box for terrestrial, satellite and cable, in case there was the slightest chance that we’d interrupt anyone’s TV reception.

I’m using Safari on an Intel-based Mac with a three–year old operating system and no weird software or hardware running on it – there must be millions of users on this particular set-up: surely it’s worth Google/YouTube testing to see whether whatever they’re doing their end is going to annoy or distress us? They’re huge, and, because they beam endless adverts at people like us, filthy rich – you’d think it would be worth their while trying not to piss us off.

For all the benefits of computer technology, I wonder how many tens of billions of man-years have already been lost by people sitting with a pained expression in front of their PCs or Macs trying to figure out why the hell the damned thing won’t do what it was quite happy to do earlier in the day.

I honestly thought we’d be much further down the road by now.


  1. They’re huge, and, because they beam endless adverts at people like us, filthy rich – you’d think it would be worth their while trying not to piss us off.

    Why would you think that?

    Your piece sounds like the well-argued, legitimate complaint of an affronted customer. But you don't pay Google for anything and they don't pay you. You're not a customer. More like the product, if anything, sold by Google to marketing persons and governments.

    I'm sure Google would rather not upset people. But they don't lose any sleep if they do, even if you're Margaret Hodge.

    Rupert Murdoch and his paid access to the Times and Sunday Times? Delightfully old-fashioned. Upright. Practically like a Boy Scout by comparison.

  2. I'm beginning to suspect you may have a point about all these "free" online services. I remember years ago setting up a "free" website with BT, only to discover that it meant my pages were plastered with advertising. I phoned to complain only to be told that "after all, it's free" - and pointed that it wasn't free, because I was already paying for their ISP service, which was no doubt funding their web-hosting service, and that I was now expected to act as an advertising billboard for them to make a (microscopically tiny) profit out of. It made one feel a bit like a peasant who was being tossed a bone.

    Mind you, I'm still not going to pay to access The Times online!

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