In May 2020, YouTube announced that they would be removing the ‘poll card’ feature following a review of the community captions feature. Despite a significant community backlash, this decision came into effect a month later on June 10th, 2020.
Poll cards had been a feature on YouTube since 2016, riding high on the meteoric rise of the smart phone and a new generation of consumer apps. Polls had proved popular with rising social media giants such as Snapchat and Instagram, ensuring a mobile-friendly way for viewers to engage with content creators. The move to include polls on YouTube itself was deemed a successful implementation at the time.
So why has this tool been removed?
What were YouTube poll cards?
YouTube polls were interactive ‘feature’ cards inserted into video content. The interactive card would pose a question or statement and provide a selection of answers. The viewer would then select their answers and it would reveal – to both the viewer and creator – the number of ‘votes’ each answer had received up to that point.
What were YouTube polls used for?
Polls were quick, simple and easy to use. The feature proved popular with content creators and viewers alike, promoting greater channel engagement through greater interactivity and direct audience feedback. Below are just some of the uses of polls on YouTube.
Guiding the content of a channel. Some YouTubers specifically used this feature to garner the audience’s opinion on future content.
Educational tool. Where the content of the channel is to educate and inform, the poll system provided a form of ‘pop quiz’ on the content. The YouTuber could actively educate the viewers by providing answers throughout the video. They could also create follow-up videos that addressed the content of the polls.
Fun. Polls are fun! Interacting with the channel and having a small influence over the content is fun and engaging for the viewer. Poll cards take advantage of mobile technology to offer something different than conventional entertainment options.
Conversation starter. Knowing popular opinion can be enlightening and provoke important conversations.
Why did YouTube remove poll cards?
Low usage of the poll system was cited as the reason for its removal. In a statement given by team YouTube, it was revealed that only 0.2% of channels that uploaded content in 2020 had used a poll card.
In an announcement on the Creator Insider channel, YouTube’s Tom Leung was quick to emphasize that those channels that were actively using poll cards had better resources at their disposal for their needs.
“So, because of this, we think that the info card polls are probably a good candidate for deprecation, which then frees up resources to work on other features such as improving the do-it-yourself captions, improving the dashboard [and] Dark Mode on desktop.”Tom Leung
Other kinds of information cards, such as video links and web links, were confirmed to be unaffected by the change. Likewise, YouTube end screens were also unaffected. Polls already embedded within content, however, ceased to work. YouTubers were advised to make use of the ‘trim’ tool to cut out any polls within their videos.
The community reaction
The decision was met with a small but significant vocal outcry amongst the YouTubing community. In an ironic twist, ‘Freedom’ channel conducted a YouTube poll on the decision, with 89% in favor of keeping the poll cards. Freedom had 168k subscribers at the time of writing and provided one of the most vocal commentaries on the removal of the poll cards. Despite this, the decision went ahead unaffected.
Critics of the decision to remove the polls point out that this decision damages channels that have built up a following specifically using these features. These channels have now lost a key part of their engagement. For example, Antscanada is a niche educational channel that presents content of all manner on ants and ant farms. Antscanada used polls for audience engagement and education, often naming ant colonies on the suggestion of their viewers.
The community has also criticized the move as a backwards step, citing that removing features rather than adding them, is a regression of the platform. Polls are perceived to be a fun and inexpensive feature and the view amongst the community is that, when it comes to features, ‘more is better’. Removing enjoyable features is therefore seen as antagonistic and regressive.
Poll card alternatives
In response to the backlash, YouTube has pointed out several Poll card alternatives to encourage audience engagement, such as:
- Google forms – This is a web application separate from YouTube itself. Content creators can use Google forms to make quizzes, polls, and surveys. Critics of this alternative claim that third party formats such as this, take away the ease of use and ultimately lead to much less engagement.
- Comments – Comments from individual profiles on the content can be used to give personal feedback and potentially conduct a ‘poll-like’ survey. However, commenting removes the element of anonymity and viewers may be less inclined to leave their opinion. It is also not feasible for larger channels to invest time sifting through hundreds of comments to reach a conclusion.
- Likes / Dislikes – Creators can urge their viewers to cast a vote one way or another by ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ the video. This does limit the potential answers to just two.
- Poll posts on the community tab – YouTubers with over 1000 subscribers can post polls on the ‘Community tab’. The Community tab is a feature that offers a way for creators to communicate with viewers in-between uploads.
Creators and viewers alike will miss poll cards. They were a useful tool, easy for both YouTubers and viewers, and promoted greater all-round audience engagement. Polls were also useful data in an age where analytics are important to every content creator. YouTube’s choice to remove polls was claimed to be due to the system’s little usage–only a small percentage of YouTubers actually took advantage of the feature. Unfortunately, the poll feature is gone now and doesn’t look to be coming back.
For four years, polls have been a small but significant tool for creators. Without it, some content creators may find it harder to be successful. In light of the challenges that face content creators today, will YouTube one day reconsider their decision?
Many certainly hope so.