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Why Did YouTube Remove Annotations?

Many YouTube creators enjoyed the annotations feature as an easy way to communicate with viewers in an interactive way. If you’re reading this article, you likely know that annotations were images and text, often clickable, that could be added to videos at specific times to communicate with viewers. However, if you’d like to read more about the various types of annotations, check out this article. However, with the platform’s decision to remove annotations, many creators were left wondering why the tool was discontinued. Let’s investigate.

Where Did Annotations Go?

If you were a frequent user of annotations, you’ve likely noticed that the option to create them has been gone for quite a while. Now, existing annotations themselves are gone too. In fact, YouTube removed annotations nearly two years ago, in January 2019. When the decision was first announced, feedback was mixed, with many people pleased and others unhappy to have lost a valuable tool. However, the question remains: why did YouTube decide to remove annotations?

Incompatibility Issues

Annotations first debuted in 2008. This was shortly after the first iPhone was released and long before browsing on smart phones became the primary method through which people watched YouTube. At the time, YouTube viewers largely watched on PC only. However, as you may be aware of, viewing trends shifted greatly over the next decade. In fact, 70% of YouTube views now come from mobile devices. The inherent problem here is that annotations were a technology that did not work on mobile. Viewers simply could not see them. Thus, it made logistical sense to remove annotations in order to promote greater viewing consistency. After all, an ideal platform provides the same experience through all methods of viewing.

Viewers Did Not Like Them

Annotations played an important role for creators. They provided the following benefits for creators.

  • a way to increase subscriptions
  • a technique to suggest other videos
  • the ability to conduct poll questions
  • a method to note an error in a video
  • a creative outlet to interact with viewers

However, the inherent problem is that viewers did not share the enthusiasm for the feature. In fact, many people viewed annotations as aesthetically displeasing, clunky, and awkward. While there were fans, it was a feature that had a relatively high levels of dissatisfaction. This, combined with other reasons, made annotations go the way of the dinosaur.

Creators Stopped Using Them

Well, creators did not stop using them completely. However, many did. YouTube removed the annotations editor feature in May 2017 which meant that new annotations could not be created. The reason for its removal was that the use of annotations had decreased by 70%. With many viewers dissatisfied with the feature, its inability to work on mobile applications, and rapidly decreasing usage, it only made sense for the platform to move away from the technology.

Creators Wanted Something Better

The requests by creators for a feature that would work on mobile devices grew over time. In 2016, this request was answered with the unveiling of the Cards feature. If you’ve watched videos in the past few years, you’ve probably recognized cards as pop-up content that promotes channels, requests donations, provides a link, polls viewers, or promotes other YouTube content. This feature works both on desktop and mobile and has a more seamless integration with videos. As a result, Cards largely replaced the annotations feature in a more effective manner. Rather than keep duplicate features, YouTube ultimately made the decision to remove annotations completely.

Shortly after debuting Cards, YouTube also debuted End Screens, which many Creators have effectively integrated into their content. End Screens also serve to accomplish many of the purposes of annotations albeit through an attractive post-video template. This further made annotations obsolete.

Summary

If there is one thing that is true about the internet, it is that change is constant. The fact that annotations were able to hang on as a feature for more than a decade suggests that they had benefits and were at least somewhat effective in their goal. But just like things such as MySpace, Altavista, and AOL Instant Messenger, annotations are now relegated to our memories.

There are a number of reasons that led to the discontinuation of annotations. These included the growth of mobile viewing (where annotations were incompatible), dissatisfaction from viewers, a decline in use by creators, and the demand for something more effective. Ultimately, the integration of Cards and End Screens served to take annotations out of commission in 2017, with them being permanently removed from existing videos less than two years later.

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Author

  • Mike Seals

    Mike has over a decade of experience in higher education as a researcher, administrator, and faculty member. He currently teaches leadership and communication. He possesses a doctorate from the University of Arkansas in organizational leadership, masters from Grand Valley State in education, and bachelors from Southeastern Louisiana University in behavioral sciences. His writing interests include politics, travel, and social issues.

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