Paranoia, Tragedy, and the YouTube Algorithm | January 2015 Update

So January was meant to be the month I gave up. I started looking around for work, and thought about wrapping things up on the channel. One theory about the all-powerful YouTube algorithm is that it likes frequency. The more often you post, the more likely YouTube is to put your stuff in front of people. One mentor in particular had been urging me to post more frequently all year. I had a bunch of scripts lying around so this month I decided to give it a shot. It went really, really well. I am not 100% sure that this theory is correct, but it’s worth mentioning that my most successful videos in 2015 have all come in or around weeks where I posted more than one video.

I started off the month with a discussion of the US government’s disturbing announcement that it was responding to an alleged virtual attack from North Korea with very concrete sanctions. The next week I did five videos, an interesting experiment that I haven’t felt the need to repeat since. It almost killed me. On Monday we produced a somewhat grim meditation on that month’s Charlie Hebdo massacre and what it didn’t say about the “Clash of Civilizations”. On Tuesday we uploaded a faux-interview with one of my favorite punching bags, Rudy Giuliani, on his obsession with “Black on Black Crime”. I’ve done a lot of vids on this subject, finally working it into a format that people wanted to watch last May. On Wednesday we covered why Wall Street likes it when we talk about the 1%. Next up, on Thursday we exploded the idea of the “Islamic Reformation” in what remains one of my favorite videos ever. This may be a case for churn by itself. From 8 months later the first two vids this week look embarrassingly rough, but this one still works for me. The self-inflicted over-work may have thrown up a gem that wouldn’t have otherwise been produced. If Thursday’s video showed the benefits of churn, Friday’s showed it’s drawbacks. I’m visibly exhausted and half-assedly deliver what should have been one of the most devastating videos I’ve ever done, simply documenting how US government policy since 9/11 has made us much more insecure. Instead of being a block buster it remains one of my least watched videos ever.

The five video experiment was very worth doing however. As I sat exhausted at Cafe La Viola, my hookah bar, the next Saturday, I quickly banged out a script on John Oliver. I am a big fan of the show, and the video is basically just an appreciation. “How Powerful Is John Oliver” was the second video I published the next week, after a celebration of progress on civil asset forfeiture. The Oliver video through some combination of the right title and an inoffensive message really took off. It became my second truly successful video after FATCA. In January it only got 800 or so views, but even that level of viewership made it a success from the start. Whether it was algorithm voodoo, or just a result of good video-writing muscles, the 5 video week was apparently worth it. I closed out the very busy month with “Why I don’t Care About The Environment”, a video that is certainly not very popular, but I think answers a question that was worth covering.

Views fell again this month, from 5,785 in December, to 5,385 in January. Things were looking up though, three of the top five performers in the month were actually produced in January, and it was already clear that the John Oliver video was going to continue to do well. Only two of the nine videos broke 100 views on the first day, but all but one of them has broken 200 views eight months later, and 6 of 9 have broken 300. At the end of January we had 74 videos, all but two of which were watched at least once, 49 of which were watched over 10 times, 10 of which were watched over 100 times, and one of which broke 1,000 views (FATCA). This was the month we finally broke 100,000 views. It’s always nice to see a new digit turnover, and it just felt a little more legit to have a 6-figure view channel than a 5-figure one. At the end of January I was still looking for a job, but hadn’t found one yet…

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More FATCA … and God I Hate Christmas | December 2014 Update

December is the worst. The Holiday season is a time for family, friends and good cheer! It’s not a time for watching videos about the state of the world. Unlike my likely disproved theory of the summer slump, I’ve got two years of empirical verification of the end of year crash in viewership. The graph of this month’s views is super depressing. A very strong start followed by a steady petering out.

December fail

I did know to expect this, however. The same thing happened to my usually robust initial FATCA video in December of 2013, so it wasn’t too depressing to see it happen. It was a fun month of videos though, featuring collaboration, new approaches, and new subject matter. Though I didn’t know it at the time December began my longest period without flying anywhere since the 1990s. Budgetary constraints brought a forcible end to my globe trotting, but I think it was great for the channel. I have spent most of the past six months in a very small room, building my skills and thinking about ways to broaden my reach. There are many worse places to be marooned than Istanbul.

December’s first video was produced in Connecticut at the tail end of my Thanksgiving trip home. Family friend and fellow Istanbul-ite Alev Scott (buy her book!), and my super talented brother (admire his works!) were kind enough to contribute to this long delayed return to the topic of FATCA. This vid on FATCA’s effect on the United States rather than the rest of the world was well received, and gave me my first day over 700 views since July. Next up I did a video on Mary Shelley and how odd it is that she is still viewed as less important than her husband. This was my first foray into literary criticism. I really like how the vid came out, but it took an incredibly frustrating 5 months to crest 100 views. At the time I usually hit that mark in days or weeks, and now occasionally hit it in a number of hours. I want to do more in this vein, but I will have to think harder about how to make the vids easier to discover.

I had long been toying with the idea of partnering with NGOs on videos, and this collaboration with The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform NGO, was my first effort. It’s also the last so far. As of this writing it is among the 8 of my 97 videos that have failed to crest 150 views. It may have been the curse of December, or the fact that it’s kind of a crap video (poorly lit, trying to accomplish too many things) but regardless I haven’t felt the need to repeat the experiment. Next up, improv buddy Andrew McCormick (Come See our Shows!) helped me produce a strongly libertarian take on what we should be learning from the Torture Report. My almost instant reaction to Obama’s announcement of a path towards regularization of relations with Cuba was the best viewed of my late December vids. I like to put more effort into my videos, but more timely reaction videos tend to open very well. Next up was a weird combination of a holiday thank you video and a sad reaction to Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to politicize the murders of two New York police officers. Finally I closed the year with a meditation on mass murder and how best to stop it. December was my most prolific month to that point.

The views were disappointing, as I mentioned above. They fell from 7,182 in November to 5,785. This was actually worse than it looks. Half of the month’s views came in the first week. Of the top 5 vids, only one, the new FATCA video, was produced in December. Only two of the seven videos broke 100 views in the first day, and two of them still haven’t broken 200 views six months later. In early December we did finally break 500 subscribers after hovering in the 400s for almost three months, which was nice. At the end of December we had 65 videos, all of which were watched at least 3 times, 51 of which were watched over 10 times, 13 of which were watched over 100 times, and one of which broke 1,000 views for the month (FATCA again). By the end of this month I had decided that if things didn’t change dramatically, and soon, it was time to give up and start looking for another legal job…

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November 2014: Crime, Race, Crime and The Month I Figured Out Twitter…

November was great. It’s an uncomfortable fact that current events outlets thrive on tragedy and my YouTube channel is no different. My series on the racist US criminal justice system really took off this month. I had been unable to produce it in time to take advantage of the summer’s Ferguson rage, but the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson came down at the end of November, and gave me some of my biggest days since the FATCA video’s success trailed off in June. Though the performance of the channel didn’t come anywhere near the May and June heights, it was great to see something kind of work again.

I only managed to produce 5 videos this month. Some issues with power in my Istanbul apartment derailed the production schedule, as did my trip home to the United States for the Thanksgiving holiday. Things generally went according to plan however. The “Our Racist System” series proceeded alternating more detail heavy videos with my own experiences as a white dude getting away with murder (not literally). First up was “Who Gets Arrested”, annoyingly the least watched of the series, which documents the differing jobs that police officers have in different jurisdictions. “Arrested While White:Privilege Edition” told my most outrageous story of white impunity, and was the biggest hit of the month. This may have been due to the use of the “White Privilege” keyword. The importance of the name of a video is a lesson I’m just beginning to incorporate six months later. “How The NYPD Proved That Justice is For Sale” is the closest thing to real reporting that I have ever done. It tells the disturbing story of what happened to the defendants in the high profile “Operation Ivy League” case from 2010 after the media stopped paying attention. “Arrested While White: Finally Arrested Edition” tells the tale of my weekend in jail in New Orleans, and the privileged treatment I received there. We rounded out the month with “Inequality and Incarceration”, which makes the little made but obvious point that we can’t deal with inequality without dealing with mass incarceration.

This was the month I finally figured out Twitter. Since the beginning I had always been posting the vids on the service, but usually only once. I wasted time trying to come up with clever hashtags. Twitter is pitched as a micro-blogging service, but that’s not the point. It’s a direct communication service. You can contact anyone from celebrities to complete strangers who you think might be interested in your product. If you’re pitching something on twitter you need to do so with volume and directness. Last November I finally started doing this, and it represented a real turning point for the channel. If you’re uncharitable you could call my current use of twitter “Spammy”. If someone tweets on the topic covered by the vid, I reply with the video. It’s pretty straightforward, if annoying, and it gets the channel out there. In the past six months of doing this, through thousands of tweets, I’ve only gotten one complaint. The rewards can occasionally be out-sized, but the total yield probably averages about a view or less for each tweet. My channel is still small enough to make spammy tweeting valuable.

At the end of the month I got one ridiculous piece of good luck. Around November 26th the #crimingwhilewhite hashtag became popular. In October and November I produced three “arrested while white” videos that were essentially built for this. An evening of frantic tweeting at my parents’ kitchen table gave me my biggest day of views since July.

Views finally recovered a bit in November. Views jumped from October’s 4,480 to 7,182. Of the top 5 vids, four were produced either in October or November. All of the new crime series vids performed quite well. All of them broke 200 views within a week or two of upload, and three out of 5 broke 100 views on the first day which hadn’t happened much since the Spring. The total channel views finally broke through another 10K mark after not doing so for awhile, steaming past 90,000 views. At the end of November we had 58 videos, all of which were watched at least 3 times, 47 of which over 10 times, 12 of which over 100 times, and 2 of which over 1,000 times. FATCA was finally joined by another 1K+ vid for the first time since June (The White Privilege one at the top of this post). I learned a lot this month, and the uptick in views gave me a lot of hope. Unfortunately December can be the cruelest month for a certain type of video channel…

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October 2014: The Worst of Times and the Best of Times

October was a weird month but a fun one. It brought the absolute lowest point in viewership following the channel’s initial expansion. The last month had made it clear that the fall in viewership wasn’t a summer thing, but a broader problem. This made for a grim September, moving from couch to couch in a still sweltering Istanbul. At the beginning of October, however, I moved into a new apartment of my own for the first time in three months, and my spirits rallied considerably. I was pretty sure I had failed and decided to just finish up what I wanted to do and enjoy the ride.

The month’s first video gives a pretty good indication of my attitude at the time. Rather than weigh in on a weighty geopolitical matter, I decided to use my facial hair as a prop and address the possible phenomenon of “Peak Beard”. For the next one I got back to normal ground with a meditation on Douglas MacArthur and standing armies throughout history. It is poorly named, and therefore little watched, but I think it’s a gem, featuring Caligula, Derek Jacobi and Richard Rorty. Next up was a quick vid laying out the ridiculousness of a War on Terror that includes Saudi Arabia as an ally.

The last four videos were the beginning of my long-planned series on criminal justice in the United States. I began planning this series at least a year prior. The channel was initially founded to address these issues, and I wanted to do it right. It felt great to finally get these out there. I’m currently planning my next intensive series, and the somewhat agonizing planning process feels very familiar. I ended up deciding to release two of these a week, with one vid addressing the issues more substantively, and another either telling a story or playing with the format. Three of the eventual ten videos told the stories of my own checkered past with the law in a series called “Arrested While White”. This month’s vids included an introduction, a tale of a high school non-arrest, a video pointing out the problems with trials and plea bargaining, and an attempt at an anti-cop PSA.

As mentioned above, total views were not great this month. They fell back below 5,000, from 5,049 down two 4,480. The total views were a bit misleading though. There were no bumps for leaders from the back-list like the FATCA video. Three of the top five performers this month were all new. Also, all new videos this month managed to break 100 views within a week or two of being uploaded, which is a lot more than could be said for September’s videos. Total views and subscriber count languished this month, lingering in the mid-80 thousands and 400s respectively. At the end of October, we had 54 videos, all but one of which were watched, 48 of which were viewed over 10 times, 8 of which over 100 times, and one over 1,000 (FATCA). The new criminal justice vids performed decently but not surprisingly well. That happened in November, when I finally learned a basic lesson I should have picked up long before…

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September 2014: The Great Recession and Minor Depression

September was the worst month of this project, emotionally speaking. Since Mid-June I had been consoling myself with the thought that the drop in views was due to the summer months. September, I was sure, would lead to a return to the exponential growth of March, April and May, and the possibility of actually making some money. Instead, the six videos I released in September remain, as of December, some of the least viewed on the channel. One in particular took a full three months to cross 100 views, which usually happens within a week. In addition, I got back to Istanbul and found myself homeless due to an exploding bathroom. The month spent on couches kept me from moving forward with a series on US criminal justice that I had been planning for months.

But all of that was useful, because it helped me learn some valuable lessons. Turns out, YouTube isn’t all that into 5 minute plus confusingly “animated” videos on obscure topics like finance and legislative corruption from faceless droning voices. Since September I’ve only broken the 4 minute mark twice, and I stepped up my ability to produce on-camera videos. A depressing month, but I learned a lot about video-making and marketing, so it was worthwhile. The videos produced weren’t very successful, but I think they were pretty interesting.

I started off with a five minute video comparing the performance and power of the UK and US financial industries. I think the role of federalism in the differences between Big Finance’s effects on the two countries during the Great Recession is worth further study, but it might not be the best subject for YouTube videos. Next up was the dismally performing comparison of the careers of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Congressman Eric Cantor. Disturbed by that video’s failure to go anywhere, I produced “5 Facts You Must Accept to Write About Foreign Policy in 2014“, a response to an article by the ridiculous Robert Kagan. I intend to do a lot more in this style, and on this topic in the coming year. Next I used Game of Thrones to attack another one of my great pet peeves, endless comparisons of 2014 to 1914. The next week I broke out the Elvis suit to point out the malign direction of US policy towards Iran and China. We rounded out the month with September’s only edition of Notes From the Golden Age, pointing out why “I Still Love the Arab Spring“.

In terms of views, the bloodbath did finally halt in September. They were slightly up to 5,005 from 4,734 in August. This month also demonstrated the growing power of the back-list. Despite the dismal performance of the new videos, views were higher than August. A website in the Czech Republic picked up the big FATCA video, and some right wing blogs picked up the Hillary Clinton video. Only one of the top five performing videos in September were produced in September. The video count keeps mounting. At the end of September we had 46 videos. All but one got at least one view that month, and 35 got more than ten. It provides a nice lower-bound for viewership as we go forward.

September was a bit of a grim month, but I learned a lot.

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August 2014: Islam, Iraq, and an Ice Bucket

August featured video production in four countries, with differing degrees of success. The channel-wide slowdown due to falling interest in FATCA continued, but it was a fun month, and we got to experiment with some new topics and approaches.

We kicked off the month by looking at Islam and the way it is portrayed in the US media. We looked beyond the idiocies of the Bill Mahers and the well meaning distortions of the Reza Aslans of this world to do a little comparative history. It turns out the evils of Islam are nothing compared to those of Christianity. I hope to do a longer video in this vein in the new year. Next we delivered another installment of Ask a Libertarian, which took a trip through Libertarian party candidates past and present.

Next we produced the month’s break-out hit which asked “Who are We Really Fighting in Iraq?” As my country’s involvement in Iraq accelerated, folks seemed to enjoy a video that pointed out that conflict’s fundamental ridiculousness. After that, I headed to a wedding in the Socialist wonderland of Sweden. The video recording my thoughts was one of the most ridiculously produced in the channel’s history. Filmed in small northern Swedish cities and airports, edited in an all-night haze in a jumbo jet hostel in Stockholm, and uploaded from London’s Heathrow airport, I’m amazed it got done.

The next week’s video didn’t get done. I was in Mexico for another wedding, and my laptop died. Luckily I had a cellphone camera, the Ice Bucket challenge, and a faux-Mariachi. The resulting video is fairly amusing.

As I mentioned above, the post-FATCA viewership bloodbath continued. Monthly viewership almost halved from 8,617 in July, to 4,734 in August. At the time I consoled myself with the idea that it was a summer drop-off. The month’s videos performed well considering the lack of a big video pointing views towards the channel.

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July 2014: Vietnam, Pompey the Great, and Other Disasters

I closed last month’s entry with a question. What happens when your most successful video peters out? In July I got to find out. That month saw an initial FATCA deadline pass without the disaster predicted in some of the internet’s more ridiculous quarters. My predictions of FATCA disaster were never immediate, but my video suffered as general interest in the topic slowed down. The effects were pretty dramatic.

That aside, it was a great month. I posted videos from Istanbul, Tuscany, Northern Michigan and the New York City suburbs. The constraints of travel and (very voluntary) homelessness helped hone my craft rather than slow things down. Whether people were watching or not, I was very pleased with the month’s production.

July is named after Julius Caesar, right? That’s fitting, because this month’s production was all about Empire, and American empire specifically. We started the month by looking at our two great wars of Imperial over-reach, Iraq and Vietnam, and the embarrassing parallels. Next we moved on to the Imperial Presidency and why we really don’t want Hillary Clinton to occupy it. After that, we made a brief departure from the theme for an installment of Notes From The Golden Age, debunking the overreaction to the recent European elections. After that, back to Empire, with a brief history of Rome, and what every American Founding Father knew about it. Then another break for a second installment of Ask A Libertarian. We closed the month with a return to the Imperial presidency, specifically its birth, with the ¨Worst President Ever¨.

The viewing statistics were depressing, but they were also very interesting. In June we got 18,123 views, and in July we got 8,617. Most of this drop can be traced to the drop in views for our FATCA video which fell from 13,903 views and 77% of the total to 5,611 views and 65% of the total. The effect on viewership of all the other videos could be clearly discerned as well. Despite there being another month’s worth of videos, viewing of all of these videos fell by more than a quarter. The fact that viral videos are important for traffic is not news, but it is interesting to see it laid out this clearly. My confidence in FATCA’s return to the headlines leads me to believe that the video will grow in strength again, but it hasn’t happened as of October. Since its decline I have not had a single new video approach the 1,000 hit mark. Interesting stuff.

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June 2014: Elections, Interventions, and Cat Videos.

Much like my physical location, the channel was everywhere in June. Due to a travel filled summer, and a lack of an income, I gave up my apartment halfway through the month. It certainly preserves the bank account, but we will see how it affects the videos.

In June we started off with a video critiquing the enthusiasm for the ¨Hip, New¨ Washington, DC. Next came our first cat video, in which Perspective Cat drops some historical knowledge. Hope to do more with that guy sometime soon. Trade policy, and the way that the Trans Atlantic Partnership betrays the spirit of the WTO were analyzed in our next one, with perhaps a little too much disco.

Our video on Eric Cantor’s primary loss was a bit of an experiment. I woke up, saw the news, wrote a reaction, and had produced a video five hours later. Does it show? The process is usually much more labored than that. All of this experimentation led to what remains one of my favorite videos ever. Little seen historical analysis, snark, and a mix of visual techniques combined to make a video of a quality I wish I could produce every week. Check out ¨Russia Will Join the EU Within 30 years…¨ here or above. We followed up with an inexplicably little watched video on why humanitarian intervention is dumb. Youtube provides detailed analytics of viewer behavior throughout the course of the video. This one has some of the best retention of any, but very few people showed up to watch. Not so easy to discover probably.

Our last video of the month was the first installment of ¨Ask a Libertarian¨, and our first attempt at interview programming. It taught me that I, like,umm, sort of, you know, really fricking need to work on my interviewing skills.

June saw a bit of falling off in viewing statistics. Views fell to 18,123 from 21,100 in May. The majority of views in both months were of the one FATCA view. A (sort of) viral video is an interesting thing. I owe the majority of my views to this one video. While it is raging, the channel is healthy, but when it falls off?

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May 2014: Europe, the Media, and Success

Most of our work in May was dedicated to Europe. The Notes From the Golden Age (NFTGA) Series continued with three videos celebrating the European Union, and dealing with the weird attractions of Euro-Skepticism. We provided a little counter-programming to the general media approach, which was filled with warnings about the new power of the anti-Europe populist parties.

We started off with two one-shot videos. The first was the (fairly successful) search engine bait of “Is Putin Hitler?” in which Neville Chamberlain walks us through why the two figures couldn’t be more different. The second was a meditation on the changing nature of media and journalism. It fits comfortably in the NFTGA category, so you know we’re optimistic about it!

We produced three EU videos. The first focused on the dominant historical position of European Violence and the EU’s role in shutting it down. The second focused on the ridiculousness of Euroskepticism, specifically in the UK context. The third video came out the day after the disappointing EU elections at the end of May. It focused on the Genius of European Expansion, and the democracy it has brought. Through reddit, this video, also featured above, became our fastest watched video ever.

May was a great month. It made my dream of making a career of this seem very, very, possible. Our May totals MORE THAN TRIPLED our April totals going from 6,978 to 21,100. We produced a sort of Thank you video. Most of this massive month was due to the continued success of our video on FATCA. More and more people are becoming aware of the problems that FATCA implementation will bring, and there is a real thirst for a decent video on the topic. Fun Stuff.

Many thanks for taking the time to make the channel as successful as it has been…

April 2014: Ukraine, Mom, and Neville Chamberlain..

April was an exciting month here at the More Freedom Foundation. It was our first chance to cover an on-going news event, and it was pretty exciting. We believe that it is impossible to understand current news events without looking into the history behind it.

Our first video of the month continued our look at African development, and the truly great news that you should be thinking of whenever one of Africa’s 54 countries is experiencing a crisis.

Vladimir Putin did us a favor and hijacked most of the rest of April’s output. As much as I loathe the guy, he’s kind of got a point when it comes to NATO’s expansion. We took two approaches on the topic. One was a straightforward map-based video explaining Russia’s justified concerns. The other approach was a message from the “US Government” explaining the motivations behind NATO expansion with an honesty that real bureaucrats are not capable of.

My mother was kind enough to swing by Istanbul for a weekend, so we decided to collaborate on the third chapter of Notes From The Golden Age (NFTGA) focusing on the Cold War. People don’t spend enough time celebrating the fact that that is over, so we did our part.

We ended the month with a quantum leap in the quality of our production. “Appeasement” seems to be the only historical lesson that the US government has learned. We resurrected Senior Hitler Correspondent Neville Chamberlain to tell us about his experience, and how nothing since has really compared. It was a tricky video to act and produce, but it was pretty successful. You can see this fan favorite video here, or at the top of this post.

April was also an exciting month in terms of viewership. Our April totals MORE THAN DOUBLED our May totals going from 2,861 views to 6,978. Very exciting stuff.

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