Bypassing the YouTube recommendation algorithm

How many times have you watched a YouTube video that’s ended with a variation of this phrase: “please like and subscribe, and remember to click that bell icon so you get notified every time I upload a new video”?

If you watch YouTube as much as I do [1], you hear this All. The. Time.

What’s with the bell icon?

Why are YouTubers so insistent that viewers clicking that bell icon?

Veritasium (Derek Muller) explains this in his recent ‘My Video Went Viral. Here's Why’ video. In that he presents his “theory of everything when it comes to YouTube”. If you’re a big watcher of YouTube videos, I highly recommended you watch it.

But, basically: clicking that bell icon is great because doing so lets you, essentially, bypass part of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm (while also, technically, giving it more data). This, of course, is the algorithm that, among other things, determines which eight recommended videos you’ll see at the top of your YouTube home page.

If, however, you watch videos from your favourite channel by clicking on a YouTube notification instead, two things happen.

  1. You don’t have to wait for your favourite channel’s newest video to appear in your recommendations list. This is great because now you don’t miss a video just because the algorithm determined, for whatever reason, to not feature that video in your top recommendations.

  2. Once you’ve watched the videos from your favourite channels, YouTube doesn’t need to recommend them to you anymore. That means it can now recommend other things in your recommendations list. Which, depending on how you look at it, can be an excellent outcome.

But…I use an older magic

That, however, is not the method I use. It would make sense if I did – I do subscribe to 454 channels on YouTube, after all. But I really don’t want to be bombarded with all those notifications and emails.

Instead, I use a much older, much simpler, and much less obtrusive way of keeping track of every video a channel uploads: RSS.

Yes, I subscribe to the RSS feed of all the channels I want to watch most (if not all) the videos from :)

Some of the learning and science YouTube channels (and blogs) that I subscribe to.

Some of the learning and science YouTube channels (and blogs) that I subscribe to.

Depending on which RSS news reader you use, this is super easy to do. My reader of choice is NewsBlur so all I need to do is copy-paste a YouTube channel’s URL into NewsBlur’s add-feed dialog and, voilà, I am subscribed to a full feed of this channel’s videos.

So, if you’re someone who watches a lot of YouTube and also uses an RSS feed reader, I highly recommend you give this method a try. It will make your life much easier and you’ll be free of those pesky notifications.

[1] About and hour and half a day, on average.