Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Closed Captioning for YouTube
On September 28, 2020, YouTube ended its community contributions across all channels. This feature allowed viewers to add closed captions, subtitles and descriptions to videos.
YouTube said that they are discontinuing the feature because it “was rarely used and had problems with spam/abuse.”
The decision has been an emotional one for a lot of people in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Content creators now have three remaining options for captioning their videos: create their own captions, turn on automatic captions (which are notoriously low-quality), or use third-party tools and services.
A brief history of YouTube’s captions
Google was an early innovator and historically strong advocate for closed captioning. In fact, Google Video announced closed captioning back in September 2006. Google acquired YouTube in October 2006, but it took YouTube until June 4, 2008 to support video annotations, which people hacked for captions and subtitles.
The Google employee and blogger who first announced closed captioning on Google Video, Ken Harrenstien, was one of the most persistent champions and innovative developers of Google’s closed captioning innovations. For example, his patent read: “Enabling users to create, to edit and/or to rate online video captions over the web.”
Sadly, as much innovation as Google created for captions in both Google Video and YouTube, some are saying that YouTube has gone from ‘caption-hero to villain’.
Even YouTube acknowledges, “Subtitles and closed captions open up your content to a larger audience, including deaf or hard of hearing viewers or those who speak languages besides the one spoken in your video.”
The versatility of human-generated captions
Community-generated captions were priceless for many in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community because they were a way to source high-quality captions, from people inside the community who knew and understood their access needs.
But not only that. Part of the fuss over the end of community captions is that community contributions also enabled people to translate videos into foreign languages. This is something automatic captioning also doesn’t do well.
One group even created a popular petition ‘Don’t remove community captions from YouTube’.
However, others, including YouTuber JT, have shown the abuse people receive via the community contributions feature.
Unfortunately, YouTube’s automatic captions are notorious for poor quality. They often produce run-on sentences with nonsensical or occasionally obscene phrases. Since 2015, Rikki Poynter, a popular Deaf YouTuber with nearly 100,000 followers, has regularly called for her audience and other YouTubers to abandon YouTube’s automatic captions, using the hashtag #NoMoreCRAPtions.
So, if you want to expand your audience, include captions – captions that are accurate and easy to read. You can’t depend on Google or YouTube to get it right.
You can make your own captions, but it’s not the easiest option if you don’t have a lot of time.