A Farewell To YouTube Sub Counters Set To Break With API Change

Of all the things you never would have guessed you’d need just ten years ago, a YouTube subscriber counter would probably rank highly. You would have guessed that the little hits of dopamine accompanying each tick upward of a number would be so addictive?

As it turns out, lots of people wanted to keep a running total of their online fans, and a bewilderingly varied ecosystem of subscriber counters has cropped up. All of them rely on the API that YouTube exposes for such purposes, which as [Brian Lough] points out is about to change and break every subscription counter ever made. In the YouTube sub counter space, [Brian] is both an enabler – he built an Arduino wrapper to fetch YT sub counts easily – and a serial builder of displays for other YouTubers. The video below shows a collection of his work, many based on RGB LED matrix display, like the one used in his Tetris-themed sub counter. They’re all well-built, nice to look at, and sadly, destined for obsolescence sometime in August when the API changes.

The details of the API changes were made public in April, and for the subs count it amounts to rounding the count and displaying large counts as, for instance, 510k as opposed to 510,023. We’re confident that [Brian] and other display builders will be able to salvage some of their counters with code changes, but others will probably require hardware changes. Thanks, YouTube.

21 thoughts on “A Farewell To YouTube Sub Counters Set To Break With API Change

    1. Or maybe it’s to fix a problem that’s not obvious from your viewpoint? Accurate subscriber and like counts have had some unintended consequences, like enabling certain types of scams (fake subscriber bot networks and the like) and brigading of controversial channels.

      Providing a slower updating and approximate count is a middle ground between removing counts altogether and allowing these negative behaviours to continue unchecked.

      1. Yeah but what they are doing is changing an integer response to a non-numeric string response. They could just as easily have given an appropriately rounded integer to the same intervals they want and that wouldn’t break the counters completely – ie, instead of the current 1234 round it to 1200, but what they are doing which is returning “1.2k” which of course breaks everything which just expects to see an integer there – at least as is my understanding.

        1. Many social networks are killing the counters, Instagram is about to hide the Likes, it’s one last desperate move to try to make social networks less toxic.

      2. “Accurate subscriber and like counts have had some unintended consequences, like enabling certain types of scams…….Providing a slower updating and approximate count is a middle ground [to stop/deter the behavior]”

        Scammers are only interested in one thing — going after the channels/content with the largest following.

        Even if Google decided to remove the counts, the scammers will still find ways to determine what the most popular channels are — because that’s what they do, its a scammer/criminal’s job to try and figure out a way to abuse the system.

        So, working on the premise that is meant to deter scammers……is misguided, as it won’t perform as intended and won’t stop them — and is IMHO: a complete waste of time (to reduce or remove the counts).

    2. It’s free to use, why complain about it? Kind of like your mom getting $520 a month Food Stamps, and they round down to $500. You’d complain, because it $20 less, ignoring the it’s free, and still quite generous. Or Bernie Sanders ‘Free’ health care for all, would you complain the whole 8-10 hours, while waiting to get into the emergency room, it’s free health care.

      The thing with all of these ‘free’ things on the web, is that they make tons of money off the users, without charging a dime. It’s not buy simple selling ads, it’s by tracking what the users do and the content, just handed to them for free. They collect all kinds of interesting data, and sell it to market firms, research centers, well pretty much anybody. The stats they give to the users to play with, are deliberately chosen, to keep people coming back and contributing. For some, it’s just convenient to know that they aren’t just wasting time, people actually are seeing their content. But, for many, popularity is precious. The have to be liked better than anyone else. They need to know they are a trend setter, like those silly, and sometimes social media challenges. Most recently, the ‘Hot Water Challenge’, where people dump boiling water on somebody, and upload a video of all the fun, making prosecution easy enough. Unfortunately, those stats, popular with the users, get abused, people cheat, which can screw up some of the other data be mined, which customers don’t like. The censorship of the content, is mostly to keep it legal, but it also biases the data a little, sometimes attracting certain well paying customers.

      They need to keep their workers (the users) happy, and producing content, providing the data (product), that is being sold. It’s a for profit business, and they need to preserve a marketable product. There is a lot of competition, and people only have so much time each day, to work on their social media jobs.

      I don’t really care about likes, or followers, but then again, I don’t really get into social media either. I do watch a few YouTube videos, have uploaded somewhere around 50 myself, mostly 5 minute or less clips. I couldn’t even guess at the number of subscribers to my channel, or how many views. Don’t FaceBook, or Twitter at all, or any of the others popularity apps. I just don’t really care that much about what anonymous people on the internet think.

      1. Geez, take it easy with the personal jabs. Rather than saying “your” when referring to someone’s mother, just say “someone’s” so it isn’t directly personal. Saying his/her mother is on food stamps could come across as quite offensive. Secondly, YouTube isn’t “free.” You are paying through ad viewership and the sale of your personal data. If it were truly free, you wouldn’t have to watch ANY ads and your user account would contain very little information aside from a username, and that would just be to track comment chains (so you can respond to a reply) and ToS regulation. When they change anything about the API, you do have a say in it because you can simply refuse to use their service. If a decision they made negatively impacts their earnings it usually gets reversed, unless your company is Radio Shack. Does anyone think YouTube is going to reverse this decision? Doubtful as they are a large mass with lots of momentum and this change affects very few people. We will see what happens. They might just reverse it because they didn’t realize they were breaking the API in such a conflicting way if enough public outcry is heard.

        1. >>”When they change anything about the API, you do have a say in it because you can simply refuse to use their service. If a decision they made negatively impacts their earnings it usually gets reversed”

          Sure you can refuse to use their service. But if you’re a content creator you’re basically ending your career. You might say being a youtuber isn’t a good career path but that doesn’t change the fact that people’s livelihoods rely on youtube/google/alphabet not breaking the content creator business model.
          Youtube has been operating at a loss since it was purchased. There is little incentive to pay attention to the complaints of the users when the whole site is hemorrhaging money. Youtube isn’t the product, it’s an input into other alphabet projects.

          The changes being made are not because of user requests or even to make the site better. They’re being made to get Youtube better publicity so it can be seen by the other broadcast outlets as a legitimate media conglomerate instead of a bunch of people talking into a camera in their bedroom.

    3. or just entropy, things change over time, that’s just the way it is. Google also doesn’t tell you whats going on in the back end so maybe this is a result of back-end changes that make the reporting of individual counts impossible?

      Its almost as if running a video hosting service for the globe with geoblocking, content monetization and advertising injecting is a very complicated task that not only requires a distributed computer server network but complex code to make sure those servers play nicely together while being as efficient as possible.

    4. Neither, their goals are not their users goals.
      What people like about the site has exactly no impact on how Youtube run their brand or feed into other Alphabet projects.

  1. I was pretty surprised when I heard this, but I also know Instagram is doing something similar where they won’t be showing how many “Likes” a post has anymore. Perhaps we’re getting to the point where there are so many bots that exact counts are meaningless?

  2. YouTube is a dying old tree…still towering over the saplings trying to grow up in its shade but with the right storm or a stroke of lightning… LBRY and Bitchute and others will happily step up to bat and without the Orwellian censorship that is killing free expression on YouTube.

  3. Awww … my Numnber counter is going to be inaccurate and I will not see if I am loved.
    Well… IF you have a high subscriber number like in the example of 7.2M or 15M it does not even matter the slightest if you have + or minus 100. It’s neat to show, but so is just the shortened number.

    Additionally: You can also only see the shortened number of likes and dislikes on a video. I.e. “2k”. What about that? No one cares. Seriously. Yes it’s crap that Youtube changes the API to kill some functionality used by thousands of people. But on the other hand: It’s nice to see that a company takes actions against the famous “Subscribe hype” and “addiction” of getting likes and subscribers. ANd if you are so desperate to get your “feel good dose”, you can just log into your admin page and see it there.

  4. surely the subscriber data is available somewhere, an admin panel or some such, why not just cobble up a script to pull data from there rather than thro the API. hell you could even have an esp or raspi or something similar do it and act as a gateway, serving up the old API to the device that needs it.

  5. Ha ha, more “improvements” to YouTube. I really liked it 10 years ago but now it really sucks. Add to that all of their censorship and political bias and it really sucks.

  6. What exactly will be “breaking” though? It’s not like the displays will be suddenly useless, they only require an update of the programming to parse value the API exposes. Expand decimals and abbreviations to their numeric values for seven-segment displays. If you can program animations, you surely are able to expand “4.2k” to “4200” and “51M” to “51000000”. Alphanumeric/pixel displays can just display the value as-is anyway.

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