The one feature YouTube should remove in 2021

YouTube app
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey/Tom's Guide)

In 2020 I found myself spending more time on YouTube than ever before (partially because I was home a lot, as everyone was). And as I paid attention to this pattern, I realized that YouTube is becoming a prime destination for entertainment, thanks to creators including Binging with Babish, Cultaholic, Rene Ritchie, Sam The Cooking Guy, UpUpDownDown and videogamedunkey. 

But every time I use the YouTube app on my iPhone, I'm reminded how the video platform has made one decision that needs to end. Yes, just like Twitter did with Fleets, YouTube added its own short-form vertical videos, knocking off Snapchat Stories.

Instagram, and only Instagram, succeeded in knocking off Snapchat's main feature, by a mix of quality user experience and vertical video just fitting well alongside the feed of posts. Of course, TikTok does it well, too, by remixing Stories to become a whole new thing. But YouTube didn't show any effort with its knockoff attempt. And that's the problem.

If your Stories feature looks low-quality and half baked (like Fleets and YouTube Stories do), everyone will see you're trying to fit a square peg into a desk that has no holes. Stories just pop up in one of your apps and you're left there wondering "who asked for this?" Supposedly it was investors in Twitter's case, but CEO Jack Dorsey denied that. 

YouTube doesn't need more video

But YouTube needs to excise this foolish decision because it's just yet another section of the app that's getting in the way of people watching the quality content that they come to YouTube for. And while Twitter getting stories arguably makes some sense, they have no place on YouTube, as it's already a video focused platform. It doesn't need more videos.

Anybody can put Stories in their app. But few really need it.

And I'd argue that YouTube's implementation is the most annoying, because in my app YouTube's Stories section, which is dubbed "Short videos" (like they didn't just steal it like everyone else did) is filled with junk from people I've never followed or heard of. And it's often stuff I have zero interest in (sorry, YouTube, your algorithm continues to be bad).

YouTube Stories are low-quality

The junk they threw my way the last time I checked began with "Biggest GameStop screwup ever," the kind of faux-salacious content that the Snapchat Discover section was filled with. And I don't think the feature is that popular with content creators either, as none of the nearly-100 channels I subscribe to are creating content for it. 

Scrolling through that row — a row that could have provided me with the next video from someone I know and like, and kept me in the app — I get even worse tabloid trash. The worst, both in grammar and subject matter? "US ARMY SOLDIER Gets Wife is cheating and this happens. #shorts." 

Maybe this kind of spam content is what you love, but YouTube should have let me get away from this trashy nonsense by now. Back when they offered a "less like this" option, I would always vote to remove the section. Now? It's become baked into the YouTube app, prompting me to write this article. 

This section's existence will continue to push me away from the YouTube app, and keep me on the TV version, where I'm not plagued by this waste of space. I don't know if YouTube realizes how alienating this feature is, but I would love for it to disappear in 2021 — or at least to get an option to turn it off in the app myself.

History will likely repeat itself

And let this be a lesson to all the other apps out there: anybody can put Stories in their app. But few really need it — especially services that already have videos. Twitch, I'm looking at you. Your creators might want a place to promote their next stream with a short video that disappears after that stream is live, but important Twitch streamers will need to buy into it for fans to get content related to the stuff they go to Twitch for.

But launching vertical video with little actual reason? That's a Quibi move, and we all know how that turned out. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.