blogs by Gio

YouTube broke links and other life lessons

  • Posted in cyber cyber

This morning YouTube sent out an announcement that, in one month, they’re going to break all the links to all unlisted videos posted prior to 2017. This is a bad thing. There’s a whole lot bad here, actually.

Edit: Looks like Google is applying similar changes to Google Drive, too, meaning this doesn’t just apply to videos, but to any publicly shared file link using Google Drive. As of next month, every public Google Drive link will stop working unless the files are individually exempted from the new security updates, meaning any unmaintained public files will become permanently inaccessible. Everything in this article still applies, the situation is just much worse than I thought.

The Basics🔗

YouTube has three kinds of videos: Public, Unlisted, and Private. Public videos are the standard videos that show up in searches. Private videos are protected, and can only be seen by specific YouTube accounts you explicitly invite. Unlisted videos are simply unlisted: anyone with the link can view, but the video doesn’t turn up automatically in search results.

Unlisted videos are obviously great, for a lot of reasons. You can just upload videos to YouTube and share them with relevant communities – embed them on your pages, maybe – without worrying about all the baggage of YouTube as a Platform.

What Google is trying to do here is roll out improvements they made to the unlisted URL generation system to make it harder for bots and scrapers to index videos people meant to be semi-private. This is a good thing. The way they’re doing it breaks every link to the vast majority of unlisted videos, including shared links and webpage embeds. This is a tremendously bad thing. I am not the first to notice this.


Someone shared this story in a chat room I’m in and said “see, this is why YouTube needs a competitor, so they won’t just be able to do stuff like this.” I don’t think that’s quite right, actually.

YouTube doesn’t need a competitor so much as people need to unlearn the lies corporations have fed them about technology.

See, YouTube isn’t an all-purpose video hosting site. YouTube is a site for sharing videos socially and generating engagement to maximize ad revenue. It’s not a place for serious archival. So if you lose an important video because it was only uploaded to youtube, yes, youtube shouldn’t have made that change, but ultimately, the uploader also directly contributed to the problem.

If YouTube had more competition, they would be competing over who could drive the most engagement, not who could be the most responsible archivists. That is not their business. (I would argue it was Dropbox’s business, but what can you do but never do business with them again. Edit: oh, hey, it was also Google Drive’s explicit job to make public links work too!)

Please don’t host your stuff on Discord🔗

The mistake of hosting important content exclusively on Youtube reminds me of another one of my pet peeves: hosting important content exclusively on Discord.

Discord is a web-based chat client. If you send someone an attachment on Discord, you can copy a link to that attachment. If you posted the attachment somewhere public, currently, that link will work for anyone. Some people see this and decide to abuse this mechanic to host important files on Discord. This is terrible.

Discord isn’t a durable hosting site. It isn’t meant to be a durable hosting site. It isn’t advertised as a durable hosting site. It happens to temporarily work as a filehost due to a quirk in the authentication api. Any file you put on discord can be a dead link in a matter of weeks.

Also — and I can’t believe this is actually a thing I have to bring up — discord doesn’t let you take backups.

If your disaster recovery plan includes “boy, I hope Jim selected the latest version of the documentation and copy-pasted it into a text document he saved somewhere, before a compromised discord bot wiped all our data” you don’t have a recovery plan.

You need a service where a clear part of the user/service arrangement is the ability to upload files you can reference directly with static links. You also need something without a greased-wheels moderation system. That means NOT Twitter, Discord, Dropbox (anymore), etc.

The only safe place to host images is a dedicated file host like pCloud. Discord makes no commitment to keep your images up and hotlinkable. This is something that costs money, which is why a lot of people don’t want to do it properly.

If you’re technically competent you can cut out some of the middleware and set up your own hosting box. Grab a cheap box off digitalocean or aws and spin up a general purpose webserver for file hosting. I have other recommendations on my recommendations page.

Final thoughts🔗

If you create digital content, and don’t want to lose it overnight:

  • Save local copies of things you care about. Hard copies. Not just on the cloud, not just on Discord, hard copies. On physical media you have physical access to. Buy a hard drive.
  • Use sharing sites like YouTube/Twitter/Imgur to distribute and promote your work, but have a fallback site somewhere more reliable. Fallbacks are going to be less flashy and do less promotional work for you, but they’ll keep your work from going up in smoke.

If you consume digital content, and are worried about losing access to unlisted videos:

  • Save local copies of things you care about. Hard copies. Not just on the cloud, not just on Discord, hard copies. On physical media you have physical access to. Buy a hard drive.
  • There is a one-page form your favourite creators can fill out to have all your unlisted videos exempted from the new changes. If you lose access to an unlisted video, it’s because the creator was irresponsible. Several times.
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