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.
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.