YouTube Revamps Auto-Generated Captions, Creator Subtitle Tools As It Nixes Community Contributions

By 09/28/2020
YouTube Revamps Auto-Generated Captions, Creator Subtitle Tools As It Nixes Community Contributions

Despite months of protest from creators and viewers, YouTube has shuttered its Community Contributions feature.

“When we announced the deprecation of the Community feature in July 2020, we mentioned future plans for better captioning tools, but didn’t share specifics or details at that time,” Team YouTube said this afternoon. The lack of information “understandably caused additional questions and feedback,” it added.

To assuage concerns, YouTube laid out changes it has already made to its auto-captioning feature, as well as upcoming changes to the manual captions systems creators use.

First, though, a quick recap for anyone who’s not familiar: Until today, both creators and general YouTube users could add subtitles to videos. Community Contributions allowed any user to write subtitles and submit them to a video’s creator for approval. As such, the tool was commonly used to translate video contents into other languages, and to add accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing viewers.

In July, YouTube said it had chosen to shutter Community Contributions because of low usage (fewer than 0.001% of channels had published contributed captions in the month prior) and issues with spam and abuse. The platform also clarified it wouldn’t delete already-contributed captions, and partnered with several subtitling services to give free use periods or discounts to creators who want to add their own subtitles in the future.

But users were concerned that there was no replacement system. Without Community Contributions, YouTubers would have to write their own subtitles or pay for subtitling services–and if they did neither, viewers’ only option would be to wrestle with YouTube’s notoriously unreliable automatic captions generator.

That generator, YouTube says, has now been revamped. It just launched a new English-language captions model that uses a different kind of neural network and a new type of speech recognition; these changes “drastically decreased word error rates” and are “significantly improving overall accuracy,” it explained.

As for upcoming changes to creator systems, YouTube is overall trying easier for creators to add subtitles, it says. Right now, YouTube is rolling out an updated version of Captions Editor, which creators can access in YouTube Studio. The redux offers a “smart timing” feature that will “automatically try to sync captions to creator videos while creators are writing or editing the captions, enabling faster captions,” per Team YouTube.

The second creator tweak won’t arrive till next year. Sometime in 2021, YouTube will add a Trusted Captioner role to channels, allowing creators to give other users backend access explicitly for work on subtitles. YouTube didn’t say what permissions the role will have, but similar roles like Editor (Limited) allow collaborators to do things like edit and upload videos while preventing them from deleting videos and seeing channel revenue.

“We’ve heard a lot of creators say they need to share the work of captioning with others, and we’ve also heard how meaningful it is for people to create captions for their favorite creators–we hope this feature achieves some of that,” Team YouTube said.

Additionally, it said, it has extended its partnership with subtitling service Amara. Eligible creators will now receive twelve months of free subtitles, up from six.

You can read more about the changes here.