From Hidden Gem To Forgotten Treasure: The YouTube Favorites Cycle

This week I would like to spend a little bit of time reflecting on the way I use the ‘favorites’ system found in various places on the internet, particularly that of YouTube. YouTube, like many other social media websites, allows users to tag a piece of content as a ‘favorite’, thereby adding it to a special list that is unique to that user, often private, and can be accessed by that user at any point. I don’t expect this to be news to anyone, but giving a quick explanation for the sake of posterity is usually a good idea.


If you’re like me, you are probably enjoying (or not enjoying) hundreds if not thousands of videos, tweets, pictures, and social media posts of any kind in any given year. And occasionally, perhaps on a bad day, a sad day, or a mad day, you may want to revisit some content you saw months ago and remember really enjoying, in an effort to lift up your spirits once again. Perhaps you read, heard, or saw something that triggered the memory of that piece of entertainment in your mind. Maybe you even heard or saw someone reference it directly. Either way, you want to read, hear, or see it all over again, and in this situation the ability to create a ‘favorites’ list is a blessing. One or two clicks, a little bit of scrolling, and there it is again.

On YouTube in particular, there are often videos to be found that I would describe as hidden gems. Videos that are no longer promoted by the site, or were never promoted in the first place. Videos that have very limited amounts of views despite being very entertaining are great examples of the latter, and videos that are simply old of the former.

Every now and then, something along the lines of the previously mentioned examples causes me to scroll through my favorites list, watching and rediscovering videos that I loved but eventually forgot about. It’s like nostalgia popcorn: suddenly something clicks in your mind, which leads you to another thing, and yet another, and suddenly it’s hours later and you’re behind on schedule for whatever task you were supposed to do that afternoon. But there’s an issue.

No matter what social media site, no matter what type of content, as far as I’m aware every piece of content that you can ‘favorite’ on the internet; everything can be deleted or removed by its original poster, its OP, leading you to think something along the lines of ‘I could’ve sworn I saw this thing only a little while ago, where’s it gone?’. On something like Twitter this is not as noticeable as on YouTube though; on the former only references to that particular tweet will remain, whereas the actual deleted tweet is nowhere to be found. On the latter though, there is a big ellipsis on a sad gray box on top of a sadder grayer background greeting you when looking through this favorites list. Now imagine you’ve been tagging the occasional video as a favorite for about a decade, like I have, and you scroll through your favorites only to find that the further down you go, the more sad gray boxes greet you. The top of the list are the recent additions, but those are still fairly fresh in your memory. What you want are the ones you’ve forgotten about, but it seems like that is getting harder and harder to do, as YouTube deletes or otherwise removes videos from public consumption on its own as well, thus turning the lower end of that list into a gray wasteland. I’m sure that this has always been a thing, but it really does feel like YouTube has gotten far more strict and uncaring towards older and less popular videos than in prior years, and it’s leading to questions about the preservation of digital pieces of culture and how they should best be preserved.

A Sad Gray Box

I suppose the easiest solution to this problem would be for individual users to download said videos and store them independently of YouTube, but there are various issues with that as well. For example, do you even have the right to do that, especially when dealing with copyrighted content? Doesn’t this constitute as piracy? Additionally, it would take far more time and effort, as well as the use of third party programs, when compared to the favorites tagging system. It’s an interesting little issue that I, and I’m sure many others, are having.

Now if you don’t mind, i’m going to rewatch some old favorites before those disappear too.