Joe Pera, YouTube, Chrome Extensions
Ending my addiction to YouTube v1.0, by Kenny Peluso
The stars aligned in November, 2018.
One day, my friends and I discovered Joe Pera on Adult Swim. On a different day, I realized that I was in another freakin’ “YouTube hole” (a.k.a. “binging YouTube” or “selling your soul to Google’s algorithms”). On yet another day, I was learning about Chrome Extensions. It was on this third day that I learned of my near-approaching destiny: to make the joepera Chrome Extension.
The goal was to make an extension that tricks Google and YouTube into believing that you care about things that Joe Pera actually cares about (e.g. the geology of Northern Michigan, breakfast, and other stereotypically elderly, white, suburban people things). joepera accomplishes this in 2 ways. (1.) When a user searches anything on Google, joepera opens then immediately closes 50 tabs where Google is used to search for Joe Pera-themed topics (everything from “tulips near me” to “how to fold your clothes”). (2.) When a user watches any video on the YouTube website, joepera opens then immediately closes 50 tabs, each featuring a YouTube search query for more Joe Pera-themed topics. (3.) joepera appends all programmatically opened tabs to a user’s history in Chrome. By flooding Google and YouTube with search queries related to things users don’t care about, perhaps users may mask their true preferences.
This trick is apparently too simple to overcome Google’s wit and sadism. (Scroll to the very bottom of this article for an actual solution.)
joepera (kinda) works and doesn’t work; It (kinda) accomplishes the desired task of loosening my addiction to the Internet — I do feel as if I’m spending less time on Chrome while using joepera — but my YouTube recommendations are not changing. We already know that Chrome identifies whether tabs are opened programmatically or manually, and now we know (or so it seems) that this identification tag is factored into YouTube’s recommendation system. joepera does (kinda) work due to 2 expected consequences and 1 unexpected consequence of its use.
An alert user will likely note 3 changes in their web surfing experiences while using joepera: (1.) Google searches take slightly longer to load. (2.) YouTube videos on YouTube take slightly longer to initially load. (3.) Google search may begin to return 400 errors instead of search results [Footnote 1]. All 3 changes have the effect of annoying or even frustrating any user without the patience of a saint. This frustration breeds awareness, an acknowledgement of the “hole” though which you’re about to fall. Additionally, ads seem to be more about cars, so perhaps joepera made me appear suburban to other Internet algorithms, but this claim is clearly unsubstantiated.
Future iterations upon joepera will involve choosing a larger list of search queries that are empirically more representative of American suburban life. joepera currently samples queries from a small list of words that I thought represented suburbia. A list of better precision and size may elicit more uninteresting recommendations and lend more evidence to YouTube’s incorporation of the aforementioned “programmatically-opened tab id.” To this end, I’ll start by finding hundreds of suburban-esque words with word embeddings of high cosine similarity. I’ll also begin to brainstorm other, more complex means of tricking Google/YouTube, likely in conjunction with Ian Lapham. In particular, we know that YouTube’s algorithm heavily values users’ clicks of recommended videos [Footnote 2], so we may exploit that.
Footnote 1: To remedy this, either use another search engine or search in an incognito tab. If you elect to use an incognito tab, Google will ask if you’re a human. After you confirm your humanness, you will be able to use Google search again in any Chrome window. After using joepera for a while — after letting joepera open and close hundreds of tabs in a matter of seconds in total — Google begins to suspect that something is spamming its servers. Google will consequently revoke your IP address’s access to its servers to prevent a potential cyberattack.
Footnote 2: A comical and semi-manual solution that will actually achieve what joepera sought to achieve, I promise, works like this: (1.) Plug a charger into your computer. (2.) Open up Chrome. (3.) Head to YouTube and find a video about a topic you hate. (4.) Allow that video to begin, turn on “Autoplay” (right above your recommended videos), and then walk away. Go to work. Don’t look at your laptop for a few hours. Repeat as needed.
Footnote 3: Here is a link to another solution that partially works. You’ll still be recommended videos when your video ends, but maybe that won’t phase you.
Update: 12/18/18 — Getting rid of ALL YouTube recommendations. Install the AdBlock extension into Chrome > enter AdBlock’s settings > Advanced > scroll down to “Create and Edit Your Filter List” > click Edit Filters > then copy and paste this text into the box titled “My filter list.” Now, all YouTube recommendations will disappear! No joepera necessary.