YouTube Adds Social Networking Features in Bid to Compete With Facebook, Twitter

John Green - Screenshot - H - 2016

YouTube is testing a new feature with a small group of creators that lets them post messages, GIFs, videos and more to a public feed.

YouTube creators have for years posted videos on the Google-owned streaming service, but if they wanted to engage with their community of fans they turned to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat

Now, YouTube wants to help creators cultivate their followings through the release of a new feature, the Community tab, where channel owners can post messages, photos, live videos and GIFs

"Community is a special release for us because it represents the deepest product collaboration we've ever done with creators like you," writes senior product manager Kiley McEvoy in a blog post. "We started by inviting creators in early to develop, in partnership with us, the tools they wanted to better engage with their fans." 

Among the creators who participated in the development process were the VlogBrothers, John and Hank Green. In a video posted to their channel on Tuesday morning, John Green, known for writing teen hits like The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, explained, "YouTube has always thought of itself as being about video, but for many of us it's mostly been about community. I'd argue the best YouTube channels aren't just shows you lean back and watch, they're communities you're part of. And for a long time that was seen as YouTube's great weakness." 

He adds that the addition of the Community tab means that creators "can finally make our YouTube channels the community hubs we've always wanted them to be." 

The Community tab launches in beta on Tuesday with participation from the VlogBrothers, AsapScience, Lilly Singh, Sam Tsui and others. Posts to the Community tab will show up in a user's subscriptions feed, and users can also opt to receive notifications whenever a creator posts. 

The addition of more social features comes as YouTube has faced increased competition from Facebook and Twitter, which have both pushed aggressively into video with features designed to court online stars, their frequent programming output and their large audiences. What those platforms have offered is an added layer of social that hasn't previously existed on YouTube.