For years there’s been whispers of a youtube unsub bug that automatically unsubscribes viewers from creators channels without their knowledge, but yesterday a new unsub bug reared it’s ugly head. Each time a viewer unsubbed from a channel, two subs would be subtracted from the count.
While users took this news with glee heading off to try and get popular creators channels into the negative numbers, creators panicked about the sudden diminishing numbers with PewDiePie livestreaming and tweeting about the problem.
Youtube has confirmed that it was just a display error and no subs were actually lost, but some people are concerned that this might not be the case. So here’s what went down and why there’s no need to fret.
On Wednesday February 8th youtuber BlackScreenTV was running a live stream showing subscriber counts for some channels that are currently cloaked in controversy; Tana Mongeau and iDubbbz. During that stream they realised that each time someone unsubscribes from a channel, two was being subtracted from the user count.
After the discovery youtube were quick to respond confirming the issue on twitter and giving us a time frame for when the problem began: Monday February 6th.
Youtube were pretty quick fixing the problem within the space of a day and subscriber counts were returned to normal. Hurrah!
Just a Display Issue
Despite youtube confirming that the actual sub count was not affected, it was only the number being displayed that was incorrect a lot of people were questioning whether that was the case. So, here’s why that’s a very likely scenario.
Imagine that all your subscribers are skittles, and when they subscribe those skittles are put in a jar. If every time someone went to your channel youtube had to open that jar and count the number of skittles inside then it would take longer to display that number. So a simpler way is to just write the number on the jar, if someone subscribes that new skittle is put in the jar and one is added to the label, if someone unsubscribes that skittle is taken out of the jar and one is subtracted from the label.
With this new glitch, when a skittle is put in the jar the label count is updated to be count+1, but when a skittle is taken out of the jar that label count is updated incorrectly to be count-2. Whatever that label says, it doesn’t change the amount of skittles in the jar. They weren’t removing one specific skittle from the jar and then removing a second random skittle from the jar.
From a programming sense it’s much easier to accidentally make a mathematical error than to accidentally unsubscribe a random person. Basically, youtube saying it was just an error with the value being displayed is very likely the case.
Time To Fix
The amount of time it took for youtube to roll out a fix for a seemingly simple issue was a little too long in some peoples opinions for them not to raise suspicions over whether or not youtube were telling the truth. With such a huge team of developers surely it shouldn’t take that long to fix a problem that was relatively new.
Having worked with large companies I can confirm that when there is a huge public issue with a glitch it takes ten times longer to fix. The main reason is because you don’t want to publicly screw up a second time. Public opinion is already shifting so you need to fix it and fix it right first time, there’s no room for error. You don’t want the forums goings crazy a second time round because your fix created a new problem, or didn’t solve the original problem right.
That means more time spent investigating to be sure you’ve found the real and only source of the problem, fixing it, and having it go through a tonne of testing before it’s released to the public.
If the public had never spotted the bug, chances are when youtube spotted it they would have rolled out a fix pretty quickly to ensure that none of us were any the wiser, but they didn’t have that luxury this time around. Especially considering how long rumours of unsub glitches have been going round.
Another source of confusion was the figures over on SocialBlade, a website which shows information like running sub counts and live sub counts. People were concerned that if the youtube glitch was only affecting the display number, why were sites like SocialBlade also being affected by it?
It comes down to the same thing. SocialBlade uses the youtube API to pull their data from and then they calculate based on the previous days data. Essentially instead of counting the skittles in the jar every time SocialBlade requests a youtubers subscriber count, youtube gives SocialBlade the number on the jar. That’s why other sites were reporting this same incorrect figure.
If the display value explanation doesn’t ring true to you, should you be worried? I’d say no. Even if youtube have royally messed up and it wasn’t a display bug and they did a quick cover up to try and make those subscriber counts look real, ultimately there is nothing that can be done about it. There’s no evidence that what they are saying about it just being a display issue isn’t true, so really it’s just something that everyone will just have to live with.
If your subscriber count was impacted by the issue and you don’t think it’s been returned to normal then it’s worth getting in touch with youtube to make them aware of the problem and hopefully they’ll take a look and sort it all out.