I have spent my fair share of time on YouTube, and if you have done the same, chances are that you’ve seen countless recent videos that have had their view counts frozen at exactly 301. But why?
Ever since the number began appearing last July, YouTubers have suspected everything from a glitch to a conspiracy. The Daily Dot, a news site similar to The Circular, reached out to YouTube for an explanation. Many of you have probably never noticed this, and there’s a great chance that you couldn’t care less. But for overcurious control-freaks that ‘gots to know’, like myself, this explanation lifts some weight off my shoulders.
The answer is …
According to Ted Hamilton, a product manager for YouTube analytics, the reason behind it all is not that dramatic. Speaking with Numberphile host Brady Haran, Hamilton offered the explanation in a video dedicated to the mystery.
“We get asked about it all the time,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it causes angst, but I would certainly classify it as an annoyance.”
Have a look at the video that explains the mystery.
Freezing the view count
After a video reaches a certain number of views, Hamilton explained, YouTube tells the database to freeze the view count until YouTube can manually verify the correct count to protect against botting attempts
… by using automated computer processes to artificially inflate the number of views. YouTube view counts are initially tracked by servers near the end user. By looking at reports from these individual servers, YouTube engineers can detect suspicious patterns in the data.
“At some point the decision was made that we need to draw a line between what is innocuous and the database can handle and all of a sudden serious business,” he said. “The proportion was calculated to be at about 300.”
So why 301? Blame it on one YouTube programmer’s errant less-than-or-equal-to sign. The code tells the database to keep counting views up to and including the time when the count is equal to 300, allowing one final view to get counted before it freezes.
“Whoever wrote this code probably did not realize the magnitude of what they were doing,” said Hamilton to The Daily Dot. “It is now one of the idiosyncrasies of YouTube.”
Have you been wondering about this yourself, or aren’t you bothered one bit? Let us know in the comments.