Sunday, 13 October 2013

Linking YouTube and Google+

First off, I know that one of the least popular innovations at YouTube right now is the way that YouTube keeps asking people to link YouTube and Google+. This post isn’t part of a discussion about whether this is a good idea or a bad idea: rather, the time is coming where everyone will have to link their YouTube accounts with a Google+ account in order to use some of YouTube’s basic features, particularly commenting and other community functions. That being so, this post is aimed at walking you through the process as painlessly as possible.

It’s a very long post, but that’s because at various points I stop to explain exactly what’s going on (at least as I understand it). Don’t be put off by this: take your time to read and digest. It helps to understand what’s going on to avoid getting hoplelessly lost.

Myth busted: the real name law

One myth needs to be dispelled before we get going: the idea that YouTube is forcing you to use your real name. This is not true at all; however, it can look very much as if that is what YouTube is trying to do. The thing to do, when you’re suddenly presented with mysterious pop-ups, is to slow down, breathe normally, and take your time to read what the pop-up says. It’s when people panic and start hitting buttons to try to get out of the black hole they feel they’re being sucked into that they run into trouble, and end up with dozens of unwanted and unexpected YouTube channels and Google+ pages, or thinking that YouTube has wiped all of their videos.

Pages and profiles

One important distinction to make is that between a Google+ profile and a Google+ page. Getting this straight is crucial to understanding the process.

A Google+ profile is your real-name representation. You don’t need to have one (or you can have one, but set everything to private and never use it), but it is your individual identity on the social network platform that is Google+. Since its launch, the real name policy has been relaxed considerably, and it is acceptable to use a given name and an initial, or an initial and a family name (for example).

A Google+ page is an anonymous identity, so to speak, and can represent an organisation, a business, a scout troop, a school’s lacrosse team, a comedy act, or indeed your alter ego, which can be anything you like.

A YouTube channel can be linked to a Google+ profile, or to a Google+ page. If you link it to your Google+ profile, it will be a personal YouTube channel that uses whatever name you’re using on your profile. If you want to remain anonymous on YouTube, you need to link your channel to a page, not a profile.

Pages can be managed by one or more profiles — this is an interesting concept, because it means that a YouTube channel can also now be managed by more than one person. But there doesn’t have to be any public link between your Google+ page and your Google+ profile: nobody needs to know who is behind a page.

The situation at the start

My situation is typical of many, so let me describe first where I began. I had my YouTube channel, known as “rewboss”. This has been my online identity for more years than I care to remember, and I want to keep it because I actually get a lot of hits on my videos from people searching specifically for “rewboss”. Other people may have other reasons, privacy concerns being the most important. I had a Google+ profile in my real name, which is Andrew Bossom, but I didn’t have a Google page. I wanted to connect my YouTube channel with Google+ without losing my YouTube username.

The scary pop-up

From time to time, you may be bugged by a pop-up telling you that “YouTube is updating your channel”. You can also get that pop-up by going to your YouTube channel settings and clicking on "Connect with Google+”. Depending on your exact set-up at the start, you may be presented with a slightly different range of options, one of which may well be a “use your real name” option, the one that causes so much panic.

Don’t panic.

I was presented with two options: continue to use my YouTube username, or use a “better name”.

This option actually doesn’t mean “Keep things as they are.”

Now, what is not obvious — mainly because the people who designed this particular workflow went on the principle that too much information is just going to confuse and scare people even more — is that whichever option you choose, the system is going to be connecting accounts. If you’re not ready for that, you need to click on the X at the top right of this dialogue box (at which point YouTube will warn you that you will be asked again). What YouTube means to say at this point is: “Keep your YouTube username once your accounts have been successfully linked.”

I wanted to continue using my YouTube username after linking my accounts, so I clicked that option, and was given a box to check to confirm that I agreed to the “Pages Terms” (and by the way, it’s always worth reading those terms, because if you confirm that you agree to them you cannot use the excuse that you “didn’t know” if you accidentally violate those terms and have your Google+ page, and with it your entire YouTube channel, suspended).

I also got a link that promised to tell me how to link my channel to an existing Google+ page, if I had one. At that point I didn’t: I only had a profile under my real name, not a page under a made-up name. If you already have one of those, click on that link, and then I’m afraid you’re on your own from here on in. If, like me, you don’t, Google+ will, in the next step, automatically create a page named for your YouTube username.

Once you’ve made your selection and are sure about it, click “Done”. You’ll get a spinning wheel and the truly scary message “Working”.

What’s really happening behind the scenes

This seems like a fairly simple idea: you get a page, and your YouTube account is linked to it, keeping it at arm’s length from your privacy-invading real-name Google+ profile. And you can actually pretend that’s exactly what’s happening, but behind the scenes it’s not that easy. And because it’s not that easy, weird things can happen that get some people tangled in a confusing web of unexpected social media accounts.

It turns out that Google is trying to get YouTube to do something it was never designed to do. The whole idea behind the exercise is to give everyone a consistent single identity across all Google products so they only have to sign in once and all the various bits of their Google account (Google+, YouTube, Blogger, Google Groups, Gmail, etc.) can communicate with each other. Essentially, if my video is shared to somebody’s Google+ profile and one of their friends comments on it, it would be quite handy for me to have that comment show up below my video as it appears on YouTube.

But all this has to be done without “identity leakage”: if the person who comments on my video doesn’t want their identity to be made public on YouTube, then their identity shouldn’t be made public on YouTube. A simple enough principle, but tough to implement. YouTube was initially developed as a stand-alone product (and was in fact originally conceived as a video dating site, believe it or not): it was never built for this.

So, this is what is actually happening:
  1. Your YouTube account is linked to your Google+ profile.
  2. As a result, your YouTube account now bears your real name.
  3. A new Google+ page is created, bearing your YouTube username and managed by your Google+ profile.
  4. A new YouTube channel is created, virtually identical to your original channel: the same username and the same URL.
  5. Nearly all the data from your original (now renamed) channel is moved over to your new YouTube channel: subscriptions, videos, viewing history, the whole lot. The only thing that doesn’t get moved over is your avatar: your new channel will use your Google page’s avatar, but since your Google+ page is brand new, it doesn’t yet have an avatar.
  6. You now have a Google+ profile, with your real name, and linked to it a YouTube channel — your “personal” YouTube channel — with the same real name, but empty. This profile also manages a Google+ page, which bears your YouTube username, and linked to it a YouTube channel with all your videos and everything.
Confused? I’m not surprised: after two sessions of sitting down with YouTube and Google staff, and some of my fellow TCs, going through the whole process and having it explained, I’m still hazy on some things. But this is what I now have:


 Watch the channel switcher!

You know that annoying blue bar across the top of the YouTube homepage? The one telling you that you are using YouTube as... and then your YouTube username? The one you can’t get rid of?

Actually, you are supposed to be able to get rid of it, but a bug is preventing it from staying rid so it pops up again. But it’s there for a reason: at this point, many people found themselves signed into the wrong YouTube account. Instead of being signed in to their anonymous account, the one with all their videos and subscriptions, they were signed into their personal account which had their real name but nothing else. It looked as if all their years of hard work had vanished.

Before you assume the worst, though, take a look at the top right of the YouTube page, where you will see an avatar. If you’re signed into your anonymous account, you’ll likely now see a default avatar. (Even if you have uploaded an avatar to your new Google+ page, it will take a while for it to show up everywhere). If, on the other hand, you see your old avatar, you’re probably signed into your (blank) real name account.

Click on the avatar, and you’ll notice that that menu has changed. It now has YouTube options on the left and Google+ options in the middle; and on the right, an option to “Switch channels”.

Click that, and you get your channel switcher, which is now your friend. It lists all the YouTube channels you’re currently signed into, with a check mark to indicate which one you’re using now. You should see your old familiar username as an option: select that, and all your videos and everything else should magically re-appear before your very eyes.

There is now also a similar switcher over on Google+. Use that to switch between your profile and your page.

You don’t have to use your new accounts...

You can, if you wish, switch your new Google+ page to invisible and never actually use it. You can also totally ignore your personal YouTube account — the blank one with your real name.

However, there may be some unintended side effects of that. For example, if you go to your Google+ profile and start a Hangout, and decide to post it to YouTube, it will post to the YouTube account connected with your profile — and that’s the personal YouTube account with your real name. If you want your Hangout to post to your other YouTube channel, you need to launch it from your Google+ page. After all, your Google+ page uses your YouTube username, so that’s the YouTube channel it’s actually connected to.

...but you can if you want to

At the end of all this you have a bonus YouTube channel in your real name. This is in a “dormant” state: it’s the same kind of YouTube channel you automatically get when you create a new Google account. You can use it to watch videos, subscribe to channels and so on.

If you try to use a more active function — comment on a video, or upload a video, for example — you’ll be prompted to create “a new channel”. In practice, you’re switching your channel from its initial “dormant” state. If you want to use this bonus YouTube channel, you need to set it up; description, channel art, phone verification if you so wish.

By the way, this is the reason some people feel as if their channel has been wiped. They go through the process and, for whatever reason, find themselves signed into a complately blank YouTube channel, and whenever they try to do something, they’re asked to create their new channel. Remember: your old stuff is still there, and you just need to use the channel switcher to get to it.

It gets worse, though, because at some point during this process, you have the option of creating a new Google+ page for this new channel... and if you choose that option, you once again increase the number of YouTube channels and Google+ pages you have. This can lead to a never-ending spiral of ever more channels and pages.

Remember: you do not have to link to a new Google+ page. This real-name account is already linked to Google+.

I have discovered one unexpected benefit: although everything is moved to your new anonymous page, not everything is completely wiped from your personal page. Once I verified my account with a mobile phone, the option for external annotations that I have on my main account was still there.

About channel comments

Once you’ve linked accounts, you’ll find that people will only be able to leave a comment in the “Discussion” tab on your channel profile if they have also linked their channels to Google+. This is the way of the future, and will eventually come to video comments as well. At the moment (October 2013), it’s only on channel comments, and currently you can opt out so that those who haven’t yet linked can still comment.

Go to your channel profile page, put your mouse pointer below your channel art, and a small icon will appear to the right. Click on that and choose “Edit channel navigation”. Then look under the heading “Discussion”, put a check mark in the box labelled “Opt out of new comments during beta period” and click “Save”.

Note the wording: “during beta period”. This is your warning that while you can still opt out of this for now, soon you won’t be able to any more.

Where’s my inbox?

Not everything goes smoothly even at the best of times, and YouTube has managed to accidentally hide your inbox. Once you’ve linked to Google+, all of a sudden there is no direct link from your YouTube homepage feed to your inbox.

You’re supposed to get a notification if you have unread messages, but that’s not working. To get to your inbox now, you have to sneak in the back way: go to your Video Manager, and there’s a link there in the left-hand menu.

Final words

This is a very long and detailed post, which may make the whole thing sound complicated. I actually found the process surprisingly quick and easy, but then I’d had the benefit of having it explained to me. The biggest problem is that YouTube, trying not to overload you with technical information, gives you a seemingly simple process to follow, but it has unexpected side-effects. It’s these side-effects that cause panic, and panic that gets people into horrible situations that they don’t know how to get out of.

Basically, remember that the option to keep your YouTube username is still going to link you to Google+. And the way it does that is to create for you new accounts. Keep an eye on the channel switcher, and be aware at all times what you’re actually signed into, both on YouTube and on Google+.

Good luck.

Update (15th October): One of my fellow TCs has a blog completely dedicated to YouTube and Google+ integration.


  1. Thank you a thousand times, this process totally freaked me out.

  2. Hi, I think i got it linked up, but I still cant reply to most comments on my videos... I got youtube channel, with a google+ page. I also got google+ profile and another youtube channel (just created) with the same name as my old and also another google+ page with it. I just lost my mind with it. Tried commenting with every account, but nothing works.... Any help :D

    1. You can reply to some comments, then?

      Yes, I'm afraid this is expected. The new commenting system isn't compatible with the old. This means that it's now no longer possible to reply to comments made under the old system.

    2. Yes I can reply to some comments. I guess it will be allright then, right ? :)
      But still its kind of random whether I can or cannot reply :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I for one am still completely lost, AND... the only comment I've been able to post on all of YouTube is right here, for all the good that does. YT has turned into a complete disaster and the joy that it once was- is gone. This is the biggest mistake that YT has ever made and it is a complete disappointment and has become the biggest frustration I've experienced in my decade online. The site is ruined. Websiite suits just can't leave good enough alone, and YT 'help' is anything but that. YT's advertisers should be LIVID! I would be- if I were them :-(

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