“We will stop showing existing annotations to viewers starting January 15, 2019,” YouTube explained, also confirming the removal of the feature.
Annotations should be instantly recognizable to most YouTube viewers. They were a major method of self-promotion for channels, often presented as translucent boxes layered over videos asking users to subscribe or to click to another hyperlinked video.
However, annotations were also much more than that. After the feature went live back in 2008, they became a staple for creative web videos. Early YouTubers were able to experiment with the medium, bringing about new ways to interact with video.
And soon, we lose them all.
The videos will still be there, but those hyperlinked boxes embedded in them will all be gone. Games will display unpressable buttons, choose your own adventure story options will go unchosen, the videos that would play in response to your choice will live on YouTube — but without the connection to the main video. The interactivity made possible by annotations will simply no longer work.
As blogger Andy Baio , reminiscing about some of his favorite interactive videos, there’s really not much that can be done to archive annotations in a workable format. YouTube created annotations for its own platform, and there’s no other service out there that supports them. But some internet archivists are looking into what can be done.
“We archive several hundred thousand YouTube videos a week at the Internet Archive,” said Mark Graham, director of the , in a phone conversation with Mashable. “The Internet Archive is exploring how it might be able to support this functionality [annotations] going forward.”
The Internet Archive is exploring how it might support this functionality going forward.
YouTube actually announced the end of annotations early in 2017, when the video platform the annotations editor. At the time, YouTube said the reason for ending them was due to a 70-percent decrease in usage. The main cause? Annotations simply didn’t work on mobile.
The online video giant has replaced annotations with smartphone-friendly features, such as End Screens and Cards. These two new features perform many of annotations’ functions, but they’re a little less customizable. For example, you can hyperlink to another video with Cards, but only within a sidebar. With annotations, you could overlay a hyperlinked box anywhere within a video.
Last year when the creation of new annotations was halted, YouTube left videos that had already implemented them alone. That will change in January, when YouTube officially shuts them off.
But an alternative online destination for interactive video doesn’t really exist. What we’ll be left with on YouTube is a slew of videos asking you to interact — and providing no way to do so.
One of the more important applications of the annotations feature was as a way to add corrections or updates within a video. Other than re-uploading a brand new video with the new information, annotations were the only way to add changes to an already existing YouTube upload. Expanding on this usage, Mystery Science Theater 3000 uploaded a number of full-length films to YouTube, complete with pop-up video-like facts throughout the movie using annotations. Those tidbits will disappear next month.
Choose your own adventure clips further along in the chain will no longer be connected to the original video without the annotation-embedded hyperlink. Alone, without any connection to the first video in the series, these clips will lack any and all context. The same is true for interactive YouTube game shows like Who Wants to be a YouTubillionaire!?.
Speaking of gaming, interactive games built within YouTube videos using the annotations feature, like Saved by the Bell RPG, Interactive Minecraft, and YouTube Street Fighter, will cease to work as intended.
Even brands found ways to utilize annotations in creative ways. Subaru, for example, mounted one of its rally cars with multiple cameras and allowed viewers to swap between the different angles through the video.
Fandango’s Movieclips YouTube channel was perhaps the most famous for its intensive and innovative use of annotations at the end of its videos, directing viewers to other clips based on a film’s genre, cast, and more.
For now, your best option to save these YouTube videos for posterity is to simply screen record them as you watch and interact. But remember: After January 15, when annotations sunset, early interactive YouTube will cease to exist.