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This was a feature whereby YouTube users could add commentary to their videos after uploading them to the site. This commentary took the form of text boxes, speech bubbles, and even hyperlinks which could be inserted at any point in a video for a specified duration of time; when thus inserted, they would subsequently appear to the viewer at the designated time(s) for the designated length(s). The annotations were not encoded within the video itself, but were rather layered on top of them by YouTube's video player, could be toggled on or off by the viewer, and were added by means of an annotations editor that was provided by YouTube.
Video annotations were first added to the site on 4 June 2008, and I remember that soon afterwards I began seeing them with some frequency on videos that I watched. In most cases they were used by the uploader simply to insert a helpful or informative comment or two at certain points of the video, though other times they were often placed, with hyperlink included, at the end of a video to advertise the uploader's channel and/or other videos; in still other cases they were added for humor, and in a few instances I also encountered on the site interactive videos which heavily relied upon the hyperlink feature of annotations. I also recall that, initially, light gray was the only background color available for annotations, but some months later (I cannot remember when, exactly) YouTube added red, green, blue, and black as extra colors.
Although, I can remember, annotations saw some notable degree of use in 2008 when they were first introduced, when once the novelty wore off, it became just another of the many features of YouTube that fell into relative obscurity. Even as early as 2010 I recall feeling a bit of surprise whenever I was watching a video and suddenly saw an annotation appear—despite their utility, they were, in general, never used with much frequency on YouTube even back in the late 2000s, and by the mid-2010s they had become a rarity on the site. The ability to add new annotations to videos was disabled in May 2017, and all existing annotations were removed entirely in January 2019, partly because, despite presenting no issues to desktop and laptop users, they never worked on mobile phones, and, apparently, this was actually considered a valid complaint against them. Once again, we see that the pernicious influence of the mobile world has destroyed yet another good thing on the Web which PC users were able for a time to enjoy.
This is a great loss, because it was only through annotations that a YouTube video could, in effect, be transformed into a sort of public bulletin board: normally only the uploader of the video could add annotations to it, but at some point YouTube added the ability for the uploader to enable a setting permitting any viewer to add them. This functionality was only ever enabled for a very few videos on the site, but, in those cases, the videos became, in my opinion, far more entertaining to watch: most of the annotations would suddenly pop up during the first few seconds, and oftentimes the amount added was so great that it covered the whole video, as many viewers sought to leave their own funny or witty remark. The most well-known example of this was probably the 10-minute version of the original Fukkireta video, which had public annotations enabled; although officially it is no longer possible to view the original annotations on that video, thankfully there exists a recording of it showing all annotations as they would have appeared prior to their removal from YouTube.
Fortunately, however, as of March 2021 there is still a way unofficially to view all the annotations of a YouTube video: a fellow Neocities user, ThatWhiteHand, has uploaded to his YouTube channel a video in which he informs viewers of a method by which YouTube annotations can be (unofficially) restored. My only complaint is that this technique doesn't work in Internet Explorer, but otherwise it is a very quick and simple solution that requires only the installation of a single browser extension, after which the 10-minute Fukkireta video, as well as every other YouTube video, may once again be viewed with all original annotations intact.
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This page last modified on 16 February 2023.