YouTube Grows to Embrace (and Maybe Apply) User Research

As is the case with any sort of product or service that develops power users, YouTube (s GOOG) discovered recently that different people want very different things out of its site. When participants in a user experience study at YouTube HQ were asked to depict their ideal YouTube layout using printed-out features glued to magnets, the vast majority said they “just want to watch.” A perfect video page for them would include little more than a player and a title. But another group of people, mostly those who upload videos to the site, wanted a much, much busier design, full of social features, comments, descriptions and other goodies.

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YouTube released the results of the study today, not because it intends to satisfy the two user groups by splitting the site into two different layouts to fit their needs. It also doesn’t plan to preference one user group over the other.

Down the line YouTube may evolve to offer more flexibility in its layout, but the main purpose of releasing the study was to convey that YouTube is measuring, soliciting and valuing user feedback as it modifies the site going forward. In a similar vein, last week the site said that since so many YouTube videos are rated five stars, it may just overhaul the rating system altogether. And a recent revamp of the site’s channel pages went through more than three months of trials and feedback before it was migrated onto the system last week.

It’s an interesting contrast to YouTube’s early days, when CEO Chad Hurley called the design shots pretty much unilaterally. Now YouTube’s user research team says it uses a combination of usability studies, field research, traffic analysis, user feedback and random little studies like the paper-and-magnet project detailed here.