YouTube’s (s GOOG) made its home page a lot more customizable, thanks to an experimental new design that is now standard for all users. Initially available as an opt-in for early adopters, the new home page still contains a column of promoted and featured videos, but approximately 75 percent of the screen is now devoted to content drawn from the user’s social interactions.
In the blog entry announcing the change, YouTube counts among the improvements:
- Increased focus on videos that matter to you (subscriptions, friend’s sharing, recommendations)
- You can easily filter your homepage to show only the latest uploads from your subscriptions
- Don’t miss anything; if a channel uploads four videos in a day, you’ll see all four – instead of just the latest video
- Quick access to the inbox when you have new messages or comments
- Knows what you have seen (videos you’ve watched are grayed out)
- Remove any video (hover and click the “x” button)
With the exception of being able to grey out and/or remove videos from the home page, the primary new feature is that it focuses on the latest videos from YouTube’s social features, especially subscribed channels, which are organized by subscription and most recent update.
And that’s a problem for users like me. I’m not going to assume that my YouTube usage represents that of the average user — I don’t have many friends on the service, and I primarily use my YouTube subscriptions to track the appearance of potentially news-worthy videos (oh, and new Maru videos).
Most of my subscribed channels, therefore, don’t get updated too frequently. I check my Subscriptions page once a day in order to keep up with things.
While a hardcore YouTube user might value being able to track his or her subscriptions on the home page, the move seems likely to alienate anyone who hasn’t made maintaining and cultivating those lists a priority — i.e. the casual user. Finding great YouTube channels isn’t easy, finding great YouTube channels that update not too much or not too little is even tougher, and finding the right balance between the two is a challenge for both producers and the audience. In short, it’s possible to make the most out of subscriptions, but that demands a whole lot more effort than most people want to put into watching videos on their coffee breaks.
By focusing so much on subscriptions, the new home page also cuts down on the potential for finding new content. Frankly, I didn’t realize how much I’d come to depend on the YouTube homepage as a place for content discovery, where new videos from new sources might surface, until I started using the new homepage, where I found the same videos by the same people staring me in the face every day.
The major advantage of subscriptions, of course, is that they help YouTuber creators build an audience, creating established fanbases that have almost as much value as high viewcounts. And people are using them — back in October, YouTube announced that the Subscribe button had been clicked over a billion times, and over a billion subscription notifications get sent every week.
That said, I personally prefer the homepage that site visitors get if they aren’t logged in or don’t have any subscriptions at all: A grid featuring the “most popular” videos across ten categories.
Not only does this provide a better variety of content to choose from, but it’s a better depiction of what’s going on across the YouTube community as a whole. YouTube has a great selection of tools for finding something to watch, from charts to trends to spotlight videos, and subscriptions definitely are a factor in that. But a truly customizable home page would be one where all of those tools were available for users to choose from.
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