YouTube (s GOOG) introduced a new homepage Thursday that puts more of a focus on personalization and social features, highlighting the content that’s most relevant to its users. But it does a poor job of showing off all the new content that YouTube is investing heavily in.
The state of the new YouTube homepage
For YouTube regulars — the people who tune in every day and use the homepage as a way to keep track of content from channels that they’ve subscribed to or those that their friends have liked or commented on — the new design might offer a better user experience. But for more casual YouTube users, who only check the site when someone has shared a link with them or if they’ve searched for a certain piece of content, the new design could serve as a roadblock for content discovery.
Check out the new homepage, which looks about the same whether a user is logged in or not:
It used to be that the front page of YouTube.com was a great place for more casual viewers to see a list of videos that are popular across the site. It was also a way for YouTube to highlight featured videos, and could serve as a way to introduce them to videos they may not have seen or channels they may not have heard of.
How other sites work
Compare the YouTube user experience — which is all about self-selected feeds, subscriptions and friend connections — with what you see on Netflix (s NFLX) or Hulu. Those sites use the home page as a starting point to content discovery, whether it be through personalized recommendations, as is often the case on Netflix, or through featured and popular content on Hulu.
In Hulu’s case, viewers can add shows to a queue that allows them to keep track of new episodes when they become available. Netflix users can also add videos to a queue for viewing later, but most of its efforts are centered around providing better recommendations when a user logs in to the front page.
YouTube’s new homepage experience, by contrast, is only about content that you already know you like and want to watch. In that respect, it would be like if Netflix showed a user’s streaming queues as the first point of entry, or if Hulu took the user directly to its list of show subscriptions, without suggesting new or more recent content.
Where are all of YouTube’s new channels?
The redesign might make sense if YouTube were still just a place for users to find viral, user-generated videos or to keep tabs on their favorite vloggers. But the Google-owned site is embarking on an ambitious plan to become a next-generation content company.
YouTube is reportedly spending more than $100 million on 100 new original channels. But you’d never know it, based on the new homepage design. The design provides more social features and a more personalized feed of content, but it lacks the ability for YouTube to showcase all of the new content that it’s paying big bucks for.
YouTube lists some suggested channels on the homepage, but they’re hidden below the fold. It also has a page of recommended and select channels for users to connect with, but once that process is completed, there’s no telling whether users will go back and add more potential channels of interest.
A strategic miss?
In terms of product direction, the latest version of the homepage seems to be just one step further in what has been a consistent move toward greater personalization for users. And let’s be honest — YouTube to date has been doing pretty damn well with that strategy and with its ability to get users to its content. According to comScore, (s SCOR) YouTube had more than 20 billion video views in October.
The problem with YouTube’s new homepage isn’t that it’s bad, per se, but that it doesn’t jive with the company’s plans to introduce a new, programmed channels throughout its site. With so much of a focus on personalization and so little focus on discoverability, it’s almost as though its product and business strategies are at odds with each other. After all, why spend so much on original content if you’re going to make it so hard to find? And why redesign your homepage if you’re not going to use it to feature all the great new content you’re acquiring?