It’s been a few years since they purchased YouTube and for the most part this has been a marriage made in heaven. The joining of Google and YouTube accounts has mostly added a rather nice layer of convenience and accessibility for everyone involved. It’s no secret that Google has a crack team of programmers, so the technology improves with every revision for YouTube. Yet, it seems that they just can’t seem to get the interface right. Over the past few years, they’ve made multiple revisions to YouTube’s interface and the more problems they fix, it seems the more problems they add.
In the previous revision, video channels were an incongruous mess, impossible to navigate and requiring sifting through tons of unrelated material to find any given video one wanted to watch. After many complaints, they quickly added a tabbed interface on main channel pages allowing one to select playlists. However, you had to select the tab after loading the page and the featured video on the main page always automatically played. This got really annoying when you had to reload the page multiple times while surfing YouTube. Thankfully, the most recent interface change seems to have corrected this to some degree. Featured videos on channel pages most of the time will not automatically play, greatly reducing the amount of user frustration. Unfortunately, one still has to select the playlist tab in order to access a logical list of uploaded material on a channel, but it’s more prominent and easy to find.
Also gone is the traditional playlist, which was a panel at the bottom of the page. It’s no secret that everyone hates window-spanning, horizontal panels like this, as they crowd the page and make the user feel as though their display is smaller. It took Google long enough to figure out that this was a bad idea. The play list is now a horizontal list with a scroll bar conjoined to the video player, on the right. This definitely makes the interface neater and cleaner, but it’s still far from perfect.
They’ve chosen to use the same color scheme for the play list which the player uses, making it look as though the player is off center, as it all registers to the human eye as one big rectangle. A different shade of the color scheme for this will reduce this illusion of being off center. They’ve also made the mistake of choosing a custom scroll bar, which is just a gray rectangle with a smaller black rectangle representing the scroll button itself. Against a black and gray background, it’s impossible to see, and doesn’t even look like a scroll bar if you’re not a specialist in interface design to begin with. So, while it’s definitely an improvement over the traditional playlist, it still needs a ton of work.
The white aesthetic used is a mixed bag. Honestly, I was never a fan of overly bright colors in interface design. I’m not tremendously wild about overly dark either, being more of a fan of subtle, neutral tones somewhere in the middle. Therefore I can honestly say I don’t care much for this white aesthetic myself, but it does look relatively crisp and clean, and not overly designed as it has in the past. This does save bandwidth, it does make the page load faster, and all of the features to stand out more, but it is rather troublesome for spotting that dark scroll bar in the dark player, when the eye is overwhelmed by bright color.
To the left, where there once was nothing, is now a guide interface which proposes to make suggestions, similar results and categorize videos by items such as music, video genre, etc. Honestly, it’s bloody useless if you ask me. The font is so tiny, it’s illegible; the icons are a mess and indistinguishable from one another, and it doesn’t make any useful suggestions, nor do the categorizations work since the lines of distinction for YouTube videos are blurred to begin with. Also, when viewing a video, the right hand video list still makes related suggestions, so this guide is pretty much pointless. It crowds the interface and adds to the illusion of an off center player along with the similar-colored playlist.
Add to this the fact that Google has and automated popup system which likes to point out new features to users. This is fine, but when you click the “got it” button in order to dismiss it in the future, it still pops up every time the page loads. It does this at the top of your personal YouTube wall when you sign in and in a million other places as well. It will not shut up. I actually resorted to installing an ad blocking function solely to block these elements from popping up and annoying me.
I can’t seem to grasp the fact that they removed the large print title of videos from the top of each video page. It is now smaller, and beneath the video player near the like, dislike and commenting interface. The human eye reads from left to right, top to bottom. This is why it makes sense to have the video title and the name of the uploader at the top, above the video player itself. I really don’t understand what they were thinking when they shrunk the font on the title, and moved it below the video.
They still have not corrected some glaring issues that should have been dealt with quite some time ago. The biggest one is that the player doesn’t remember when you tell it you don’t want HD. If I select a standard resolution, then it should remember that I don’t want HD in the next video I watch. If that video doesn’t offer the same resolution I normally have, it should select the next one down below a HD. HD kills bandwidth, and switching from HD to a lower resolution requires a video to reload every time. So, when I have to turn HD off each time I load a video that happens to offer HD, this results in a lot of reloading and annoyance that I shouldn’t have to deal with.
YouTube also doesn’t remember when you turn annotations off on a video. Annotations can be useful, but even the highest rated video makers on the site seem to have absolutely no discretion when using them. They quickly become obnoxious, like pop ups blocking your view. If I turn them off, the player should remember that I turned them off from until I deem it necessary to turn them back on. I have an account, which I am permanently logged into whenever I open the site. Therefore, I have a cookie for the site in my system. So, why can it not remember the resolution I’d prefer, and the fact that I don’t want annotations in my way? It certainly remembers the volume setting, so it’s not as though their player’s engine can’t handle talking to cookies.
All in all, the interface change did fixed big issues, but obviously in every design, there is still room for improvement. Other video sites seem to have the user experience down pat, so I am curious as to why Google hasn’t touched on more advanced features.