Monday, December 5, 2011

YouTube's new look, not a good look according to many

Regular readers will recall that just a few short weeks ago, I wrote a column titled Stop messing with my user-interface in which I criticised Firefox for stuffing up what was a perfectly good user-interface.

Well it seems that nobody is listening when users vent their dislike of user-interfaces or websites that are arbitrarily "updated" and "improved" without warning or consultation.

On several occasions, Facebook has angered tens of millions of users when they decided to implement changes to the world's largest social networking site and now, it would appear, Google has made the same error of judgment in updating YouTube's look and feel.

If the comments posted in the Youtube feedback forum are anything to go by, the new look is roundly disliked by YouTube users.

Key functionality, such as the ability to see who is subscribed to what channels, is now missing and there are many other niggles that seem to be upsetting the very core of YouTube's lifeblood -- those who contribute and watch the videos around which it is built.

It's becoming pretty clear that Google's stated intention to convert YouTube from a "community" to something more like a regular TV system may lie at the heart of the changes.

Google no longer wants a collection of eclectic videos that people have to subscribe to in order to receive regular updates -- they want to turn the site into a huge video resource that automatically offers-up video content to its viewers. This will make it a far more practical source of content for an IPTV service -- because TV users just want to watch, not go searching for their viewing.

As a result, the emphasis seems to have gone out of building a one-to-one relationship between the content producer and the viewer -- to the extent that now, YouTube content creators don't actually know who has subscribed to them -- they simply get a head-count.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next.

It's been my experience that most people are averse to change. Like a comfortable pair of slippers, they like what they know and are familiar with. Unexpected and unsolicited change can often create feelings of dissatisfaction but, eventually that passes and users just forget about it.

On the other hand, the internet is a fickle place and, as some have found out to their cost, upsetting the great unwashed masses can turn a popular hangout into a ghost-town almost overnight -- so long as they have somewhere else to go.

In YouTube's favour, there aren't a lot of other places to go and certainly none of the alternatives are nearly as convenient as Google's flavour of user-generated video content.

So I suspect that the wailing and gnashing of teeth will continue for a little longer -- but eventually it will subside and, in a month or two, it will be as if nothing had ever happened.

However, wouldn't it be nice if, just every now and then, companies actually consulted the people who use their products and services -- before they decided to make major changes.

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