YouTube's big redesign goes live to everyone

January redesign test going out live to all on Wednesday. The new look simplifies things, while making some fundamental changes to how the site works.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

SAN BRUNO, Calif.--YouTube is rolling out a new coat of paint on Wednesday.

Its video page redesign, which went up as a beta test to users in late January, will be going out live to everyone by the end of the day. The cleaner look is part of a bigger plan to simplify the site based on user feedback and testing, as well as to keep people from ever leaving.

In a "blogger breakfast" press event at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., YouTube UI designer Julian Frumar explained that the site was simply not working like it should with the addition of extra features over the years. There were too many things on the screen that were slowing down page views and overwhelming people. In other words, YouTube was getting bloated.

The other part of the problem was that YouTube had two distinct groups of users. Those who wanted a simple, video-centric experience, versus those who wanted the "airplane cockpit" of links, buttons, and knobs. The new look is an attempt to satisfy both groups, while tweaking the overall look to make the pages less overwhelming to newbies.

But the redesign goes beyond the people watching, and has been tweaked for content owners as well. If a video owner has created other videos, these now show up on the top of the page without cluttering up the sides with a myriad of thumbnails and links. YouTube is also giving content owners a way to add branding, be it a profile picture or a logo above each video player--regardless of whether that user is viewing that video from a content owner's channel page. The company hopes this will spur more subscriptions, and give users a better sense of who made it.

YouTube's new look tweaks a number of things around the video. The video player itself though, remains untouched. (Click to enlarge.) YouTube / CNET

Along with the viewing experience, YouTube has also made it easier to track the popularity of a video. The view counter can now be expanded to show insight analytics, along with a timeline of how the popularity has evolved. Frumar says this option simply was not being explored because it was so tucked away, and that under the new system, he expects people to discover it more easily.

That discovery is a larger part of YouTube's strategy to transition its casual users into what it considers "power" users. These are people who do more than just play the video, do a search, or leave a comment. They're the ones who bookmark videos, send the video to their social networks, record video replies, subscribe to video feeds, create playlists, and browse videos by location.

At the same time, the look has been "dumbed down" some. For instance, with the change, the five-star rating system is kaput. In its place are thumbs up and thumbs down buttons. This is a change that means all previous ratings are converted into "like" and "dislike" percentages. These will replace the five-star rating view across the site, as well as mobile devices, a change YouTube is making to its API. Though as Frumar explained, most people would either rate videos with five stars (meaning it was the best) or one star, and that very few were using the two- to four-star ratings.

What may be the most important part of the redesign though, is keeping people on the site. This goes hand in hand with helping casual users become power users. It's also to get YouTube taking up a bigger part of people's days. As YouTube spokesperson Chris Dale explained to bloggers, "People only spend 15 minutes a day on YouTube, but they spend five hours watching TV." YouTube is trying to even up the score.