A Look Behind The Curtain At YouTube's User Experience Research

One of the most interesting but under-appreciated processes in building a web site is the amount of testing that goes on to figure out exactly what should go where. Many startups rely on A/B testing as they roll out new features, and the big guys — namely very popular sites like Google and Facebook — conduct extensive usability studies that can involve interviews, eye monitoring, and more. Today YouTube has revealed some of the action that goes on behind the scenes as it continues to tweak its all-important ‘Watch’ page — the site you see when you’re actually viewing a video on YouTube.

To help gauge the Watch page’s ideal layout, YouTube invited in a number of users and gave them magnets that represented different elements from YouTube and other popular video sites. The results were not surprising, but they present an interesting challenge to YouTube: the vast majority of users chose to streamline their page as much as possible, featuring a large video player, a search box, and a strip of related videos. But the site’s heavy uploaders, who are obviously key to YouTube’s success, tended to favor a more complex site with a greater emphasis on analytics, sharing, and social interaction.

YouTube’s task is to figure out a way to appeal to both sets of users. And to do that, it sounds like there’s going to be a new set of customization options coming our way, which would allow users to tweak their watch pages with the features they want. YouTube wouldn’t confirm that this feature is definitely coming (the company is still doing extensive testing so it may not be sure itself), but don’t be surprised if you get the option to build your perfect ‘Watch’ page six months down the line.

Last month YouTube gave us a peek at another one of its recent research revelations: its five star rating system doesn’t work, because people tend to either rate videos as 5’s or 1’s.