Posted 8/Jul 2011 at 12:57
by in Science & Tech read by 123 people

Interface Review: YouTube is testing a new interface by the name of Cosmic Panda

Google's current dedication to restyling many, if not all, of their products to match eachother better is getting more and more apparent. Almost every product featured by default in their universal navigation bar is "over", with the exception of Google News. Yesterday they announced the release of Cosmic Panda into the domain of public testing. And while they test it, I'm sure that at some point Cosmic Panda will emerge to be the one and only interface to YouTube. In this first edition of Interface Review I'll be looking at some of the most interesting aspects of the interface.

Personal experience

Change is the best impression

The first thing that becomes apparent is a drastic change in colours. The hospital white background has been replaced with a more sophisticated light grey, while the video player itself has gotten a dark (near but not very close to black) area around it. More about the player page later. The Logo has been updated in line with the new Google Logo, i.e. a bit less 3D'ish bevel, making it look like it could could modern again for a new couple of years. A bit of shadow has been added to the buttons, making them appear more like actual push-buttons as you experience them in the real world. They look so pleasant to the eye that they actually make the new way-too-square buttons in Google Search look like an early version made for a wire-frame. 

YouTube top bar with new logo

Video thumbnails - as seen on the frontpage, search results and such - are now a bit larger, thanks to a reduced border size and the video duration has been placed a few pixels out of the corner. And on a small sizes, those pixels do matter. I find that it has gotten easier to recognize if a video is of any interest to me or not. But I still find myself looking for how to open up a category to browse more videos. After a minute or so I did realize that I could just click the title, but that wasn't directly clear the untrained eye. 

Suggestion: One way to improve this, could be to already show the underline when moving the mouse over the line that contains the title, instead of just the word. HTML5 now allows <a> elements to enclose block level elements, such as the <h2> so there should be nothing technical that prevents them implementing this improvement. 

Most popular videos in Music

I imagine that the interaction designers over at YouTube killed the idea of having 'show more' buttons at each section, with the reasoning of that showing too many buttons on a single page which confuses the visitor and renders them unable to decide where to click.

The Player

The biggest change should come there where most users hang out, or there where you want most users to hang out. For the Cosmic Panda, both are true. Almost everything on the player page has been updated and made to look that bit extra modern. The player is surrounded by a dark-grey background which greatly enhances the viewing pleasure, the buttons have been an even darker shade of grey and now disappear after a few seconds, only to return when you move the mouse. Everything has been made to reduce distraction from the video you're watching.

Top marks so far, indeed - going back to the current YouTube design is like turning on the lights in the cinema.

The new video player on YouTube Cosmic Panda

Just below the player, once finds the video title and buttons to go the the uploader's channel, comments (the default) to the video and suggestions videos. A bit more to the right one can quickly switch between four different video sizes, so you can see the video at a size that best fits your monitor. Cool! If you have opened the video as part of a playlist, you'll have the videos of that playlist appear between the title and navigation.

Err: Having the title appear between the video and the navigation buttons appears like a bit of useless use of screen real estate to me. The title is also shown a bit lower down with the rest of the video information, and I could think of quite a few better usages for those 36 pixels in height.

Though I like the dark background behind the player all across the screen, I can't help but wonder why it looks so empty around it. The player is centered, thus making it not aligned with anything else on the screen. In my opinion, this aspect should go back to the drawing board.

Of course there is a catch; if the video is enabled for advertising that advert shows on the right next to the video. The display of this ad both distracts a bit from the video (boooh!) but also is neatly aligned to the right edge of the suggested content bar and makes the video aligned to the left of the content area below it. Not sure what to think here, but I fear that this might be an indication that we might be seeing more permanent ad placings there.

Reading and scrolling through the comments no longer disturbs your ability to watch the video, as the latter just stays there where it is. Lovely at the large screen I have but on smaller screens it can become quite difficult to first of all find and then also read the comments. If you're using the Google Chrome browser - as I am - one can even navigate to other pages on YouTube without disturbing the currently playing video. It's reduced to smaller size, moved to the top and the whole content area becomes available for browsing to find your next video. 

Suggestion: Make a click on the Comments button minimize the player just as going to another page does, thus giving more space to the reading of comments.

Playlists and Channels

You can now play an entire Channel's collection of uploads and favourites as playlist. The channel page has been updated, showing full width previews of videos and playlists. Nice thought, but due to the limited height of the preview the cropping sometimes creates some funny effects with cropped off heads and such. But one can only assume that this is something they're working on solving before the new design will be rolled out to replace the new one.

A new YouTube Channel Page

On top of the new Channel page one can now see the basic statistics for the channel: Total videos, total subscribers and total video views. Nice - if your channel has good numbers. Probably works as motivator as well. 

A Channel can choose between four templates: Creator, Blogger, Network and Everything. Creators can better highlight their best video and playlists, bloggers highlight their favourite content others have posted, network can highlight related channels and the everything is basically back to what we have now. Each one of the templates is well thought through, and really fits for each purpose.

It also adds focus to the playlists, making the next video to watch never more than a single click away - and usually even zero. Which is good, because what matters for YouTube isn't as much the page-views as the video views - and users want to get to their next destination page with as few clicks as possible.

Conclusion

After having clicked and browsed around for a bit one can only be impressed. Though some things still have some rough edges, this is really going somewhere and I'm eager to find out where it's going. The single best improvement would be the dark player background, which YouTube should actually bring to the current pages as soon as they can.

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