Test Driving YouTube's Secret New Site Design

Frequent YouTube viewers and posters may have noticed some site features on the fritz since last week, as Google tinkers behind the scenes with some site changes. The new changes are actually pretty cool and include much needed tweaks to the front page, playlists and commenting system, among others.  

Like every other time new layouts and features have been introduced on the video-sharing site, only a select few were given keys to test drive the changes in what I call "Secret YouTube 2012." No word yet on when - or even if - the changes will go live for everyone. In a statement to ReadWrite, a YouTube spokesperson wrote, “We'll consider rolling changes out more broadly based on feedback on these experiments.”

Take A Sneak Peek

Hacking your way into the new site to use Secret YouTube 2012, however, is incredibly easy. It requires only the insertion of a cookie in your browser's developer’s console, a process detailed here. (Chrome users take note, pulling up the developer console is actually Ctrl+Shift+I.)

One change I noticed immediately was the new front page. Gone are the needless color blocks of black and gray. The new front page reflects Google's attempts to merge its two social platforms - Google+ into YouTube - but here for once, that integration is a positive.

Google completely overhauled YouTube’s front page last year with Cosmic Panda, much to the chagrin of the YouTube community. One of the biggest complaints from the community about the front page concerned the obnoxiously tiny video thumbnails, which seemed almost Pinterest-like in size. Combined with three vertical Facebook-like streams and clunky navigation, the front page became headache-inducingly busy, making it hard to find content organically. Even worse,  the changes contributed to profit losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars for some YouTubers. Google addressed some of these complaints by increasing the thumbnail size on the front page in August.

The cleaner front page of Secret YouTube 2012 is a definite improvement, but that remains faint praise.

Moving on to how videos are displayed: In Secret YouTube 2012, video titles are displayed on the bottom of the video in the description. (This is the least popular change in Secret YouTube 2012). When sharing a video, YouTube has added an easy way to include a specific time stamp,  and when commenting, there is now a button you can click to record a video response.

Following YouTube’s swift crackdown of the Reply Girl industry, many in the community wondered if the reply video - a YouTube community staple - would disappear. With the addition of this easy button when posting a comment, it looks like the genre still has legs. In fact,  I attempted to make a video response (my first!?) to a Philip DeFranco question answering why everyone hates Gwyneth Paltrow using the new feature, but Flash kept crashing, leaving me to comment the old-fashioned way.

Speaking of commenting, the comments section has also gotten a makeover in the form of tiny thumbnails and a cleaner layout. 

The YouTube playlist display, denounced by the YouTube community since 2010, has also been retooled into a less intrusive feature. Before, the playlist would take over the lower portion of the viewing page, preventing you from seeing the comments - and if you weren’t clever enough to turn off autoplay - would automatically start playing the next video before you even had a chance to leave a comment.

The new playlist in Secret YouTube 2012 is embedded on the side of the video, which is good for two reasons: one, you can still read comments, and two, the top right playlist ends up pushing the customary ad on the right side underneath viewing level.

NewMediaRockstars, which noticed the changes last week, screencapped a feature that displayed video rankings in the related videos, but that feature seems to have been removed this week. (I didn't come across it in 48 hours of testing.) That feature would be redundant anyway, if YouTube’s related videos algorithm works as intended.  

My final verdict on the changes? After playing with Secret YouTube 2012, I have no intention of ever going back to the version available to the public.