I noticed something I'd never seen before while watching a YouTube video last night. They've added yet another feedback option for users. It's a series of buttons directly above the comments that let viewers choose one of several common Internet abbreviations as a reaction to the clip they've just watched. And it's just about the silliest thing I've ever heard of.
For the first time, YouTube is testing new "reaction" buttons that let users respond to a video emotionally without having to log in and leave a comment. The buttons are: LOL, OMG, Fail, Epic, WTF, and Cute. Yes, there's now an even less-personal way to react to a video beyond just leaving a moronic comment: now you can mindlessly click the one-of-six reactions that most closely resembles your real opinion. Here's what it looks like:
After spotting it in the wild, I went straight to Google to search and see if anyone else was talking about it. If I'm honest, I wanted to make sure it was definitely new, and not merely something I'd failed to notice. I found one article about it, from SocialTimes, written on June 2. They referenced a Google Operating System blog post that had mentioned the testing of the new feature--also posted on June 2. Other than that, no one was talking about it.
Which speaks to how new it is, but also possibly to its "testing" nature--maybe not everyone is seeing it.
Initial Reactions To YouTube's "Reactions"
The Google blog post talks about how this feature will make it easier for viewers to react (probably true) and implies that this will lead to more overall engagement from viewers with the videos YouTube offers (probably not true, in my opinion). I have several immediate thoughts and opinions... in no particular order:
1. I can hear the complainers already. Someone, somewhere, at some point is going to take offense to the fact that YouTube is encouraging people to swear, by including "WTF" as an option. I'm not saying they'll be right... just that I think the meaning of the abbreviation will cause some folks a problem. I may or may not be related to some of them.
2. More engagement? This feature sort of assumes that there are viewers out there who want to react, but are too lazy to type out an actual comment. And you know what? I'm willing to believe that those people exist. Heck, I'm one of them. But the reason I don't comment isn't because I'm lazy... it's because the discourse is so crude. There are few intelligent, civil discussions taking place in the YouTube comments section. So for me personally, as someone who watches a ton of YouTube videos but doesn't comment, adding a choice of six clichés as a reaction isn't going to spur more engagement from me.
I'm not the least bit interested in "voting" for the video by choosing one of those options, and I'm never going to do it.
But even if YouTube's right... and a bunch of people start clicking OMG--people that wouldn't have commented--then what, exactly, is gained? Is there research out there that suggests people who click "WTF" after watching a video are more inclined to watch more videos afterwards? I doubt it, but I suppose I could be wrong.
3. Moving backwards? Voting for a reaction feels like a step back down on the ladder of engagement. I mean, comments are evidence of more engagement than a click on a "LOL" button, right? Just like video is more engaging than text alone... participating by commenting is more engaging then single-clicking a pre-established emotion. Maybe that's the whole point, that the viewers who are currently unengaged (don't comment, don't have an account, etc.) will slowly get more engaged... and these buttons are a way to entice and encourage feedback out of viewers who don't give any. I guess I can see that.
4. Metrics? Is this a set up for some kind of new measuring device for YouTube? For instance, I can currently browse videos based on the most views, or I can sort by the most "liked" or the most-subscribed. Will I soon be able to search by "most OMG?" Will there someday be a "most WTF YouTube video ever" award?
5. Users might love it. There's plenty of evidence that users enjoy reacting to content with a simple click. Digg and Reddit have been around for years, and each allows users to vote a story up or down. They also both allow comments, but receive far more up/down votes on submissions than they do comments. And Buzzfeed has buttons just like what YouTube is testing, and readers use them like crazy. So there's definitely a type of user out there who wants a simplified option for responding. Heck, YouTube already has the "likes" and "dislikes" option, which seems to get some users engaged, but also leads me to my next point...
6. Watering down the experience. Pretty soon, none of any of it's going to matter to me anymore. We already have social sharing options under videos. We let people flag things they think are inappropriate, and we let them add videos to their favorites. Oh, and the comments. But some people don't like commenting, so we'll give them a like/dislike voting option. But that doesn't get enough attention, so we're also throwing in six emotion-based reaction buttons for them to choose.
What YouTube is doing is fragmenting their audience based on how they react. And while I think it does probably lead to more overall viewers doing something after viewing, I'm not sure it can be called engagement. In fact, it could probably accurately be described as... noise. I'm all for encouraging more engagement, but let's try to keep the different engagement systems and measurements down to three or four types, can we?
7. Limited options. These are the only six options I have? Really? No "LMAO?" Or how about "Win?" Or other basic emotions besides happiness, like "sad," "shocked," or "angry?" Oh, I get it... they're probably worried about cluttering up the page with too many buttons. There are a host of emotions a person can feel after watching a video, but this feels like forcing them all into one of six boxes. I guess if you feel an emotion not represented by a button, you could always just comment. :)
8. What does it mean? What can YouTube learn about users through these votes? What can video marketers or content creators get out of a system like this? I don't think a vote for "OMG" represents more true engagement, but it represents more action, I suppose. If a video gets a thousand "WTF" votes, along with a few "Epic" and "LOL" votes... how does anyone use that information? I can't think of a single way... which is probably this article sounds so sarcastic and skeptical. I want it to mean something, or be used for something, or otherwise make sense. Because if it doesn't... then why do it?
I'm obviously not a fan. But maybe I'm just grumpy today. Maybe these buttons will encourage tons of users to register their opinion after viewing a clip. The SocialTimes writer seemed to like them, as did the commenters. What about you... do you think there is potential in these buttons? Do you think it will improve the overall YouTube experience somehow for users? What little reaction I've seen so far does appear to be positive, so it's entirely possible I'm alone on this. I just don't see buttons like this adding anything meaningful to the YouTube experience.