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Can’t Resist the Play Button

November 22, 2006

In a former business life, I was a writer for a corporate media agency, and I did a lot of work on CDs when the interactivity of CD-ROM seemed like the next big thing.  Then the Internet happened and CD-ROM went down the crapper.  But for that period when we were creating CDs for companies to use in presentations, for training, etc., our biggest thought process was always around the “user experience.”  What do people see, what should it make them feel or do, what buttons do they press, where are they located, where are we failing to get them to react the way we want and why?

It can be a frustrating experience, but the times you get it right, or even see others get it right, it’s an amazing feeling.

I try to read the 37signals blog often because its main thrust is how to improve the user experience, whether they are talking about their own products or discussing great design they see around them, whether that’s graphic design, industrial design or the design of online applications.

This post from 37signals on YouTube discusses our seemingly uncontrollabnle urge to press a play button when it is put in front of us.  In this case, the discussion is how YouTube went from a startup to a massive Google acquisition in such a short time—and the biggest reason is that YouTube made it possible for any site owner to plunk a video right on his or her site with a big old play button in the middle of it.  Soon everyone was doing it and everyone knew YouTube.

Yes, YouTube had tons of copyrighted content to help them grow, but that only matters because of the fact that a blogger discussing John Lennon & Yoko Ono could grab a clip of the 1974 (or whenever) appearance of Lennon & Ono on the Dick Cavett show and put it right into their own site.  Not a link to it, but the actual video ready to be played, so the visitor never has to leave, and so the video is just a seamless part of the overall site.  That’s a great user experience and that’s why YouTube had its success.  (Maybe YouTube wouldn’t have had its success without copyrighted video, but a different site with copyrighted video but no way to embed the video player would not have had nearly the same success.)

I’ve tried to watch some videos attached to Yahoo! news stories recently and it is the most painful thing in the world.  It takes freaking forever to download, the player is confusing, just a nightmare.  What’s funny is that the success of YouTube hasn’t necessarily caused other video players to emulate its functionality.   It’s completely obvious that the YouTube interface is exactly what people want, and yet it’s not being copied.  Actually the closest that I’ve seen to it is Google Video which of course Google decided wasn’t good enough (or decided that the YouTube brand had already rendered them dead in the water). Maybe there’s a patent issue of some sort; not sure, but you’re just not seeing everyone creating YouTube clones.  Sure, they want to be different, but different is only good if it’s better, and I haven’t seen anything better so far.

The main ingredient to a successful user experience is to make it easy.  Easy, easy, easy.  Ease will win every time.  Now, if you have two competing products with the same degree of ease and one looks nicer, that one will win.  But functionality is the bedrock.  Make it easy to use and you’ve won half the battle.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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