Saturday, March 9, 2013

...and One Channel to rule them all

Recent visitors to my YouTube channel may have noticed that I have switched over to the new design, which YouTube calls “One Channel”. It is probably just as well they didn’t launch an advertising campaign featuring music by Bob Marley (“One love, one channel, let’s get together and upload videos”), but at least they did give us some useful information to help us prepare for the final roll-out.

Predictably, some people have been very vocal in their opposition to this new design, which always happens when YouTube messes about with the user interface. I’m not going to get into a discussion about how good or bad the new design looks, or whether or not it is going to be a disaster for YouTube and how Google is taking the “You” out of “YouTube” (as if users ever had a say in channel design, or in fact any other aspect of YouTube). The fact is that the new design is coming, whether we like it or not, and YouTube is committed to it.

One Channel has now entered “full beta”, which means that I am no longer a member of the privileged elite: everyone has the ability to opt in by going to the One Channel page, scrolling right down to the bottom and hitting the big blue button. While the design is still in beta testing phase, you will be able to opt out again; but soon the beta phase will be complete and everyone will be permanently switched over, regardless of whether they want to be or not. Please don’t complain to me about this: every single channel design change has been the same.

Why is YouTube doing this? Well, officially at least, it’s to accommodate an ever-growing range of different devices that YouTube has to be viewed on. Not so long ago, it was fine if your website looked great on a desktop and functioned okay on a phone. Now mobile devices, with their small screens, are becoming far more common, while at the opposite end of the scale YouTube is now available on games consoles and TVs. The challenge for YouTube is to come up with a way that lets users design their channel once, but which looks good on smartphones, tablet PCs, netbooks, laptops, desktops (some with very high-resolution displays) and high-definition TV screens. And with phones and tablets, there is the added complication that they can be held vertically or horizontally, plus the next big thing of retina displays, which call for very high-resolution images.

One Channel is YouTube’s response to this. The first thing to note is that it’s goodbye fancy channel backgrounds: for the first time ever (that I can recall), YouTube is taking away the ability for you to design a custom background image for your channel.

This, in itself, has caused a lot of disappointment, as many people have created some very clever channel backgrounds that really gave their channels a pretty unique look. The problem is that this only works if you have a fixed size for your channel, but that’s no longer practicable: we’re back to the days when a fixed layout is no longer acceptable. Change the size of the browser window, and the trailer video (the video that autoplays if you visit my channel page and are not subscribed to it) changes size as well. If I were to design a fancy channel background that puts a beautiful border around my video, it would only work if the browser window was set to a very specific size: at all other sizes, it would look horrible. So, bye-bye channel backgrounds.

But hello, Channel Art. Because what YouTube taketh away, YouTube sometimes giveth back in a slightly different form. Instead of designing a background, you now get to design a graphic that appears as a banner (in different sizes) on most devices, but as a full-sized image on TVs. YouTube has published the specifications for your Channel Art, so you can see how it works and what you need to know. The challenge right now is that the image is big (it has to look really cool on a high-definition TV screen), but the only place you can put your logo is right in the middle. When you upload it, YouTube gives you a preview of how it’s going to look on different displays. Here’s my attempt:

It’s not easy, and I’m not yet completely happy with how mine looks on TV; but for now it works.

As I said, like it or not, this new design will eventually be mandatory; so unless you’re going to vote with your feet and leave YouTube for good, it would be wise to start preparing now. In addition to the information YouTube has already given, let me offer a few extra tips of my own:
  • The trailer video will autoplay for anyone visiting your channel who is not subscribed to it. This is your opportunity to explain what your channel is about and why people should subscribe to it. Remember that it will autoplay, so don’t make it annoyingly loud, or potential subscribers may instantly leave your page, never to return. But do try to subtly attract their attention. My current trailer is somewhat of a placeholder until I can find the time and inspiration to make something a bit cooler, but I do like my suggestion that subscribing will make this annoying video go away.
  • Also make your trailer brief and snappy. MysteryGuitarMan has managed to create a 30-second video which I think works extremely well (and I’m not talking about the special effects, although they’re cool too).
  • I uploaded my trailer as unlisted, primarily so as not to plague my existing subscribers with reasons they should subscribe. But when I went to set it as the trailer, it didn’t show up on the selection of videos that popped up: it only showed public videos. But no matter, because there was a space to copy and paste the video URL into, and that worked perfectly for my unlisted video.
  • On your channel profile, videos are organised into what are called “sections”, which visitors can scroll through. There are a few pre-defined sections that are automatically generated. When I switched over, YouTube also auto-generated sections out of a few of the playlists I had most recently added to.
  • Sections can be deleted, and you can also create new sections. A section can be created from an existing playlist, or you can create a section by using a tag. For example, I could create a new section using the tag “awesome”, and YouTube will then put all my uploaded videos that have the tag “awesome” into that section. So if you have videos that are not in a playlist but you want to have grouped together, you can start by adding appropriate tags to them so that, when you switch over, you can instantly create the new sections.
  • Sections can also be rearranged, but it’s not immediately obvious how to do this. Basically, only the left-hand edge is grabbable, and you have to be quite accurate with the mouse.