Eugene Wei is either great himself or has a solid nose for greatness or maybe both. He’s done product stints at Amazon and Hulu before ending up at current Flipboard gig. His personal blog, Remains of the Day, is reliably interesting but there’s a post from 2012 that I revisit quite often. It’s called “Your site has a self-describing cadence” and is about flow, specifically repeat visitation. What causes people to come back to your product and at what intervals. Notifications, alerts, emails, etc are all tactics. Eugene’s post is more subtle.
This morning I was talking with an exec at YouTube about where the site stands today in a competitive media landscape. When pundits poke at YouTube for weaknesses it’s usually about stability of partner ecosystem and monetization. For me those are kinda red herrings. Google has a checkbook. If they ever want to “solve” monetization they can via brute force while ad products and sales channels mature. No, for me the great challenge YouTube continues to face is its inability to build a meaningful cadence with the figurative 80% of its audience. 20% of viewers are hardcore true believers who check in multiple times a day when their favorite creators have posted new videos or to join the discussion threads. But the mainstream user struggles to “visit” YouTube. Sure they hit the homepage and search. Sure they hit the watch page via a tweet or embed, and then fall down the Related Videos rabbit hole. Goodbye 60 minutes of your life! But they don’t come to the site religiously at specific intervals to do much of anything. YouTube isn’t a place they reliably start their day, check quickly at lunch time, and surf to (or thumb) while waiting in line or drinking tea.
Look, to some extent we should all be so lucky as to have YouTube’s *problems* – the scenario I describe above still results in One Billion MAUs and it’s my assertion that YouTube still has the best shot of any tech product to one day convert every human with internet access to a 30 day active. Look, if you have internet access and I can’t get you to watch one music video a month, something is wrong. But given all that, I look at it as a failure from my days on the YouTube product team to have not solved ‘cadence’ and a struggle of the team after me that they went so hard after a personalized feed and didn’t do more to evolve why and when people visit YouTube
What would I want to see on my YouTube Homepage aka why would I visit YouTube frequently?
- The Water Cooler – what videos are making headlines today and why? Context can be provided by tweets or snippets/links from sites where they’re embedded. Back in my day the engineers wrote a cool db query which looked for YouTube embed links getting major traffic from a list of high pagerank news and entertainment sites. We essentially saw the web curating daily YouTube playlists. This and many other tactics exist to get a small number of fresh videos at regular intervals which are being hosted on YouTube but talked about primarily outside of the site.
- Personalized Recommendations (But Not Like Today) – YouTube has always biased towards relevancy, not recency. For example, let’s say that I’m a Guns n’ Roses fan (I am!). It has always felt more likely that YouTube would suggest I watch Welcome to the Jungle than a more random but freshly filmed cover of that song by some kid with a banjo. Now it’s true, the official music video is the more relevant answer (not to mention awesome) but it’s, what, 25 years old? I’ve seen it a thousand times. I’m happy perhaps to watch it now, but I’d be equally happy to watch it a month from now. When you show it to me on the homepage, I totally lose any sense of urgency that I need to return multiple times a day to make sure I don’t miss great stuff. Instead do something like this – preserve state and say “Hunter, since the last time you visited YouTube 67,000 videos have been uploaded. Here are the four we think you’ll enjoy.” Coming back multiple times a day while the algorithm is playing recent needle finder in the giant YouTube haystack? THAT feels like cadence.
- My Subscriptions – yes, encourage me to subscribe to YouTube channels but this in and of itself is not a cadence because it’s largely people uploading videos at random intervals. Sure the best YouTube stars have managed to figure this out – eg upload a new video every day at same time – but the majority of other channels just toss stuff up there whenever, too much or too little for me to figure out. So yes, get me to create a direct relationship with the brands and personalities I care about but you can’t rely on this alone to drive cadence, and that’s probably the largest misunderstanding IMO of recent YouTube strategies.
- What My Friends/The People I Follow Are Watching – YouTube would be better if I could sync my Twitter account and let YT show me tweets from the people I follow which contain a YouTube link. I don’t even know any more whether this is Twitter ToS complaint (is it? If you show/embed the whole tweet? Or do you still need to show entire feed, not just tweets with video links)? But any, wherever the graph comes from – and I don’t believe it needs to just be (cough, cough) G+, social is not about discovering great content necessarily but about creating discussions around content. Oh that’s cool, I didn’t know my friend Steve liked Judas Priest also. Or, WTF my friend Steve likes Judas Priest? Interest graph has never fully equaled social graph so let’s not force it, but use this as a smaller bucket of content to help me reliably know what I’m going to get when I visit the YouTube homepage.
So there you are, cadence. It’s an incredibly powerful and under-leveraged word when we talk about product usage. Thanks Eugene for emphasizing that and hoping we can see YouTube’s cadence solidify in its next phase of life.