For the past few months, I've been working on a big project at YouTube that I've been very excited about. It's been a hectic few weeks, and it's only now that I'm stopping to reflect on what we've accomplished and how far we've come. I'm very proud of the exciting new thing we've built (I can't tell you yet!), but I can't help but look at it and wonder about what does it mean for content to appear "on YouTube" and how will what I'm building change or shift that perception (if at all)?
There seem to be generally two camps of "YouTube-as-brand"
1) YouTube is an extremely strong brand, and it's almost as important (if not as important) that a certain piece of video content "went viral on YouTube" as what's actually contained in the video itself.
2) YouTube is a neutral platform - a repository for all the world's creativity. That the UI should recede into the background and let the content (and creativity) shine with it's own voice and the voice of the community.
Unlike most false dichotomies that seem to be presented when talking about UI models, this one actually seems to be legitimately mutually exclusive. How can a property have an extremely strong brand within a UI while still maintaining a neutral voice and canvas for content of all types?
I've been struggling with this split in the path of the YouTube UI for a few weeks now, because I believe that YouTube's core differentiator is ultimately the community (for mostly better and sometimes worse). That YouTube *feels* approachable, *feels* community made and *feels* malleable to it's visitors. Can this DIY feeling, in and of itself, be a strong brand attribute? Maybe even the strongest? Can YouTube's brand simultaneously recede and strengthen? Should we be more heavy handed in the visual design and the UI to strengthen YouTube's brand? Or should "YouTube" remain more of an abstract concept that can be lightly applied to all hosted content, with an open community and a neutral canvas?
After many weeks of pushing in a certain direction, I feel that YouTube's brand (and market differentiator) is strongest when the community shines the most. When the community takes ownership of the content and the discourse no matter what container it shows up in. The mere fact that YouTube allows (nay, encourages) its UI & content to escape it's main youtube.com container (embeds all over the Internet) is evidence that a strong ecosystem can easily trump a heavy-handed branded UI. The trick now is to discover a UI treatment that uses *clean*, *modern* & *professional* to enhance (not overpower) *neutral*, *open*, *malleable* & *agnostic*. Tricky.