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YouTube Topics: A Better Way to Explore Web Video?

YouTube will begin testing a new feature Wednesday evening that gives users the ability to explore broad topics and search terms through suggested searches.

YouTube Topics, which will be available in TestTube, is essentially a dynamic cloud of suggested topics to explore based on your searches. For example, if you look for “supersonic,” YouTube (YouTube) will deliver a string of related topics at the top of the page. In the case of “supersonic,” you might get “fighter jet” or “sonic boom.”

The feature appears as an “Explore” on every search engine results page, just below the search box and above the search results. It displays a list of approximately a half dozen related topics, most with a very faint background color. When you hover over a topic, you are given the option to perform a search. Clicking on it initiates the search.

One other interesting feature of YouTube Topics is the “addition” button. A plus sign is next to all of these related topics. Clicking on it will add that search term to your current query and initiate a new search.

Google (Google) cited “fighter jet” as an example of when you might want to use this feature. One of the related search queries is “Bugatti Veyron,” due to the popularity of several YouTube videos where the two machines race each other. Clicking the plus button will initiate a search for “fighter jet bugatti veyron.” It’s a more advanced way to explore and customize your searches.

The problem YouTube is trying to solve is the issue of discovery. What if a user types in “lol” or “cars” as his or her search term? Both are very broad topics, making it unlikely that YouTube will deliver the right search results on the first try. That’s where Topics is supposed to help; it utilizes algorithmic data from tags, YouTube comments and more. YouTube engineer Palash Nandy calls it “conceptual autocomplete,” a system that helps complete your search by suggesting the topics you most likely wanted.

YouTube Topics is intriguing as a concept, and we think it has the potential to be very useful. However, this type of feature might be a bit too advanced for the average user who just wants to browse, which may be something the online video juggernaut has to address in future releases. The current interface (a line of suggested topic at the top of the page) might not be the ideal way of delivering information to these casual users.

It’s still unclear who this feature was built for; I don’t even think YouTube knows quite yet. The company just knows it needs to give users a better way to explore broad topics. YouTube Topics is a good start.

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