Let me tell you how YouTube took control of me

Mi Nguyen ✨
6 min readAug 3, 2023

Hello, writing a little bit every day is my personal plan. I write simply because it is the best way for me to express my thoughts, questions, and concerns, and most importantly, it is very good for my mental health.

My articles are all from a personal perspective and that of a Product Designer. Today I will share my thoughts about a troublesome “feature” of Youtube and propose some solutions to solve the problem from a user experience perspective. Check it out!

A young girl standing in front of the TV playing Youtube video
Cute illustration from https://humation.app/

What?

Pop-up will show up if you are inactive for a time

If you’ve ever seen this pop-up, let me introduce you to Youtube’s “Auto-pause” feature when you watch videos from Youtube. If you watch videos with Autoplay mode and have no interaction with Youtube for 30 minutes on mobile, 60 minutes on the web, or 180 minutes on TV, Youtube will automatically pause the video nerdy. To continue watching, you need to press “Yes”.

You must be constantly wondering why Youtube does this. Me too! In this house, the only privilege I have is to command the TV, why do they take away that privilege? 🥲

Normally there won’t be much of a problem. I’ll be ok ok, then confirm to continue watching. But since having a baby, my life has changed quite a lot. The most obvious change is in habits and time. In the first 6 months of maternity leave, I usually only take care of the baby by myself during the day, so I really need the help of machines, especially remote control or independent operation systems. I usually turn on Youtube on TV and play a playlist of soothing music to help the baby sleep. One fine day, I also turned on the lullaby playlist on Youtube, confidently put the baby in the crib and went to do housework. After 180 minutes Youtube automatically paused the music, my child cried and I didn’t understand what happened … 🤯

A mom is holding her baby in arms
Image from istockimage.com

Since I work and take care of my baby at the same time, I also have little time to hang out with friends. If there is a hangout, it is usually a coffee date, eating out near home, or inviting friends to my house. My friends and I usually have a habit of turning on a YouTube music video to run in the background while eating and talking. The conversation was interesting then I had to leave the table, stop the conversation to find the remote, and confirm with Youtube that we were still listening to music?

Try to imagine if it was my parents who encountered a similar situation, they would probably fumble around and take a while to figure out how to continue watching/listening to the video.

I tried Google search, read Reddit, and asked Quora to find a way to turn off this feature but it seems that Youtube has overlooked the use cases I encountered and there is no place to turn it off. I looked in Youtube’s Help section and they answered as follows:

Helps answer from Youtube
Youtube explains the reasons why 😅

I thought there would only be a few people including me who were annoyed by this feature of Youtube but no, quite a lot of feedback from users said that automatically pausing the video they were listening to made them uncomfortable, and annoyed. Most of them want to be proactive in controlling rather than having the platform intervene.

Feedback from user who feel uncomfortable when Youtube automatically pause her video
Feedback from user

For me, the biggest benefit of using machines is that when you command them to do something they will do exactly as commanded until you want them to stop. The fact that Youtube arbitrarily interferes with this experience goes against the inherent functionality of machines. It feels like the machines bought back are anti-owners. In the past, when mechanical machines were backward, we would have to change discs or press replay when the music was over. So why nowadays, technology solves human problems but on the contrary Youtube brings them in?

From these experiences, the drawbacks of this feature can be summarized into 3 points as follows:

• Interrupts users while watching videos.

• Annoys users when they have to press YES to continue watching.

• Wastes users’ time when they have to find a way to turn off this feature.

Why?

From these problems, I started looking for why Youtube did this. And I found some reasons from both the platform and conspiracy theories from the online community

Youtube says:

They want to protect users’ video viewing history and help ensure you don’t use internet data if you’re not actually watching YouTube

The online community says:

Playing videos without watching will affect the revenue of advertisers. If there is no interaction with Youtube for a long time, chances are no one is watching it, and advertisers will not pay for views.

From my point of view, Youtube’s Auto-pause feature is quite useful when looking at the perspective of saving resources and energy in this day and age. Listening to videos for a long time without interacting, Youtube will understand that the device is in an “idle” state, which is quite reasonable. From a business perspective, Youtube’s main source of revenue comes from advertising, so if users don’t watch ads, it will go against what Youtube is trying to create.

How?

After reading some user feedback and through personal experience, I propose some small improvements for Youtube so that this experience is no longer a pain point.

1. Improve UI

Solution 1

A screen of Youtube app, adding countdown time and a skip button

Instead of displaying a pop-up when pausing the video, you can display a status bar at the top, with a countdown timer to let users know how long the video will be paused and allow users to cancel or confirm the pause.

Solution 2

Adding adjust time feature
A set of images from Youtube app, adding adjust time feature to pause video

Instead of pausing the video after a fixed period of time, you can let users adjust this time according to their preferences, or depending on the type of video (for example: music videos can pause after 10 minutes, learning videos can pause after 30 minutes, etc.).

2. Improve tone and voice

Instead of using the language “Video paused. Continue watching?”, you can use different language, for example: “Do you want to continue watching this video?”, “Are you still interested in this video?”, “Do you want to keep this video running?”, etc. Or you can mention the benefits of this feature to make users feel less annoyed, such as suggesting that pausing the video will help them save battery and energy.

You can also combine adding some fun drawings along with the message to increase the liveliness.

A lively pop-up encourage user to save battery life by pause video
Sentences encourage user

3. Use sound

Youtube automatically pauses the video making me feel like my TV or browser is broken or I used to think it was a bug. Therefore, to avoid this bad experience, I think you can combine sound when the pop-up confirms to continue watching the video. This will help me distinguish between video auto-pause due to Youtube and poor signal, and wifi connection.

Conclusion
To be able to draw a final conclusion I think I need to dig deeper and do some research methods. Since this feature is already on the product, I think I can use research methods at the product testing stage such as Usability testing, A/B testing, or User feedback. The goal is to evaluate the effectiveness, performance, and satisfaction of users with the product.

Thank you for reading! If you like this article or have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at minguyen.k51@gmail.com or connect with me on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/traminguyenn

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Mi Nguyen ✨

Product Designer / Design System Creator. Passionate about UI/UX, coffee and dogs :”). See my Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/tra-mi-nguyen-545284107/