Enshittification - when an online platform becomes more monetized and less user-oriented the longer it lasts.

Most online apps and services seem to be falling into this trap. At launch, they solve an important problem or provide great value to users. People start using it en mass. As the userbase grows, the platform starts making changes that are at odds with what users want.

Some examples (including one which is a physical product):

  • Apple (and subsequently every other phone manufacturer) removed the headphone jack from its phones.
  • Reddit practically killed its API which allowed it to grow in the first place.
  • Google search, once adorned with tasteful discreet text ads, is now often filled to the brim with ads indistinguishable from real search results.
  • Facebook and Instagram have gradually increased the amount of ads to such an extent that it is common to see an entire page full of ads on your feed.

Today I want to talk about a recent change in YouTube that I haven’t seen anybody else mention. I believe this one also falls squarely in the enshittification bucket.

What is “Watch Later”?

Watch Later is a special playlist on YouTube that you can add videos to…watch later. I find it very useful because I don’t always have time to watch a 15 minute video right now, but I still want to watch it at some point. When I have time, instead of hunting for videos I missed, I just go to my Watch Later playlist and select what I want to watch.

How was it wasy to use?

The playlist was special because it was very easy (usually a single click or tap) to add a video to it.

On phone, in the feed, you could tap the three dot menu on any video, and the first option in the menu was watch later. Two easy taps, and you’re done.

On web, if you hover over the thumbnail of any video, there was a dedicated watch later button on the bottom right. One click, and you’re done.

On TV, you could hold the select button on any video and again, the first item in the menu that would open would add the video to your watch later list. One long click, and a short one.

How has it changed?

On phone, the watch later option is still there in the three dot menu, but it’s the second one. The first one is now an ad for their premium subscription. The change in positioning was very clever. It always makes me pause for a moment now, before I can tap the watch later option.

On web, the hover shortcut is gone, replaced by two useless hover icons which I will never use. Now you need to locate the three dot menu, click it, and choose the second option in the list.

On TV, they got rid of the long select menu entirely. There is no way to add a video to watch later from the feed.

Why did they make it worse?

It really feels like someone at YouTube had a grudge against the feature for some reason. It has been made harder to locate and use on every platform more or less at the same time. I have thought a lot about it but cannot figure out why they would do this. It doesn’t make any sense at all. I am sure the justification involves something something advertisers, watch time, something…