Back in January, YouTube announced that it was testing a new, in-stream chat option to encourage more social activity on YouTube, as opposed to having users link off to other, more popular social sites.
The functionality was initially tested in Canada (Canadians share more videos online than any other nation, apparently), and now, after some minor tweaks, it's being rolled out to all users on iOS and Android. So now, you too can chat and share content on YouTube as opposed to Facebook or Twitter. If you want.
As shown in the above video, your shared videos and interactions are now available via a new 'Shared' tab within the app. The chat system has all the regular functionality, including emoji and group chats (up to 30 people), and you can share links from any other platform to add to the discussion - you're not only limited to YouTube links.
It all looks good, and the basic idea makes sense - if it's easier to share YouTube content directly, within the app itself, more people will do that, rather than clicking on the Facebook or Twitter buttons and sharing them elsewhere. Right?
This, to me, is probably where the option falls down. While YouTube definitely has the user numbers to make it a viable option - YouTube currently serves over 1.5 billion monthly logged in viewers, with mobile users, in particular, being highly engaged with the app - those users are now more attuned to sharing and discussing YouTube links on other platforms, as opposed to engaging this way within the app.
That's not to say behaviors can't be changed, but it's certainly a challenge. For example, in order to initiate a YouTube chat, you first need to invite your friends, which you can do via SMS using your contacts or by sending an invitation link through your platform of choice. Or, you could just share the YouTube link you want to discuss within your existing Facebook Group message stream or on Twitter, initiating the conversation as you like.
While direct interaction on YouTube may be a little more efficient, and will give you the opportunity to more easily search for related videos in-stream, the process doesn't add anything new, it just gives you another place to engage. And sure, a lot of your friends are going to be active on YouTube anyway, reducing some of the friction (i.e. you don't have to download a new app), but you have existing networks already established for such purposes in other apps. In this sense, it may be too little too late for YouTube chat.
In terms of specific updates as a result of their initial testing, YouTube says that:
"We've made changes to the chat visual, and we've made the video stick to the top of the chat when scrolling down, to allow replying and chatting while watching a video"
Good, functional changes, but again, nothing new. In order for the option to really take off, they likely need more of a kicker, they need to provide more reason for people to start conversations on YouTube, other than simply making it easier. Because 2 billion people already use Facebook every month to discuss the latest topics of interest - and post video - 1.2 billion use Messenger per month, a billion log onto WhatsApp every day. People already have established conversational networks and groups - newer players, like Snapchat, have been able to come in and take some of that attention, but they've generally done so by providing something new. I'm not sure YouTube chat does that.
But the numbers will tell the tale - if you want to try it out, you need to upgrade to the latest version of YouTube. Then invite your friends to a chat.
In terms of marketing potential, it really needs enough adoption to become a viable channel, but the ability to chat in-stream could serve a purpose for those looking to offer additional contact options. It could also be used as a channel to connect with highly engaged users, sending them links to your latest, or most personally relevant, video content, though the potential for spam is high, particularly in the early stages.