YouTube’s offices in San Bruno, California are spectacular. Standing desks, couches, nap pods. Kitchens around every corner stocked with free food. I’m told there’s even a pool. It’s all par for the Silicon Valley course, really.

However, one thing inside The House Cat Videos Built feels out of place: one of the Wi-Fi networks crawlsat mind-numbing speed. When John Harding, YouTube’s VP of engineering, takes out atester phones and taps the YouTube icon, the app takes more than a minute to load. Asthe thumbnails and icons render, Harding pulls out another phone, connected to the same network. He taps the home screen to open something called “Video App.” It opens in seconds,a scrolling list of video thumbnails on a white background.

This app isn’t called “Video App” anymore. Startingtoday, it’s called YouTube Go, and it represents more than a year of work to rethink YouTubefor a new kind of user. The so-called “next billion” Internet users are comingonline, many of them in India, Indonesia, Brazil, and China. They aren’t like the users who came before. They have different devices, different connectivity, different social norms, different ideas about what the Internet is.

Spend enough time talking to Silicon Valley types and you’ll hear them say “we made something we’d want to use.” That’s why laundry startups proliferate. But what do you do when you’re making something for everyone else? If you’re YouTube, you sendyour engineers, researchers, and designers to India, Indonesia, Singapore, and beyond to find out how thenext billion will use YouTube, and how they might change the service forever.

The Human Network

India is one of many countries YouTube is targeting with Go, anda fairly representative one: It has more than a billion people occupying every socio-economic class and living in every imaginable setting. India also is uniquely enticing for any company looking for growth markets, says Forrester research director Ashutosh Sharma. “It’s a country of 1.25 or 1.3 billion, and only 200-250 million people have Internet connectivity,” he says. It’s also more open and accessible than, say, China. “There’s a growing middle class,” Sharma says, “and people crave foreign brands. It’s going to be even more open in coming years.”


The phased rollout is also a chance for YouTube to continue learningwhat works and what doesn’t. The team is keenly aware that it is building a product for people far removed from itscomfy San Bruno offices, and that few of itsideas about YouTube are useful there. Before starting workon Go, a group of engineers went through an internal Google bootcamp designed to open their minds to new ideas. Srinivasan calls it “almost a spiritual experience.” Everyone constantly reminds me, and seemingly themselves, that their job is not to build what they think would be cool, but what their user wants and needs.

If YouTube Go is successful, it will change every part of YouTube. It’s just a numbers thing: If a billion-plus people start experiencing the service through local sharing and downloads, they won’t give that up to switch to the “real YouTube.” And whether it’s video previews or video compression or the overall lightness of the app, many of the changes will appeal to everyone. YouTube Offline launched in India two years ago, and is now part of the product around the world.

A billion people are about to tell YouTube what they want, and they’ll do the same with every tech company you know. Those companies would be crazy not to listen.

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