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I noticed that YouTube now doesn't show the exact number of views anymore, when the video has more than 1.000 views.

But instead of showing something abbreviated like 203k views, they show 203.000 views. Clearly rounded and in principle inaccurate.

I asked a similar question about YouTubes decision to not show the actual date of upload or "age" of a video, but rather showing imprecise representations like 1 year ago for a video, that was posted 1 year and 10 months ago: What is the advantage of using imprecise representations of time i. e. 'an hour ago'?

This latest change does not hide more accurate information so much as it pretends it isn't available.

Is there any advantage to this, with reference to user experience or site usability? I personally really dislike this choice, because, while pretty much useless information in this example, it feels like I get a curated version of reality.

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I think youtube does this because it's easier to look at like 203k than 203.542.

So the user doesn't get overwhelmed by so many different big numbers. Also the impact of say 542 on 203k is way less than say 150 when beneath 1k.

  • It is not showing 203k though. – Minix Aug 22 at 12:09
  • When i open up youtube it does that for me. gyazo.com/d5c5071363c0407f013edf73130486e0 – Raymonddv Aug 22 at 12:13
  • Maybe they're A/B-testing us. i.imgur.com/Y2dVFRa.png – Minix Aug 22 at 12:22
  • I think you are right about that! i dont know how the would get feedback tho for a test like this. – Raymonddv Aug 22 at 12:40
  • The way they get feedback right now, by checking if it has an impact on how often you click a video and how long you watch that video. I feel like the numbers I see are artificial and that takes my attention away from the video, which makes me less likely to click on it. If there are a lot of people like me, they will notice, since the retention rate goes down slightly. But I'm no professional. This is just conjecture. – Minix Aug 22 at 12:43
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It's About the Big Picture

'Imprecise' is one way of putting it - 203,000 in lieu of a more accurate 202,986 views. 'Order of Magnitude' is another way of looking at it.

Excessive detail, especially in a social medium designed for quick scanning at first, creates too much distraction for negligible informative gain. The fact that in the above example 114 nonexistent views were generously rolled into the total number of views count adds little benefit (the difference between the precise count and its rounded surface equivalent is less than 0.1%).

Flooding users with overly precise numbers in this context can be pedantic.

Anecdote time: I attended a presentation once in which a fairly junior product manager presented revenue figures from his product line to a few execs, and his presentation cited numbers in the millions down to the last cent. The big cheeses, user to consuming lots of figures on a daily basis, and knowing how to tell the black from the red, started cracking patronising jokes at the poor fellow about his nickels and dimes. It did not occur to him to aim for the opposite effect by rounding the numbers on his presentation (e.g. $ 16.4 M) so as to make them instantly consumable, and memorising the precise figures - albeit down to 100s of dollars only - only for the eventuality of being asked, in which case he could have impressed them by showing how on top of his game he truly was.

Moral of the story: Detail distracts.

Conventions for Multiples

Abbreviating thousands as 'k', millions as 'M', etc. is an anglocentric habit, and should be handled with reserve before a global audience, such as addressed by social media. Even the use of commas and full stops in larger numbers is obverse to the English convention in many languages. Although given that decimals are absent from this context most ESL speakers will quickly figure out how the purpose of the comma separator in English numbering, and especially in US-centric social media platforms, differs from their native custom.

Sense of Time

Humans think of time as an order of magnitude scale as well. 'An hour ago' is meaningful (as fairly recent), as is 'earlier today' or 'yesterday'. Listing a precise h:mm:ss counter instead will make the recency of a posting harder to map mentally and presents the consumer with unnecessary cognitive noise. Does it really matter if the post was 58 minutes and 15 seconds, or 61 minutes and 9 seconds ago?

Where everyday human perception of time is concerned, excess precision is most definitely annoyingly pedantic unless of course it really matters, as in a departures and arrivals schedule, sports (even there I find a delta measured by 100s of seconds ridiculous), and, of course, higher physics or rocketry.

  • While I like your answer, it also posits, that a more precise view count would be distracting, without backing it up, while instead going for an anecdote of an extreme example, where the detail was not only not necessary but unrealistically accurate. Additionally, they are not hiding information by using "k", but actually giving false information. It's like saying "We made $16.400.000,00 this year." I don't feel this answers my question and leaves a slippery slope to just go to with "lots", "a bunch", "a few", because "people can't imagine 600.000 of anything; it distracts them too much.". – Minix Aug 23 at 8:16
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The headline, while eye-catching, isn't really a Stack Exchange-type of question. I mean, the question is basically an accusation and phrased in a pretty polarizing way.

So, I'm going to answer the question I think you probably should have asked:

"Why might a company like YouTube intentionally obscure the true number for some measure like view count on a video and instead show users some rounded value? Does this make for a good/better UX, or is it done for some other reason? If so, does it harm UX?"

On Reddit, upvote/downvote values are displayed to full precision (to the ones digit). However, they are different by some small amount whenever you load the page. This is called "vote fuzzing" on that site and is intended as a countermeasure to vote manipulation schemes and botting that uses scraping vote counts on comments or posts as part of their inputs. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if YouTube, a more explicitly monetized website, is subject to a greater amount of automatic manipulation and attack attempts and this obfuscation weren't some component of their anti-bot strategy.

As far as the detriment or benefit to User Experience offered by this kind of design decision, let's consider what interaction the page in question facilitates and what kind of effects the view count have on that interaction. The 'typical' YouTube user is on the site to watch videos. Whether a video they have clicked on to watch has been viewed 203,000 times or 203,118 times should have only minimal effect on the user's experience, especially considering that the content which is central to the experience is the video and the view count is only tertiary content at best. Maybe we can imagine a user whose experience would be affected by view count display changes?

Maybe an advertiser, trying to find new videos to monetize? Well, no, that's almost certainly done through an API that provides accurate view statistics. Another content creator, keeping tabs on competitors or colleagues? Well, not really, since order of magnitude view counts provide the needed level of detail for casual comparisons.

In the end, without some pretty comprehensive user studies, which you can bet YouTube's UX team is doing, I can't imagine a user for whom this display decision makes a marked difference one way or the other to their experience on the website. What kind of detriment did you suppose users were experiencing due to this change?

  • For me personally it is distracting because I was never bothered or overwhelmed by the exact numbers. To the contrary, the artifically uniform numbers now make it obvious to me something was done there and since I don't know why and don't feel like cognitive load was taken away I'm actually more distracted now. Maybe I'm really alone in this, though. Would you mind all prices 5 cents away from the dollar being rounded, but you still have to pay the actual price? Would that be a better buying experience? – Minix Aug 24 at 12:23
  • Prices affect your experience. View count is irrelevant to your experience. It seems like you're just distracted because you noticed what amounts to a glimpse behind the curtain and you're hung up on what that might mean. Again, it's probably an anti-manipulation measure. – sintax Aug 24 at 14:21
  • Well, I don't share your opinion that view counts don't matter. Like I mentioned on a different answer. Why not just change it to words or not display them at all? Obviously they were important enough to keep them there for the better part of a decade. – Minix Aug 24 at 15:33
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General Rule

You can't really make a blanket rule or statement than giving a user precise or imprecise info is good or bad. The blanket rule I fall back in is more generic:

A good user experience will happen when the user gets the most useful information as easily and quickly as possible. That means we need to answer two questions:

  1. What info is the most important to share?
  2. How do we share it as quickly and easily as possible?

That rule can be applied to this specific case, though.

This Specific Case

What info is the most important to share?

We want to tell the user the number of views, which in your example is 203.000. What part of that is the most useful to the user? Obviously, the first three digits (203) are more important than the last three ("000"). It makes less of a difference if the 000 was actually 001, than if the 203 was actually a 253.

How do we share it as quickly and easily as possible?

203k is faster to read because there are less characters. So the first guess here is that it's better. However, just because it's faster to read doesn't mean it's faster to comprehend. Humans are very good at pattern recognition, and we comprehend things in an expected pattern faster than in unexpected. So 203.000 may be faster to comprehend than 203k, despite taking longer to read.

Another answer mentioned that YouTube is currently A/B testing both options. They may very well be trying to determine which one is the easiest/fastest to comprehend.

Edited for clarity.

  • This gives me no new information and the claim that 203.000 is faster to comprehend than 203.453, especially in the face of it being the latter for more than 10 years, is not backed up by anything. – Minix Aug 23 at 8:11
  • Where did I say that "203.000 is faster to comprehend than 203.453"? – Andy Mercer Aug 23 at 13:11
  • If you want to be overly technical, than you did only say, that 203k is faster to "digest", than 203.000. Which is still not an answer to my question, which is why 203.000 would be preferable to the actual number, or if giving imprecise information (in contrast to simply hiding it) has any documented benefit. – Minix Aug 23 at 15:04
  • You clearly missed the point of my answer, which means my answer wasn't very clear. I've edited it for clarity, to try to better explain what I am saying. – Andy Mercer Aug 23 at 15:16

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