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Many websites that embed videos now seem to follow the trend of automatically playing them. I believe that facebook is one of these types of websites, but it is probably the exception rather than the norm. There have been other questions around whether this is a good UX practice, but I want to explore the question for what the best strategy is.

I think some of the issues involved are:

  • Type of website - whether it is video-centric like Youtube or mostly text/graphics based
  • Nature of video - whether it is advertising or content
  • Mode of play - automatic, timed delay, manual
  • Speed of connection - mobile data network or direct ADSL connection

Is the case where a video-centric website showing content on video using automatic play mode the optimal user experience strategy? Should other websites that do not conform to these parameters seek an alternate strategy in the interest of better use experience?

  • The YouTube.com website doesn't auto play. Nothing autoplays until the visitor chooses to access a specific piece of content - ie opening a link to a specific video. – JonW Aug 27 '14 at 23:47
  • Thanks for the correction. I have changed the question to remove the reference to YouTube.com. – Michael Lai Aug 28 '14 at 0:36
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+50

Hmmm it depends on the path the user can follow and the user expectation. Which they both affect each other. You may do research and realise your path can be optimised to fit the user behaviour and viceversa.

TLDR;

  • scanning: mute autoplay
  • selecting from a list: autoplay with sound after click
  • change defaults based on user configuration: e.g. activate sound on a video, remember it for other videos

That being said here are some examples that may help for your particular use case.

  1. Scrolling a "wall" of content. Think about images since are simpler than videos. The user scrolls and can instantly see the content. Very natural. Now let us add videos to our "wall". What makes a video a video? The fact that it can play. So if the user is scanning content he will want to autoplay (but only one video at once). Sound may be questionable so you shouldn't autoplay. The user may be multitasking.
    Instagram, Facebook

  2. Choosing a video from a "buffet" of videos. The user already searched for it, decided it wanted to see it and clicked on it. Once the user clicked the video you better play it.
    Youtube, Netflix

  3. Mixed content. The primary content it's not video focused, let's say that you may have documents, videos, images, etc. Showing a generic format that applies to all formats helps scanning content really fast. The user learns one pattern that applies to all content. Now we can add one, max two details that are unique to each type. For example an icon or a preview. In case it's not clear, no autoplay here.
    Search results

The last example does not directly apply to your question, but I believe it helps to see the difference.

Of course once you understand what is the core flow you can polish it or account for the other issues you mentioned.

Bad connection? Show only a thumbnail so the user can still get a visual clue of what the video is about. No autoplay anymore :(.

Searching in a list of videos? Aid the thumbnail with a rating from other users, descriptive labels, metadata related to the video. The user can't play all videos and decide. But once the scan/search part is over, autoplay is expected.

Ads? Of course no autoplay... but well, i'd do it for bitcoin.

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In my opinion, Youtube, Vimeo etc are exceptions to the rule. If it's a video site, autoplay is acceptable. However, if it's an embedded video on a non-video based site, autoplay is a bad idea.

I absolutely hate when videos autoplay. Especially when I have my speakers turned up from some other video that had poor audio quality. It's jolting.

If the video looks interesting, I'll watch it. I don't need it to autoplay.

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    +1 for Youtube, Vimeo etc are exceptions to the rule. If it's a video site, autoplay is acceptable. – Vikram Deshmukh Aug 28 '14 at 10:53
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As a user of the websites, I would not prefer videos getting autoplayed as and when I scroll to that frame. It's really annoying in cases e.g. You are at home having your speakers turned on, or at office where accidentally your laptop speakers are unmuted.

Many news websites start autoplay of the news hour stuff as soon as you load the page. Some of the sites do autoplay of ads also. This is unacceptable in case of limited data availability to the user(in case he is using prepaid data cards with a data limit).

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    Good point about the data availability and also interruption to what you are doing whether it is at home or work. – Michael Lai Aug 28 '14 at 6:22
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Videos overcome everything else on a webpage. You can either read content, or watch a video at a time. Also, many times before I play a video, I grab my headphones and plug them in. So surely from a user's perspective, videos shouldn't auto-play. Background videos without sound seem to be okay, without considering how good or bad having them is.

Sydney Morning Herald does delayed auto-play. While the video is related to the content, its immensely distracting. I start to read an article, and then the sounds from the video (playing at the top of the page and not even in the viewport) always make me frantically find the stop button.

I find videos interesting when the write-up builds up the story and creates a reason for me to watch them.

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It should meet users expectations and you could actually determine them by analysing metrics, heatmaps, running some user testinv and learning how the product is used and adapting to it.

I think it's best to form an informed assumption based on the issues that you stated: type of website, content type, mode of play, internet quality of your users and start from there. It's ok to test, measure and improve.

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