You can now hover over videos on Youtube to get GIF like previews

In what they are calling video previews, YouTube now shows you a 3 second clip of a video on the thumbnail before you watch it. The video preview automatically plays when you hover your cursor over it and after the preview plays the thumbnail is shown with a play icon in the middle. This is meant to help you find content that you want to watch and provide a better browsing experience. This feature is not available on mobile, just the desktop.

Not all videos will show the preview though, for a video has to be at least 30 seconds long for a preview to be generated. Length is not the only criteria for eligibility to get video previews though, they use various others including video topic and content. This is all done by AI which selects a clip from the first half of the video and so no action is needed from video creators. This loss of creative control will irk some creators but for now, that is what you get. This does not prevent you from customising the thumbnail, so at least you still have that.

You might not see this feature yet on your computer as it is being rolled out slowly globally. YouTube is calling it an experiment and says a small and growing percentage of users are seeing the previews. If you do not see the video previews yet, be patient, they are coming. Like ‘winter is coming’ coming.


For us here in the developing world with our expensive data this whole preview thing is huge as you can save on data by only clicking on videos you actually want to watch. No longer will you be fooled by clickbait-ey titles and so will not have to play multiple videos before finding the one you want. The previews use considerably less data to load, as they are essentially GIFs, than loading a video and seeking. Until we get our net-neutrality-killing YouTube bundles this will serve us well and more so when they finally come.

As mentioned earlier the previews are meant to help you find videos you might want to watch but this raises the question, ‘are 3 seconds enough for this purpose?’ I would argue they are not as I prefer the length of previews on YouTube Go, which sadly is only available on Android. Long enough to get the best idea of what the video is about and with bigger thumbnails than its desktop counterpart, YouTube Go is the better solution. To top it off on YouTube Go you are shown exactly how many megabytes will be used to play the video at different qualities, 144p vs 480p for example. Crossing my fingers here that this useful feature finds its way to the desktop.

Efforts such as these by YouTube are most appreciated here in countries like Zimbabwe where data watching is sort of a sport. With internet access expensive, especially in relation to disposable incomes, anything that reduces the data consumption of popular and useful sites like YouTube is kind of a big deal.

Of what use though is it when most do not have sufficient access to the internet? As the folks over at YouTube continue tinkering, we need our own innovations here. This week top business leaders in Zimbabwe will be discussing how to harness the internet, how to provide internet access to more people and how to make it cheaper among other things at the Broadband Economy Conference.

Image credit: Bustop TV 

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