The Revolution is Being Televised

Sat 28 January 2023 by R.L. Dane

PeerTube and the future of federated online media

YouTube currently holds all the cards in the online media game. They change the rules to whatever they want, whenever they want, and it's all over but the cryin':

Intrusive ads on ALL videos, monetized or not?
Deal with it.
Arbitrary rules for what can and cannot be monetized?
Deal with it.
Randomly deleting entire accounts for no discernible reason, no matter how many pleas for an explanation and howevermuch online furor over it?
Deal with it.
YouTube is under no compunction to "play fair."

I remember watching a very popular online tech YouTuber talking about mobile phones and privacy. At the end of the video, he admitted that the system YouTube had set up was pretty awful and invasive. The counterbalancing positive he gave was (basically) that all of the advertising shenanigans and privacy theft enabled him to make a living doing what he loved.

I'm all for people doing what they love, and making a living at it, but there must be a better way.

Enter PeerTube. Is it a replacement for YouTube? No, not really. Is it a way to make a living doing what you love? Eh, it's not that, either. Unfortunately, I don't have a solution for the content creators right now. Scratch that. That's a horrible term. I don't have a solution for artists and videographers right now. What PeerTube is, however, is an answer for viewers: a way to enjoy online content without all the insanity that comes with YouTube, and without contributing to a platform that is increasingly abusive to both viewers and artists.

Much like Mastodon is really not meant to be a replacement for the BirdSite, but perhaps a more positive answer to it, PeerTube currently can in no way replace YouTube. They're not flush with vulture capital cash and tons of storage, bandwidth, and CDNs. But what it can do is provide an alternative. Just as Mastodon is very reminiscent of the incredibly idealistic and open early days of BirdSite, PeerTube is fairly reminiscent of the honestly rather random and chaotic early days of YouTube, and I am going to say that that is a good thing.

I decided in mid-November that I would stop paying for my YouTube Premium subscription. Watching YouTube on my TV had started to take up a large amount of my time, and the platform has really streamlined getting zombified sleepy eyeballs stuck to the screen. When my subscription ran out in mid-December, I deleted the YouTube app from my TV (because I have zero tolerance for ads), and I pivoted to using PeerTube (primarily via the NewPipe Android app) as my primary source of incidental entertainment. To be fair, my viewing time on Disney+ did go up a fair bit (which isn't ideal), but the increase was definitely not commensurate with the amount of YouTube I stopped watching.

After a couple months of scouring PeerTube for good content, I now feel I have some fairly decent recommendations to share. But before I give you some recommendations on what and where to watch, let me first give you some quick hints on how to watch PeerTube:

  • You cannot approach PeerTube the same way you approach modern YouTube: as a one-stop shop for limitless entertainment on any subject imaginable. That amount of content simply isn't there. This is more like YouTube circa 2008: a handful of well-produced, frequently-posting channels amidst a sea of very random, sporadic content: much of which is interesting, the rest of which you may find unwatchable.
  • While subscriptions are valuable for keeping up with frequently-posting channels, most channels don't post frequently. That doesn't make their content less valuable, though. You may find an incredibly useful video on python dictionaries from two years ago from a channel that only posted four videos — two years ago! That content isn't any less useful, and a subscription to that channel may very well yield new content later on.
  • Searching PeerTube is where the real value lies — but unlike Mastodon, where the global search is intentionally very weak (except for hashtags), there is a very powerful search engine that searches across most (if not nearly all) PeerTube instances very quickly: Sepia Search. Bookmark that site, because it will be just as important as your home PeerTube instance, if not more so. Your instance will also have a fairly robust search feature, but like Mastodon, it will be limited to instances that your instance federates with. Sepia Search is global, and instantaneous.
  • Speaking of instances, much like on Mastodon, the choice of PeerTube instance is fairly important, and will affect what kind of experience you have on the service. You may wish to avoid an instance that primarily hosts content you're not interested in (or in a language you do not understand), or you might end up joining an instance that has great content, but only federates with a select few instances, and therefore has a more limited window into the PeerTube fediverse. In the latter case, Sepia Search is always a valuable place to look. In addition to that, there's no rule against creating an account on multiple instances until you find the one(s) you like best.
  • One tip to avoid confusion: Similarly to YouTube, PeerTube accounts can have multiple channels. This is more prevalent in PeerTube than in YouTube, and it is much easier to discover all of an account's channels. In addition, the account's name and the channel's name may not be anything alike. Whenever possible, I have used the Account's name below, but there are times when using the Channel's name makes more sense, such as calling it "Veronica Explains" instead of just "vkc." I have chosen to link to accounts rather than channels in this list, because some accounts host multiple channels, and it's easier to discover all of an account's content if I link directly to the account, rather than just to one of it channels.

With the preliminaries out of the way, here is a list of PeerTube accounts I have found to offer insightful and enjoyable content (alphabetically sorted):

  • - Lots of linux distro reviews, a fairly regular uploader
  • Alliterative - Lots of great linguistics short videos, very frequent poster. Some older long-form videos as well
  • Blender - Official Blender account on PeerTube, frequent uploads
  • blender_docs - no recent uploads, but lots of blender tutorials
  • BSDTV - No recent uploads, various interesting BSD talks
  • Cantankerous Tech - long-standing peertuber and Mastodon contributor; regular linux-centric uploads
  • Chris Were Videos - another very long-standing PeerTuber and Mastodon user ("tooter!")
  • DebConf Videos - LOTS of Debian content, what's not to love?
  • GamingOnLinux - very frequent uploader, if gaming's your thing
  • Gentle Living Shop - It's honestly nice to see non-techie/non-nerdy content on PeerTube. Very wholesome.
  • geotechdigital - Frequent uploader, general nerdy content - linux distro & tech reviews
  • Jan Beta - Well known on YouTube for awesome nerdy retro computing videos. Please upload more, Jan!!
  • Linux Lounge - frequent uploader, many good linux distro and hardware reviews
  • Luke Smith - LOTS of content, has his own instance, but... CAVEAT OBSERVATOR. His content may not be good for your mental health/outlook. Not particularly positive or wholesome, just FYI
  • Slopes Game Room - occasional gaming content
  • Martijn Braam - occasional uploader, lots of linux phone content
  • MIT+K12 Videos - no recent content, but interesting science videos
  • Niccolò Ve - Very frequent uploader and a KDE dev; lots of fantastic in-depth KDE content. A+
  • proycon's tech videos - Not many videos, but informative if you're interested in the SXMO mobile platform/Operating System
  • Root BSD - Lots of OpenBSD videos focusing on installation and tweaking BSD
  • Salar Rahmanian - Videos focused on NixOS and Functional Programming
  • Solène - OpenBSD dev, posts lots of OpenBSD gaming videos
  • The Linux Experiment - Absolutely A+ Linux PeerTuber, very insightful videos posted frequently
  • Thomas Fischer - lots of great Python tutorials and demonstrations
  • tomasino - Not a frequent uploader, but lots of great nerdy fediverse-oriented content
  • Tomat0 - Interesting commentary channel, regular, though not extremely frequent uploader
  • Vex0r - Retro tech docucommentaries, though not many recent videos
  • Veronica Explains - Another A+ Peertuber, lots of great Linux content
  • Videos - official channel for, a fediverse blogging platform

In addition to excellent PeerTube accounts, there are some instances that tend to host very good content (again, in alphabetical order):

A helpful commenter shared a link to a list of available PeerTube apps. With thanks to "Booteille," here is that link:

Happy viewing! The benefit of freedom is well worth the cost of putting in a little effort to find good content. Give it a try! :)

#100DaysToOffload - Day 1