Videos on PeerTube

As I’ve already mentioned on Mastodon, I have transferred all my videos to a PeerTube instance. (You can also find it in the sidebar from now on.) There are many reasons for this move, but also some possible drawbacks, which I would like to discuss now.

Let’s start with the reasons: Firstly, the YouTube model of advertising as a means to finance the service is unethical in addition to being annoying. I was aware of that when I started my Vintrospektiv channel, but accepted those problems at the time as the price to pay for the opportunity YouTube presented to me. Now that I am a little more distanced from making a living through my creative work, I can afford thinking about them again. The list of problems with Google is long, and I don’t need to get into the details myself here.

The other reasons boil down to data ownership. Mastodon, PeerTube and other services like BookWyrm and Funkwhale rely on a protocol called ActivityPub that originated on Mastodon, but has been made a W3C recommendation for decentralised social networks since. All services that use that protocol can interact with each other in certain ways. For instance, you can follow a PeerTube account on Mastodon, and will then be informed about new videos in your stream.

But the more important aspect is the decentralisation: because of it, no one entity can decide what to do with a network or the data within it. If an instance (as the individual servers are called) goes rogue, you can move your data from it, and other instances can block it. Most instances offer a mechanism to make that move easy, and you can usually take your followers and the people you follow with you when you switch to another instance. (The way this works is a little complicated, so if you’re interested in learning more, you should read up on ActivityPub.)

In short (and I’m aware that this is quite a simplification), it’s up to you where your data resides and who has access to it at any point in time. Just as an example, all my videos on PeerTube carry a CC (Creative Commons) BY-SA license, which means that people can take my videos and do with them whatever they like as long as they credit me as the originator (BY) and also use a similar license (SA). This is something YouTube doesn’t even allow me to do: the only two possibilities are the “standard YouTube license”, which basically means that you keep the rights, and YouTube can make the video available in any way they like without any obligations, or a CC BY license, which means everyone, including YouTube, can use your video in whatever way as long as they name you as the originator.

It’s good for everyone if a wider range of licences is available, and it’s also obvious that a corporation like Google doesn’t have any interest in letting people make these decisions. YouTube is for making money through sharing videos, and PeerTube is just for sharing videos.

But this is a good time to start talking about the drawbacks. An altruistic network like PeerTube will not be able to grow indefinitely. There are some scalability options available, but leaving aside for the moment that they are fairly limited, they also cost money, and someone will have to pay that money. If the video platform itself is provided for free, then patrons will be needed. At the moment, this seems to work just fine, but this system would certainly not allow to take over, say, the whole of YouTube. Billions of videos and dozens of billions of views every day (those numbers are readily available) need resources that even a large network of patrons would not be able to provide. The only way I can see this working at all (and still at a much smaller scale than YouTube) is by creating commercial instances that users will need to pay for.

Another drawback that is quite irritating to me is the inability to create stable links. If I decide to switch instances (for whatever reason), then all my links will become invalid immediately. It would be possible – but not at all trivial! – to create an instance-independent linking feature. Even so, this feature doesn’t exist yet.

There are also smaller drawbacks, at least as far as I am concerned. While PeerTube does have tag-based recommendations, there are no machine-learning-based options, and no automation. This means that videos will mainly be discovered by searches, not by any fancy recommendation algorithms. In addition, video creators might miss some features like automatic subtitle, chapter and key term creation. There are some plugins, but those have to be installed by the maintainer of the instance, so the users cannot control which advanced features they get.

Still, even with those disadvantages, I’m quite happy with what PeerTube (and the whole Fediverse) offers me. For convenience (my own, mostly), I will leave my YouTube account open for the time being, but I will not upload any more videos there, and will add a note to that end when I create my next video.

The featured image was talen from a photo by Recklessstudios.