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PeerTube: Peer-to-Peer videos without distractions

PeerTube Logo
PeerTube Logo
© PeerTube (AGPL-3)
Source: PeerTube

If Mastodon is the counter-part to Twitter, one could say PeerTube is the pendant to YouTube. Here like there: many independent instances which can communicate with each other – instead of a single, commercial, centralized service monopolizing the arena.

In this series:

What is PeerTube?

PeerTube is a video service you’d most likely compare to YouTube. But other than YouTube, it is not a centralized service: as usual in the Fediverse, it’s rather a collection of Instanzen using a mutual protocol.

The software running those services is freely available under an open source license – whoever wants can install and run his own instance. According to statistics, in January 2020 there are already half a thousand instances, more than 30,000 users, 150,000+ videos summing up to over 50 Terabyte. Graphics there also show an increase of over 30% in instances resp. almost 40% in videos – just within the past four months. Most recently, about 7 million videos have been watched – per day. Real numbers are most likely higher, as not all instances are covered.

Sepia (PeerTube Mascot)
PeerTube Mascot: Sepia
© CC BY, PeerTube
Source: Wikipedia

Like on YouTube, you can browse and watch videos without logging in. With PeerTube Index, there’s even a global search engine you can use to find videos across many instances. Already got an account on Mastodon? You can use that to follow PeerTube users and their channels, and even leaving comments.

Using a PeerTube account, you of course can do more: you can create your own channels and upload videos. Preferably of course material you created yourself – but you also can import from other sources. This way, YouTubers can make their videos available in the Fediverse without having to upload them again from their local machine.

To play videos, PeerTube makes use of WebTorrent. The more users are watching the same video, the faster does it load – and less from the PeerTube server at that: like with BitTorrent, downloaded parts are shared peer-to-peer with other „downloaders“ (well, it’s called PeerTube, isn’t it). So the funny effect is: when a video goes viral, the server doesn’t break down under heavy load – but rather goes idle  :D

PeerTube stands under the roof of the non-profit organization FramaSoft, known for its many, privacy-friendly tools; their home instance is FramaTube. Goal of the project was and is to create an open alternative to centralized video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion. A developer going by the nick Chocobozzz started implementaion in 2015; the first stable version (v1.0.1) was released end of October 2018. FramaSoft contacted Chocobozzz in 2017; to support him and his work, they finally took him under contract.

More details can be found on their Homepage and in the PeerTube Wikipedia Artikel. You also can find a short introductionary video at PeerTube (even with subtitles).

How do I chose a good instance for me?

If you want to use the full potential of PeerTube, like with Mastodon, you need to find a suitable „home instance“ to create an account on. Again like with Mastodon, there are multiple places you can consult. There’s e.g one with filter functionality and a short description for each instance(1) – and another one with technical details(2). I recommend to consult both:

Did you find some matching candidates, visit them for further details:

First steps: using PeerTube

Subscribe
Subscribe

If you just want to watch, you don’t even need a PeerTube account: Simply navigate to your preferred instance with your web browser, look around, and watch videos interesting you. You can follow an account or channel using a Mastodon account or even per RSS feed, clicking the corresponding „Subscribe“ button – as you can see in the screenshot next to this paragraph.

But if you want to participate actively and upload your own videos, you first need to register with a PeerTube instance. You can do that on the instance of your choice by clicking the „Create an account“ button in the upper left corner (see screenshot below); the process is similar to what was already described in the Mastodon article here.

Create an account

Create Account
Create Account

To create an account, use the following steps:

  1. click on the button labeled „Create an account“. This brings you to the form shown in the screenshot.
  2. If you didn’t already do so, read the details on the instance: are you two right for each other? Please take special care for details in the „Code of conduct”, which might also overlap with „Terms“.
  3. Does everything fit? Then go on and fill the small form. Submit it. A few moments later you should receive an e-mail containing a link to confirm your registration. This is to protect you from strangers registering on your behalf.

Other than with YouTube, at PeerTube you can create and maintain almost any number of channels you wish within a single account on the instance. During the registration process, one such channel will be created; more you can add any time. This is e.g. useful to group videos on a specific topic, so people interested can subscribe more selectively.

Log in

Did you successfully register and verify your account, you now can use the „Login“ button to, uh, log in. Use either the e-mail address or the account name you registered, and the password you specified.

Check and adjust your settings

PeerTube Menu
PeerTube Menu

A click on your „display name“ brings you to your account’s settings. Here you can change your avatar, the display name, give a short description on your person or your account – but you can also specify what should be shown to you in which way. In separate tabs you will find notifications you received (e.g. is someone has subscribed to one of your channels, or a new video has been created in a channel you subscribed to), can manage your channels, videos, subscriptions („My library“), and more.

Find interesting content, people and channels to follow

Like with Mastodon, at PeerTube you will find multiple timelines – here listed in the left frame:

For more you can use the search mask, which is located in the upper right corner. It is not limited to the local instance but also covers all instances followed by it. Far more instances are covered by the global PeerTube Index.

Did you find an interesting channel you want to follow? As shown above, you can do so by clicking the corresponding „Subscribe“ button. Select „Subscribe with your local account“ to follow it with your PeerTube account.

Upload your own videos

Upload a video
Upload a video

On one of the previous screenshots you might already have noticed the button labeled „Upload“. As you’d expect, this brings you to a form that lets you add videos to your channels.

The screenshot shows how to upload a video from your computer. Supported file formats might slightly differ between instances. Choose the channel you want to add the video to, and also the video’s visibility:

If the instance permits, videos can also be imported from other websites. This is especially useful if you already run a YouTube channel – in which case you can adopt your videos from there easily. Next to YouTube, quite a number of other websites are supported. A third variant is an import using torrents (third tab) – again, if your instance supports this.

Edit video metadata

Details on your videos you can edit any time (you’re usually asked to do so while the file is uploading). Apart from a title, you can give it a description, tags (as on Mastodon, this makes them easier to find) assign a category and a license. You can also change the channel lateron (e.g. if you want to split an existing one). Does the video contain spoken language (and not just music), you should specify that as well – as in account settings one can also restrict the languages one is interested in.

More tabs allow to add subtitles, change the preview thumbnail, and more. Besides: for descriptions, Markdown is used – so you can easily format your text with headings, bold/italic, and even lists (bulleted or numbered). If you didn’t use Markdown yet, the linked Wikipedia article also gives you a cheat-sheet.

Using PeerTube via an app

If you don’t want to do without PeerTube while on-the-road, and prefer doing so via an app: that’s possible as well. Though the selection of apps is smaller than at Mastodon, and currently there’s no mobile client supporting video upload:

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  1. the amount mentioned here is what you automatically get when signing on; in most cases admins will augment that when asked and given „good reason“, if it’s possible for them. ↩︎

2020-01-11