I know I’ve said a lot of great things about federated social networks and for the most part they are. Nothing is perfect however. With that said, let me introduce, and explain the problem I see, with PeerTube.
PeerTube is a federated decentralized social video sharing open software platform using the ActivityPub standard. That means you can follow accounts on PeerTube instances from other social networks using the same standard like Mastodon, Friendica, Writefreely, etc.. (You can read more about decentralized federated social networks and how they work here.)
Much like YouTube or Vimeo, you can upload videos and watch others videos. There are categories, tags, all of the things you would expect. One of the ways that it distinguishes itself from YouTube and Vimeo however, is in its peer to peer sharing structure. If just one person is watching your video, then it’s pulling it straight from the server. If two or more are watching your video, then it shares bits of the video between them, creating less activity on the server. The idea is that, like all other decentralized social networks, you can run your own instance of the software and the server load is significantly reduced.
As with most decentralized social networks each instance of PeerTube has it’s own rules, guidelines, and restrictions. The biggest difference between the instances probably boils down to daily upload file limitations. It’s important when choosing an instance to see what their restrictions are as it may effect your experience.
Now this all sounds well and good. You have a video sharing platform that allows you to be followed by other social media platforms, you can upload and share , and browse and watch other people videos.
It’s that last part where we hit a snag.
My first problem is with finding anything interesting to watch. Because PeerTube is worldwide you’ll notice right away that a LOT of the videos on the front page are mostly in different languages. French, Spanish, Russian, English, and others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it does slow down the amount of time it takes to find a good video to watch. An option to sort by language would be a big step.
My next problem is with theft. There are a LOT of stolen YouTube videos. I’d say more then 3/4 of the videos on most of the PeerTube instances I’ve visited are taken from YouTube. I get how some people might have a grudge against Google and therefor YouTube and think that copying the videos and placing them on PeerTube might hurt YouTube, but in reality it hurts the creators that made them in the first place.
It’s also a glaring admission that YouTube is better.
Imagine a new Hamburger place pops up around the corner that you’ve never heard of before. Curious, you walk in, sit down, and look over their menu. To your surprise you find that 3/4 of their menu, comes from McDonald’s. Why eat there then? Obviously they have high praise for McDonald’s. Why not just go eat there?
So if 3/4 of PeerTube Videos are just stolen YouTube videos, why not just go to YouTube? It’s the same problem any video sharing platform has. Content. If there’s not enough people creating content to watch, no one is going to use the service. YouTube is a HUGE source of content that no new service can really compete directly against. Turning PeerTube into a YouTube dumping ground is just admitting defeat. Until PeerTube finds a way to attract content creators, it’s going to struggle.
My last problem is with porn. Now, I’m no prude. I’ve got no issues with porn. It’s great, when in the right context. The problem is when it’s someone slinging their dick like a propeller right next to a video on how to adjust the settings on your hard drive. Fortunately most people put their porn behind content warning which blur the thumbnail and make you click on a warning to see the video, but not everyone does. Most instances will ban people for not using content warnings, but if someone is running their own instance, then the moderators for other instances have to ban the offenders instance from the Federation. It can be a slow process.
Until PeerTube fixes these four issues it’s going wallow in obscurity. It’s a good idea, being able to share videos across different social media platforms. Lessening server stress by using P2P. Decentralization. Federation. Content warning. All useful to the users, but it’s the content and how it’s managed by both the users and each instances moderators that will determine if, on a whole, PeerTube can survive and thrive like Mastodon, Pixelfed, or Friendica.