What is PeerTube? | Introduction to the Free and Open Source Video Platform
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Learn how non-profit software is putting power back in the hands of the people
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- PeerTube History
- Initial Development and Support by Framasoft
- The Philosophy of PeerTube
- The Power of Decentralized Platforms
- Free and Open Internet
- How Does PeerTube Work?
- Peer-to-Peer Networking Using WebTorrent
- Federated Networking via the ActivityPub Protocol
- The Future of Decentralized Platforms
- Additional Resources
- Official FOSS and Non-Profit Pages
- Relevant Articles
PeerTube is a free and open source video platform that was officially launched on October 11, 2018, and is intended to offer an alternative to platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Dailymotion.
Similar to the open source Twitter alternative Mastodon, PeerTube is decentralized, meaning that it is not hosted by a single person, company, or server. Because it is open source, anyone can make their own “Instance” or PeerTube, which can have its own appearance, account management, moderation policy and so on.
Instances can also come together to form Federations, essentially several instances that agree on the same broadcast conditions and share their videos between them. Each video is stored by the Instance that published it but can be viewed by other Instances in the Federation. In turn, Federations are distinct and independent from one another.
Here is an official introductory video to PeerTube:
Initial Development and Support by Framasoft
A programmer known as Chocobozzz began development of PeerTube in 2015, with the goal of creating a peer-to-peer, federated alternative to YouTube.
In 2017, Chocobozzz was contacted by Framasoft, a French non-profit organization which specializes in the development and dissemination of free software and improvement of open source online services. Framasoft has a project called Contributopia, the goal of which is to create alternatives to centralized platforms. Framasoft hired Chocobozzz in order to support his project and assist him with improving the design of the new platform.
The first PeerTube beta was released in March 2018 and then later officially launched in October 2018. By June 2018, 113 distinct instances were online, collectively hosting more than 10,000 videos. As of March 2019, the number has risen to 354 instances, with over 107,000 videos.
In June 2018, the Blender Foundation started to experiment with hosting a PeerTube Instance to stream ad-free videos. The Blender Foundation is a non-profit behind the development of Blender, an open-source 3D computer graphics software toolset. The Blender Foundation is part chose to leave YouTube due to its videos being taken down during changes regarding the YouTube channel monetization.
YouTube doesn’t exactly shy away from alienating YouTube content creators and channel holders with changing policies. PeerTube has been noted for its potential to act as a censorship-free replacement for YouTube. If YouTube continues to drive away its contributors then there is a good chance that PeerTube will gain more traction, and eventually attract more high-profile creators.
The Philosophy of PeerTube
The major belief behind both PeerTube and Framasoft is that the Internet is at its best when providing services that are free, open source, and peer-to-peer. This is the philosophy that the Internet embodied at its roots before it became dominated by centralized, corporate platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and so on.
The Power of Decentralized Platforms
Centralized platforms are able to enact or change policies without any input from users. This gives platforms a great deal of power over its users, as they essentially only have the option of complying with new rules or quitting the platform altogether. Centralized, corporate services also have the fundamental need to make a profit, meaning that, as seen with Facebook, YouTube, and others, at some point the company will sell your information to advertisement companies.
Decentralized platforms like PeerTube or Mastodon don’t need to make a profit, only to have enough money to keep the servers going, which is typically achieved through crowdfunding. Regardless, in both cases there is no central company to sell users’ information or make widespread policy changes anyhow.
For more about the benefits of decentralized platforms, check out this article on Mastodon.
Free and Open Internet
“To us, it is really about taking back the web into our own hands. We have a joke about the ‘Power to the people’ song of John Lennon: PeerTube is kind of ‘Software to the people.’
That’s why PeerTube has to be Free-Libre software: not even we should be able to ‘close’ the code, it would give us way too much power, which we don’t want.”
PeerTube is based on two fundamental principles which emphasize this philosophy. The first is peer-to-peer networking and the second is federation between networks. Both of these principles are upheld by the technology behind PeerTube.
How Does PeerTube Work?
Peer-to-Peer Networking Using WebTorrent
Generally speaking, peer-to-peer (P2P) networking is a way of distributing or partitioning tasks and responsibilities between different nodes, or servers, in the network. Peers are all equally privileged and are both suppliers and consumers of resources.
PeerTube makes use of WebTorrent in order to reduce bandwidth costs and stress on individual servers. WebTorrent, created by Feross Aboukhadijeh, essentially allows BitTorrent to work in web browsers by connecting to and retrieving content from a P2P swarm.
This means that if several people are watching the same video concurrently, they will send data from the video to one another, which takes stress off of the server.
Federated Networking via the ActivityPub Protocol
Decentralized and federated networks are made possible due to protocol standards, such as OStatus and ActivityPub. These protocols are a set of communication rules that allow different servers within the network to exchange information.
PeerTube Instances host their own videos and federate the metadata to other instances using the ActivityPub protocol, and since all instances use the same protocol, they can all communicate (if they choose to).
This can be taken a step further as well, as protocols such as ActivityPub also allow for cross-platform communication so long as the same rules are in place, of course. This means that PeerTube is able to exchange information with other platforms, such as Mastodon, which use the same set of rules.
Though Instances are independent and have the option of remaining private, the AcitivtyPub protocol opens up the option of becoming part of a much larger network that supports a variety of social media platforms.
The Future of Decentralized Platforms
PeerTube is still relatively new but has gained a significant amount of users since launching. Other open source decentralized platforms such as Mastodon are also finding a following.
Though it is still hard to imagine a mass exodus from platforms like YouTube and Twitter that are firmly entrenched in modern culture and the consciousness of the public, it could happen if they don’t clean up their practices and treat users with respect. Although Facebook is still a giant, negative PR and controversial practices caused it to lose a substantial $123 billion.
When and if an exodus happens, these free and open source platforms will be there to catch the diaspora of users.
Official FOSS and Non-Profit Pages
- PeerTube Download via GitHub.com
- PeerTube Twitter
- Chocobozzz Twitter
- Framasoft Twitter
- Webtorrent Download via GitHub.com
- Mastodon Download via GitHub.com
- Blender Foundation
- Blender.org Download Page
- ActivityPub GitHub
- OStaus GitHub
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