Getting Started with PeerTube

PeerTube is an exciting project that aims to bring video content to the fediverse, a decentralized supernetwork run and moderated entirely by volunteers. The platform is still very young, but an increasing amount of people are interested in exploring the prospect of media capabilities in federated systems.

After spending some time experimenting with the platform, I’ve come up with a guide to help others who want to check it out.


How are channels supposed to work?

There’s a bit of a conceptual disconnect at the moment with how channels are supposed to work. At first glance, the hierarchy takes some getting used to. Let’s untangle this!

The user account you create when registering for PeerTube is an Account. From a technical perspective, every video you upload is referred to through it, because technically it’s an ActivityPub Actor object. What this means in practice is that people can subscribe to it directly on Mastodon.

My account, with the five channels I’ve created for it.

When an Account is first created, it is automatically assigned a default Channel. In reality, you can create as many channels as you like; each one works like a playlist, and people can subscribe to individual channels because they are also ActivityPub Actor objects.

In fact, if we look at these accounts from Mastodon’s side, we can see that the channel actors are just resharing the video posts from your main account Actor. The benefit of this is that if you ever need to move your videos from one channel to another, and they’re both tied to the same account, migration is trivial.

Just update an existing video, and you’ll be able to swap channel assignment right away.

Currently, PeerTube accounts can only subscribe to separate channels. In other words, if you want to subscribe to someone who has two different channels on his account, you might need to subscribe to both of them if you wanted to see everything.


Where can I find things to watch?

This is one of the greater challenges in navigating federated networks, as all the presumed Good Stuff™ is potentially spread out between different servers. There isn’t necessarily a good indicator for where any of it resides, so what should you do?

PeerTube’s instance tracker, an opt-in service for seeing what instances are out in the wild.

A strategy I like to use is to look up PeerTube’s instance tracker, and sort through the results. I try to sort the table by the amount of local videos or the platform version, as that can either indicate a) an instance with a lot of content or b) a newer instance that’s just starting out.

One interesting rule of thumb: higher local video counts often indicate community-run hubs, whereas a lower count often indicates that it’s a personal instance.

The local videos tab of peertube.mastodon.host, a community hub with free registration.

Generally, you’ll want to look for entries that and glance the local tab to see what kind of videos are hosted there. From that point, I’ll try to watch about 20 seconds of a video to see whether it piques my interest.

If it does, I’ll navigate to that channel…

…copy the URL to the user account, minus the /videos part…

…and paste it into the search box on my own instance. From there, the channel appears automatically in the search results, and I can subscribe to it.

Note: you can also instead use the channel_name@instance.domain handle if you know it off-hand. Some older PeerTube channels initially only supported hashes for addresses, but newer ones are regular strings. I generally recommend creating new channels and switching your videos over to make them easier to discover!

From that point on, all videos posted to that channel will appear in your Subscriptions page.

Worth mentioning, you can also achieve something similar by using the video URL instead. It will pull in just that singular video to your search results, but you’ll be able to subscribe to the channel by navigating to the video and clicking the Subscribe button on the video page.


What are some good starter channels to follow?

The PeerTube part of the fediverse is still quite young. Relatively few people are developing content exclusively for this space yet, but a number of YouTubers have been mirroring their content as a way to get started. Below are a few accounts I’ve come across that I appreciated:

Organizations

  • Blender Foundation — The famous Open Source 3D tool initially began experimenting with PeerTube after some issues with YouTube and Copyright. Unfortunately, no new videos have been uploaded to the official Blender instance in a few months, but the account maintains a pretty decent amount of subscribers and features most of their Open Movie projects.
  • Krita Foundation — the official account for the tablet-friendly painting app! Currently they only have a fundraising video available, but there are a number of passionate users uploading timelapse painting videos.
  • Gnome — the venerable desktop offers an account for announcement videos of new releases.
  • KDE — Not to be outdone, the K Desktop Environment also has a dedicated channel now.
  • Linux Game Cast— a show dedicated to reviewing games compatible with Linux.
  • Jupiter Broadcasting — the venerable podcasting network formed by Bryan Lunduke and Chris Fisher, this account features Jupiter Signal, Ask Noah, BSD Now, TechSNAP, The Linux Action Show, and more.
  • Morevna Project— an ongoing initiative to create free-licensed content using Free Software tools. Some of the more notable entries are motion comic adaptations of David Revoy’s Pepper and Carrot, a cute series about a witch and her feline friend.

People

  • ScanLime — a tinkerer dedicated to building interesting gadgets. The main focus of the series so far has involved a camera robot that hangs from the ceiling and focuses on moving objects, namely the creator’s cat.
  • David Revoy — a Krita power-user and contributor, David is a French CG artist who has created a tremendous amount of tutorials related to his process and how he makes it all work. Some of his work has been adapted by Morevna Project above.
  • Chris Talleras — a Norwegian illustrator using Free Software to create art in their spare time, has a number of handy tutorials for creators using the Free Desktop.
  • HexDSL — records Linux gameplay videos, and talks about some of his favorite apps for the Free Desktop.
  • Chris Were— A prolific YouTuber, Chris regularly talks about Linux, applications, and some of his favorite shows. Currently holds the highest video count of almost anyone I’ve seen on the fediverse.
  • Arthur — I don’t know this guy’s last name, but he has a Linux show as well and tends to delve into some of the broader topics of the Open Source community.

Thanks for checking out my article! Feel free to follow me on Mastodon or watch my videos on PeerTube.