A Journey into YouTube Alternatives

September 11, 2020

I watch more YouTube videos than I care to admit. YouTube’s site is addicting and distracting. It is so easy for me to spend hours watching videos. I don’t want to quite YouTube entirely, but over the last few years I’ve been trying to find ways to still watch some YouTube videos, mainly from my subscriptions, without getting sucked into the recommendation vortex. On top of this, there is the privacy implication and the act of building up Google’s internet empire, but this is for another post.


If you are techy, you can use the command line tool youtube-dl to download all videos you want to watch and then open them in your media player. This is a fairly annoying workflow in my opinion, and it still requires you to go to unfettered youtube.com in order to find video URLs. I personally find this workflow to be too abrasive to use.


Many media players (VLC, MPV) can play from a YouTube URL directly. They can also do this from a playlist (xspf) file. So I created youtube-xspf which will take the generated XML file of your subscriptions from the subscriptions manager and generate a playlist file of videos for you to watch, which you can open in your media player of choice. This actually is a pretty nice way of browsing YouTube, but I still find it a bit clunky. Sometimes the VLC stream doesn’t open either, and so you can’t watch a video.


The android app NewPipe (available on f-droid) has a pretty similar workflow to the above method, but it uses its own format for feeds rather than xspf. It is a great app, but since its mobile only, I don’t see it as a proper solution. NewPipe does a lot more than the xspf solution, like showing comments, descriptions, and some recommendations.


This is an alternate frontend to YouTube that recently shut down its main instance (though there are still more listed here https://invidio.us/). It allowed for a YouTube experience on the web without the bloated website. I had issues with running my own instance and managing subscriptions, and so I had to switch to the next solution for my needs.

RSS feeds

YouTube provides RSS feeds for each channel automatically. So one option is to use this in your feed reader of choice. This is my preferred way of managing YouTube currently. I can use my feed reader to sort these items, and I save the feed entries to watch later. I can watch either in my media player or on youtube.com. I’ve been using this with extra UBlock filters to block out most parts of the website that aren’t just the video to keep me focused. This isn’t as dogmatic of blocking out YouTube as using a media player, but it does help me change my habits. Instead of going to the home page of YouTube to check for new videos, I just go to my feed reader. It helps me stay less distracted.


Alternative video sites seem really cool, but there just isn’t enough content at the moment. Perhaps there is, but another problem with these sites is discoverability. It is so easy to find niche interests on YouTube, they are practically shoved down your throat with repeated recommendations. I do follow a few Peertube RSS feeds, but I have not found myself able to rely just on these for entertainment.