Blockchain-based YouTube has potential to be censorship-resistant alternative

Blockchain-based YouTube has potential to be censorship-resistant alternative

There may be only two factors that really count in a Blockchain-based YouTube competitor:

  1. The number of viewers
  2. Decentralization which achieves an appropriate amount of censorship-resistance.

The soft-spoken but rapid initial rise of DTube.video appears to be achieving at least a limited amount of both. But a dearth of traffic data on the “site” itself – and the fact it has not yet been tested or long-avoided by the predatory Feds – means we can’t be sure of either. Nevertheless, there is heavy interest in the brand-new platform, likely to translate into future viewers.

DTube runs, at least in part, on the zero-fee Steem blockchain and can only be accessed via Steemit account. This threw me off at first when I tried to register. Anyone who rarely uses Steemit will probably be just as confused as I was about what a Steemit private posting key is. This probably would have sent me into “eject-and-do-something-productive” mode if I hadn’t been writing this review. The founder indicates there may eventually be a way to fix this, but for now a good start would be to at least place some sort of message or link on the login page which explains “what is this?” Meanwhile this link explains how to access your key.

The service also uses IPFS, a “protocol that enables decentralized file storage.” According to DTube’s founder: “IPFS is a great network, and I wanted to try it out, because I don’t think there’s any big projects running on IPFS today that prove that it can stay up. So maybe that’s what DTube will do.”

DTube’s censorship-resistance is not meant to be absolute but is, rather, based on a sort of pure democracy which should be more palatable to the Powers That Be than the alternatives. People who see a video and are logged in can upvote it or downvote it, and woe to the video that gets an excessive ratio of downvotes.

According to a post apparently from the founder, “If the upvotes outweigh the downvotes, the video goes up and might be displayed in hot/trending. Otherwise, it ends at $0 and won’t be stored.” Having built and uploaded thousands of vids on YouTube… some pretty low-quality, I can tell you getting more downvotes than upvotes is something which rarely happens in that environment. Presumably it will happen enough on DTube to eliminate or sort-of-eliminate child porn and other content that really does need quashing.

Someone apparently attempted to upload a copyrighted 2015 film; it already has more downvotes than up.   I’m not sure I like that… maybe I want to see the film.  Presumably if that trend continues on that upload, the copyright holder will be “spared” the apocalypse of having his movie shown, and this upload will go away. I uploaded a test video with simply a number for a title… it got no upvotes or downvotes and was still visible and viable at least 20 hours later, indicating that an ignored video will not be immediately disappeared.

The number of viewers on DTube is still low some weeks after launch.  But it took some time to figure that out, because of one of its other problems. DTube doesn’t list the number of views…that makes it difficult to tell what kind of traffic the domain is getting and whether your vid was worth the trouble of uploading there. The number of uploads is fairly high as of August 30 (apparently about one every 12 minutes). After clicking about 10 “hot” videos, I never found one with more than six comments. But at least two threads apparently posted by the founder this month on Steemit are already past the 1,000 comment mark. The comments seem mostly positive.

DTube’s creator is apparently from France; he says his idea came from a different Steemit user around the summer of 2016. He’s not attempting to pull a full Nakamoto, having granted an on-camera interview to PressForTruth.ca.

But he’s mysteriously referred to mostly just as “Adrien” and “@heimindanger” in the references I was able to find. His apparent statements indicate he’s being coy about his exact location in central France. He’s apparently posted to the effect that he has already relinquished control over what can appear on the site. Presumably he’s keeping his identity temporarily hidden until the service is completely off the ground.

“….we have all seen the copyrighted content posted on the blockchain recently,” he (or apparently-him) writes, “as well as more recently some ‘far-right winged’ political videos that are usually censored on YouTube. And many people have been asking about my stance on that privately.

“For me, these two problems are the same. The community must deal with it. I cannot do anything to stop it myself, I don’t control anything but the [dtube.video] (domain name).”

It apparently is or will be possible for others to set up mirrors of a sort which have the same content as DTube.video but with a different domain.

Here are some observations regarding the user experience, though the criticisms should be taken somewhat lightly when you factor in the reality that this service is so new. What’s so impressive about DTube is the degree to which its interface is already intuitive for anyone familiar with YouTube.

A search for my own username name worked at finding the vids I’d uploaded. A search for “harvey” brought up appropriate results about the hurricane, in acceptable numbers. A search for “New Hampshire” only brought up a bunch of vids about things that are “New,” and a search for “hampshire” brought up nothing. The site tends to hang for seconds when you search….without telling you it’s hanging. There is, in fact, very little DTube does tell you and no “Help” link to click. Maybe use this meanwhile.

On my laptop, what happened after clicking the first vid was vaguely disconcerting. It didn’t start or do, well, anything right away. When it did, the display was bad, i.e. the vid was so big that part of it was lost on the screen, in “normal” mode. I had to switch to full screen to see both the upper and lower half of the vid. The next vid I clicked had the same problem, and this time it didn’t start playing until I hunted down the “play” button. I had a feeling that the vid was higher resolution than YouTube vids, with a bit of stuttering but mostly just nice realtime streaming. The next video I tried to play later… hung about every 15 seconds. It came with a glorious “download” option which YouTube lacks, but my browser informed me the download would have taken 4 hours for a 4 minute video. One vid launched unexpectedly, five minutes after I’d forgotten I was trying to load it. Other “D-vids” seem to hang a lot..but as soon as I close them and fire up a YouTube vid… the latter runs without interruption.

On my first upload there was an animation to indicate it might be uploading…but it wouldn’t let me submit my text for a while. It kept telling me to upload a vid. Was I uploading or not? Eventually this or perhaps the next upload completed, taking about twice as long as a YouTube upload. It gave me the option to upload my own still image which would represent the video. The interface was purposefully designed to be intuitive for any half-experienced YouTuber. However this upload will not play, perhaps ever, because DTube does not accept its file format (WMV). It does accept MP4’s, and uploading in that format did work for me.

When uploading properly you should see more than just a circular animation… your vid should play in realtime, including audio as it uploads. Apparently if it doesn’t show up and do that then it’s not being accepted. It can be muted natively.

Around the 36-hour mark my one “successful, real” upload with title… had received no money, one upvote, no downvotes, no comments. The YouTube upload of the same video had been up for about 48 hours at that point, and was at 400 hits, eight comments 19 upvotes, four downvotes. DTube assigned my channel the clunky name “https://dtube.video/#!/c/daveridley”

If you know a way to make a native channel name that is more “speakable,” please post it in the comment section.

The service seems to want you to mind it and keep coming back in order to complete an upload. I had to come back at least five minutes after starting the upload and do more stuff to complete it, rather than doing everything in one two-minute period the way YouTube lets me.

Do you know that feeling when you open something like Google Calendar in a web browser… and your browser’s scroll bar disappears? I hate that feeling and have it very much with DTube… it’s like I’m only allowed to see about 30 vids in the index page and cant scroll down enough or right enough. I feel a little bit trapped. Roughly ten new vids had appeared in last 3 hours at this point and were listed in the new videos section. But I was not allowed to keep scrolling back in time to see the ten that had uploaded before that.

Many of the snapshots uploaded look a little distorted or faded despite the fact that the videos are hi-res and high quality. The site tends to automatically log me out… fast. “Adrien” has strongly recommended not using the keep-me-logged-in feature, apparently for security reasons. This is yet another piece of key info that needs to be on DTube itself next to the option…not buried away on a Steemit post.

At this early stage, being mostly a one-man creation, DTube has probably at least proven the viability and arguably-unique characteristics of Steem and Steemit. Maybe it will become for Steemit what YouTube became for Google.

Perhaps if the site comes up with a feature that lets you auto-transfer your YouTube vids to it… I’ll start using it weekly. Thus far, the service is interesting but borderline in terms of whether I’ll really use it to directly upload regularly. Having answered invites perhaps five or six times, joining friends on “competitors to Facebook or YouTube” and usually getting little out of it except a quasi-echo-chamber… this experience is not quite good enough to call refreshing. But it is good enough to call “hopeful.” Just being able to click a button that submits my video “to the blockchain” is already nearly worth all the teething-related shortcomings.

Featured image by Max Panamá on Unsplash

About The Author

Dave Ridley

Dave Ridley runs RidleyReport.com and NHexit.com, having moved to New Hampshire in 2004 as part of the Free State Project


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