Fediverse Spotlight #5: Open Edutainment

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Something I’ve picked up on during my time in the Fediverse is that PeerTube’s design seems to mesh incredibly well with the concept of themed instances. By the term “themed instances”, I’m referring to individual instances which only allow uploads pertaining to a specific genre or niche of video.

Some of the reasons I suspect this is the case are:

  • As someone who moderates an instance, I can say from first-hand experience that PeerTube has a serious spam problem. Whether it be advertisements, people ripping movies, or generally low-quality uploads, if you’re not strict with curation, it ends up flooding the feed. For the average viewer, this is a turn-off, as they want to be able to use PeerTube to find creators.
  • The narrower scope means that content creators don’t have to compete for attention with the spam, and will usually get more reception on their videos. This is important, because it encourages creators to keep uploading to a site which has a fraction of the users as YouTube.
  • For administrators of more generally-themed instances, these sort of themed instances prove to be more reliable in the quality of their content output. If I were to run a catch-all PeerTube community and began following a bunch of these themed instances via federation, what I would have at the end is a very clean and engaging content feed to serve my audience.

If we want PeerTube to succeed, we need a reliable content stream; this means we need to be able to recruit creators and then make sure those creators’ content gets to an audience as efficiently as possible. The spaces in which we allow people to upload play a huge role in this.

Once we have developed a welcoming space, we can scout out smaller creators (usually by looking through Discords/subreddits where people are known to advertise, then DMing them) who show potential in the content they’re uploading, and use the instance theme as a wedge issue to convince them to mirror their uploads.

What I have seen from personal experience, and what I hope to make clear throughout the course of this review is that this strategy works. It’s just a matter of people willing to take the first step and carry it out.

What is TILvids?

We’re going to be focusing on how instance administrators can develop the aforementioned space; in this regard, TILvids seems to be a shining example.

I first discovered TILvids after someone boosted them on my Mastodon feed. I was curious and decided to look further; immediately upon opening the site, I was greeted with an aesthetically pleasing yet distinct theme, handy links on the sidebar, and a diverse content pool. It was then I decided that this was going to be the focus of the next issue.

Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let’s answer the most obvious question. TILvids is a PeerTube instance dedicated to educational-informational content (if you need a YouTube parallel, think Vsauce or Game Theory).

Here are the stats as of writing this:

Some things to note about the instance itself:

  • Registration is open, however uploading is invite-only. My best guess is that this is a quality-control measure.
  • There is support for mobile through an app called NewPipe. A three-minute video tutorial is provided explaining how to set it up.
  • Federation with other instances seems to be outright disabled.
  • The site runs on donations, and encourages content creators to promote their own monetization methods.
  • PeerTube’s new live-streaming feature is enabled. Whether or not it’s actually used I can’t say for sure.
  • Currently the site is being managed by one person, but said person has expressed the desire to make it into a larger community. If you are interested in helping out (reaching out to creators, helping on social media, running channels), send a DM to the Mastodon account linked at the bottom of this article.

Onto the content itself, this is actually an incredibly impressive mix of stuff. I spent some time scrolling around the feed and the most promising channels I’ve seen so far are FermiLabs, The Science Of, and Illustrate to Educate, all of whom could probably warrant their own issue of Fediverse Spotlight if I had the time. This is an actual community with multiple regular uploaders who provide a solid array of content.

If you want to search for content (this goes for any instance), I recommend browsing both the Trending and Local Videos tab.

Tomat0’s Thoughts

  • TILvids is probably the best-looking instance I’ve seen to date. It’s clear serious thought was put into the presentation of the site, a factor which seems to be severely underrated in the Fediverse. The colors are restrained, consistent, and visually appealing.

  • On the topic of presentation, the tutorial videos. They’re easy to find, well-edited, and cover the basics of the instance without wasting too much time. More instance administrators should make use of the sidebar.

  • The instance has 0 following and 0 followers. I tested to see if following was outright disabled, but it seems like it’s set to request-only (which I assume are always declined). I can completely understand why they do not follow other instances, however not accepting followers seems like a major missed opportunity. TILvids has a lot that can be contributed to the larger Fediverse ecosystem, and I fail to see a reason why they wouldn’t.

  • Half the videos are tech-related which is a bit disappointing, considering how much tech stuff is already all over PeerTube. However, I should stress this is a relative nitpick, considering how absolutely excellent this content pool is apart from that.

  • Levels of community interaction are good by PeerTube standards. I clicked through about ten videos, the majority of them had at least one like, and about a third have comments, although its by the same two users. Pushing for higher levels of interaction isn’t easy, but is probably a good next step.

Interview with the Administrator:

What gave you the idea to start TILvids?

I started TILvids after being a creator on YouTube for a very long time (at least a decade). While initially I loved YouTube as a creator, over time it became less about sharing great videos and more about trying to figure out how to daily use YouTube’s algorithm to get views. This has caused a dramatic shift in the type of content that gets created on the site, leading to very stale, derivative content.

At the same time, I’ve become much more interested in data-privacy. People shouldn’t have to give up their private data just to use web services. There are so many great options out there now, including Linux, Firefox, Nextcloud, etc. but there wasn’t much in the way of online video. I found the PeerTube project and thought there was huge potential there. Unfortunately, many instances are full of conspiracy-theory garbage, NSFW content, and pirated content.

With that in mind, I decided to take my love of edutainment content, mixed with the potential of PeerTube, and sprinkled with a bit of the Netflix content model (i.e. curated content) and out of that came TILvids. It’s definitely an experiment, and one that I’ve been tweaking for the last 6 months, and will continue to adjust it based on community feedback!

How did you go about finding and convincing creators to bring their stuff to PeerTube?

This has been probably the most time-consuming and challenging aspect of TILvids, convincing creators to give it a shot. People make videos to be seen, and without a large community, that’s not going to happen. The first few weeks of TILvids were full of adding my own content, finding public domain/creative commons content, etc.

As time has gone on, it’s gotten a bit easier to get people to take a chance on sharing their content with the TILvids community. We have a lot of open-source/open-web supporters making content about that, because there’s obviously a natural connection there. I also do a lot of searching around sites like Reddit to find creators that are struggling to build an audience, despite having quality content! I love finding creators like this, because it’s a great way to help them build an audience, without having to give-in to the YouTube algorithm!

What’s your favorite channel on the site?

Who is your favorite child?! This is a very hard question to answer, because almost every channel on TILvids is a result of me looking for content that I enjoy. I’m a huge Linux fan, so I love watching content from TheLinuxExperiment, PizzaLovingNerd, GeoTechDigital, etc. AthenaProductions has really cool mythology, Vex0r and TheAtticDwellers have great retro stuff…like I said, I can’t really answer this question easily!

TILvids is also the official PeerTube instance for the Pine64 community, which I think is lovely because I’m a huge fan of that project. I would love for TILvids to be the home for other open-source/open-web community projects, so if you are one of those projects looking for an online video home that respects user privacy and open-source, hit us up!

Is there any advice you could give to new instance administrators on how to grow their community?

This is an interesting question, and it really depends on your goals for the community. Some instances just want to be a mirror for the larger PeerTube ecosystem, and if that’s your goal, then it’s just spinning up an instance and connecting.

On the other hand, if you want to use PeerTube to model something like TILvids, you first need to decide what content you want to focus around. TILvids focuses on edutainment, so any creator that wants to share content has to fit into that lens. By putting a tighter focus on what type of content you want to build the community around, it makes it much easier to seek out creators and rally the community around that focus.

You also have to put in a LOT of work outside of just running the site. Every single day I find a video to feature as a “TILvids video of the day”. I promote that on Reddit, Mastodon, Twitter, Lemmy, etc. At the same time, I’m having to reach out to creators to see if they’ll share their content on the site, manage channels for some of them, work to get community donations, deal with issues on the site, etc. I also try to make my own content when I have time! So definitely, you have to be willing to put in probably 20-30 hours a week, which for most people will be in their spare time. You have to really enjoy what you’re building, or you’ll get burned out quickly!

Thanks for the great questions, and for spreading the word about TILvids! Hopefully folks that enjoy edutainment content will stop by and join us!

In addition to the featured instance, the TILvids community can be found on Lemmy while the instance’s administrator have a Mastodon account for updates and communication.

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