TILvids Update - July 2023


It’s been a while since I’ve done a blog update, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to update thoughts I’ve been continuing to have, about where I hope to evolve TILvids to going forward. If that sounds interesting to you, keep reading (and if not, well, thanks for stopping by).

HUB AND SPOKE MODEL If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that my intention is to eventually create a hub-and-spoke model for TILvids; that is to say, I want to create a community that has a centralized entrance point instance that branches out to many connected satellite instances. These satellite instances will be run by creators who have come up through the TILvids community, or have been vetted by members of our community to indicate their goals are in alignment with our mission to provide quality edutainment content to the world.

There are a few reasons I think this model makes sense:

  1. Resources. Running a large video community is incredibly resource intensive, and it’s mostly a problem of scale. When I started TILvids, I had roughly 40GB of storage space on a VPS, almost no traffic, no CDN consideration, and zero backup plan; hosting this was incredibly simple. As the site has continued to grow, it’s required more storage, addition of a CDN, and multiple backup strategies. I’ve been able to continue to scale so far, but there will come a point where this is no longer feasible, short of becoming a for-profit entity like YouTube, which runs counter to everything I want out of TILvids, and the spirit of the PeerTube community. By capping the direct growth of TILvids, it means there is a ceiling to the centralized resources required to run the entry-point of the community, and instead those resources can be distributed and shared amongst the creator community.

  2. Creator control. As a creator of content myself, I’m incredibly empathetic to our creator community. As a creator using YouTube, or any medium you don’t directly control, one of the scariest thoughts to contend with is “What happens if my content disappears?” Maybe you keep backups of your content itself, but what about your network of followers? In a centralized model like YouTube, you lose all of that. If TILvids were to follow a similar model, attempting to become a centralized platform, then the same thing could happen, even if we hope never to do that. So, by encouraging creators to grow up through a semi-centralized entry-point like TILvids, our creator community gets a chance to grow and evolve with and from our community, and then when they become large enough, that community becomes part of them on their own instance. And as stated before, the complexities of running a smaller instance are much fewer than trying to run one massive instance (and it’s also something I hope a team at TILvids can help creators with as well).

The specifics of what this look like continue to evolve, but the sentiment behind it remains the same, based on the two points above. We need a way to scale in an ethical way, and we need to ensure creators retain control of both their content and their community.

ON FEDERATION I frequently have to field an answer to the question “Why don’t you just federate with all the other instances?” At a high-level, the answer is pretty simple: The mission for our instance is quality edutainment, and most other instances don’t align with that mission. So many instances act as general content instances, which more often than not leads to them being inundated with conspiracy-theory nonsense, crypto-scam videos, and just downright spam. This has started to generate the perception that PeerTube in a dumping-ground for anyone who was de-platformed by YouTube, rather than a federated community of content-creators.

At a more nuanced level, considering the hub-and-spoke model I’m looking to build, I do think it’s important for there to be a smaller number of well-defined entry-points for the PeerTube ecosystem. The best way to do that, at least in my opinion, is for these entry-points to be very selective on who they federate with, where their content shows up, etc. The world has been conditioned to only having a few centralized ecosystems for video (YouTube, Tik-Tok, etc) and trying to explain the concept of a federated ecosystem of video content simply doesn’t work. Rather, if you can say to your friend “Hey, do you like edutainment content? You should check out TILvids!” and have them hit this one entry-point, that’s a much easier proposition. The hard work of understanding and implementing federation should happen transparently in the background so that the general world can simply have a few easy entry-points to the content they want to enjoy.

Most of the time, when I explain this to people, they get it. The folks in our community love that they know what type of content to expect on our instance, and creators like that they don’t have to worry about their content showing up on other instances that they don’t approve of. For the few people left that don’t agree…I get it, and it is what it is. I’ve been a part of the Linux and general FOSS world for decades, and we’re not always going to all see eye-to-eye.

ON MONETIZATION One of the biggest hurdles to getting creators on-board with alternative platforms is monetization. There are a few awesome creators out there like Nick from The Linux Experiment who are happy to take a chance on federated video simply to support it, but many other creators simply do not care; they want to make content, and make some money in doing so. I get it.

So this is a problem to solve. Additionally, as we scale, we likely will get to a point where community donations won’t be able to cover all the costs. To this end, at some point I think TILvids will need some source of additional revenue. I very much prescribe to the idea of ads being the original sin of the Internet, and believe the worst thing we could do is what the existing video ecosystems do: mine personal data of our users in order to serve targeted ads during videos. That’s not respectful of our users, and is just a poor user experience to boot.

I think a better approach is instance-sponsoring. I’ve long been a fan of PBS (Public Broadcasting System in the US) and how they have no paid commercials, and instead have a mix of viewer support and corporate sponsorship. I’d like to eventually have something similar for TILvids, where the community continues to support us, but we also have a handful of sponsors that donate to the instance and are called out in some way. I’m not sure what exact for this would take (something respectful and tasteful). If you’re a company that thinks this might be interesting, feel free to reach out and we can talk about what that could look like.

In the meantime, our community support continues to drive our ability to run the site, so thank you to all our patrons!

ON INCORPORATION I’ve said before that one of my goals is to eventually incorporate TILvids as a not-for-profit. This is very important, because it removes the temptation to pursue monetization tactics that do not respect our community of viewers and creators. Additionally, if we want TILvids to be a semi-centralized entry-point to a broader world, I think it’s important to not be an entity driven by profit.

I think a very healthy end-state for TILvids would be to employ many dozens of people that help to keep the site running, keep the mission of the entry-point clear, help moderate the community, help new creators grow, and help established creators transition to a spoke in the hub. And these folks should all earn enough to have a good living, without some CEO or board member earning massive amounts of money off the backs of everyone else.

So that’s an update on where my head is at for all things TILvids. I don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, I’m often still trying to come up with the questions. But at the core of all of this, I want to build a video ecosystem that respects both our users and our creators in a way that allows us all to grow ethically together. Thanks for everyone that has, and continues to support that mission!

Written on July 6, 2023