How I use YouTube (without the stress it apparently causes other folks)

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 5 min read

YouTube might be my favorite website in the world, and apparently that’s at odds with the opinion of many people I see online. People complain about ads, about the UI, and about THE ALGORITHM, but I just don’t have these issues. Today I wanted to quickly give an overview for how I interact with YouTube so that I can explain myself.

Some context on how I read things online

My digital media consumption is split into two main mediums: writing and videos. I have built up a collection of about 100 websites that I follow in my RSS reader (Reeder, synced with Inoreader). Some of these sites post 20 times a day, others post once a year. A few times a day I’ll open my RSS reader and see what new things have been posted in the past few hours. Anything that’s interesting either gets read right away or saved to my read later service (Readwise Reader).

So yeah, the gist is that I have a non-algorithmic feed of articles from a list of websites I’ve intentionally shown interest in, and I can easily save the interesting things in those feeds to a reading queue that I then consume when I’m ready to do some reading. It’s simple and it works for me.

How I follow YouTube

I see people freak out about the YouTube algorithm all the time, but like…I just don’t get it. You can subscribe to any YouTube channel you want, and every single video from those channels gets posted in a reverse-chronological feed on the top-level Subscriptions page in YouTube. Yes, the YouTube home page is algorithmically generated, but you don’t need to use that. In fact, I often use YouTube on my Mac, and I just have the subscriptions page bookmarked so when I click “YouTube” in my browser, I’m taken straight to my feed of exactly what I’ve said I’m interested in.

For me, this does a pretty great job of replicating the RSS experience I have with following websites mentioned above (although I follow a lot of channels and would like to be able to sort them into folders).

From here, I can quickly add any video to my Watch Later playlist, which is replicating the Readwise Reader part of the experience for me: I don’t have time to watch all of these now, but I can put them all in a playlist to watch when I do have time to settle in and enjoy some videos.

Now I am annoyed with how they’ve made it a little more annoying to get to the Watch Later playlist in the app, but on the web Watch Later is still a top-level page that you can get to easily.

This workflow is exactly the same as my reading workflow, it’s just that the apps are different. There’s no algorithm annoying me or any need to “hit the bell” since I’m not relying on YouTube to think I want to watch a video, I can just choose for myself from an algorithm-free, reverse-chronological list of videos from the channels I said I want to follow.

Now about those ads

Maybe 5 or 6 years ago I started paying for YouTube Premium (YouTube Red, at the time, I think) and honestly it’s the best money I spend on maybe any streaming video platform. Whenever I’m at someone else’s house or seeing someone else use YouTube who doesn’t pay for Premium, I am pretty shocked by how much worse the experience is.

Ads before a video, ads in the middle of a video, and god help you, sometimes ads after the video…it’s a lot, and it adds a mental toll where you’re doing the math on whether a video is worth clicking on because you’ll have to watch an ad before it even plays.

It is relatively expensive and not everyone can afford it, but if you can afford it and use YouTube a lot, I highly recommend trying it for a month to see how you like it. For me it’s transformed YouTube into a magic place where I can watch tons of videos from creative people without ever seeing an ad.

I know that some people use browser extensions to block ads on YouTube, and those extension makers are constantly playing a game of cat and mouse with YouTube to keep those extensions working. With Premium, not only do you get to stop worrying about your extension breaking one day, you also don’t need to use a browser to watch YouTube ad-free…it works in the app on your phone and it works on your TV as well.

Honestly, YouTube’s business model seems pretty fair to me. They provide this huge platform where anyone in the world can upload videos for free and anyone can watch videos for free. It’s a massive amount of data and processing that’s needed to make this all work, and YouTube needs to make money somehow to keep this going. If you don’t want to pay, no problem, but they’re going to show you ads. If you don’t want ads, then there’s an option for you as well which is a simple fee for their services. I know some people want YouTube to be 100% free with no revenue at all, but that’s living in a fantasy world in my opinion.

Final thoughts

So here we are. I use YouTube’s UI to follow exactly the accounts I want in an RSS-like experience, I save those videos to a watch later queue much like Readwise Reader, and I never see ads because I’ve deemed YouTube valuable enough to me that it’s worth paying for an ad-free experience.

I’ll toss in here that I think the YouTube video player is actually very good, and is superior to the stock HTML player in many ways, but I’ll save that for another post…

All this time I haven’t mentioned common YouTube complaints like being a slave to the YouTube algorithm or not seeing videos from my favorite channels because I genuinely don’t have those problems. I understand many people don’t use the subscriptions feed, but I’m just putting out there that no one is forcing you to use the home page as your only way to use YouTube: you have agency and it is spectacularly easy to see just the channels you want to see. I understand the annoyance with many parts of the YouTube interface such as Shorts popping up in more places, but again, living in the subscriptions and watch later pages eliminates most of those issues.

If nothing else, I’d suggest bookmarking the Subscriptions page in your browser so that when you go to YouTube, your view is of just the channels you follow and nothing else. See if that makes you feel better about YouTube, because I bet it will.