Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024

Extending PeerTube

Adding advanced search capabailities to PeerTube

This project aims to extend PeerTube to support the availability, accessibility, and discoverability of large-scale public media collections on the next generation internet. Although PeerTube is technically capable to support the distribution of large public media collections, the platform currently lacks practical examples and extensive documentation to achieve this in a timely and cost-efficient way. This project will function as a proof-of-concept that will showcase several compelling improvements to the PeerTube software by [1] developing and demonstrating the means needed for this end by migrating a large corpus of open video content, [2] implementing trustworthy open licensing metadata standards for video publication through the PeerTube platform, [3] and emphasizing the importance of accompanying subtitle files by recommending ways to generate them.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

In the same year when the ARPAnet (the predecessor of the internet) was invented, people tuned into their tube televisions to watch a global live broadcast of astronauts first landing on the moon. If they missed that historical moment, that would be it. There was no ability for normal people to record television broadcasts, no ability to rewind or look back programmes from the online guide. At the turn of the millennium, three decades later, everyone was still watching traditional television: quite a few people may have had a video recorder, but this needed to be programmed in advance or you would still miss your favourite tv programme. And there had better not be two programmes you would want to record at the same time.

That has all changed in recent years. On demand video via the internet has meanwhile assumed an important, but also somewhat controversial role. A tiny set of dominant online video hosting platforms (most people would have trouble naming more than two) has emerged, these control how hundreds of millions of users spend many billions of hours of human lives every year. The platform's features and algorithms determine what you see, who can be discovered (whether this is called "trending", "recommended" or "autoplay"), who is banned and deleted, and who is just left out of the spotlight. Users can only follow the patterns laid out for them on screen. The platforms also determine what information is logged about your searches and binge viewing behaviour, and privately decide who they sell your interests and location to. That is a far cry from the privacy granted by traditional television and radio broadcasting, where literally noone outside of the room could know which programme you would pick from the aether. What data is tracked, and what filters and algorithms are used by these online video platforms, remains opaque for users. Contrary to traditional media, the platforms feel no responsibility for checking facts: they focus on commercial value to them, not social value.

Relying on third party platforms is especially awkward for public services and organizations, as they have moral responsibilities to their citizens and constituencies to protect their privacy and promote democratic and social values. There is no reason for publicly funded and private content (possibly about you and me) or material in the public domain to be exclusively available through a foreign commercial service that may change their terms of data ownership and usage on the fly.

As a society, we want a diversity of independent platforms and search tools to facilitate a wide cultural arena. We should keep content open and available in a sustainable way, where we as a society can interact with it in a way that no-one feels exploited by or uncomfortable with. PeerTube is such an alternative to closed-off and commercial video platforms like YouTube. PeerTube is open source and free (free as in freedom) software that uses peer-to-peer technology to easily and quickly provide and share uploaded video material. Or put differently: a turnkey video platform in a box. Anyone that owns a computer connected to the internet can in principle create their own video platform, and set their own rules for users and content. Videos are stored by each instance independently, and so there is no censorship or systemic bias.

PeerTube in its current state already delivers the basic technology for federated public video hosting. But we are still a while away from industry strength deployments, needed to get public institutions, archives and other organizations to get large corpora of content online. This ambitious project will make a huge difference. It will increase the capabilities of PeerTube in terms of search technology, making it possible to even search inside the content of video. In addition, it will add to the accessibility features of PeerTube by signficantly improving subtitling support. It will make discovery of reusable content more easy, by implementing support for open licensing metadata, that communicate the legal conditions of specific content to search engines and users. This project will thus help pave the way for the massive caches of public media collections archived around the world to become first class citizens of the next generation internet. People will be handed the necessary tools to host and share any size of media collection, on a technology that is transparent from top to bottom.

Run by Beeld en Geluid

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This project was funded through the NGI0 Discovery Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825322.