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YouTube Over RSS

Ever since I started moving my web hosting to SiteGround, I’ve been on an open web kick — even more so than usual. I’ve been setting up my own systems to move away from the bigger centralized web services. One of the first things I did was install Tiny Tiny RSS.

I’ve used RSS readers since the Google Reader days and have moved to a number of different services throughout the years — most notably Fever and Feedbin. Tiny Tiny RSS is unlikely to be the last, but it’s the system that most recently picked up the mantle.

I’ve taken this transition as an opportunity to try and disassociate myself from social media. My hope was to move my consumption of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube over to RSS. The ideas I’ve had for moving Twitter and Instagram over haven’t been as smooth as I’d like, but that’s a story for another day.

Moving YouTube to RSS has been perfect for me, though.

Prior to using YouTube over RSS, I would open the YouTube app on my iPhone or iPad, browse the subscriptions tab and save any video I wanted to view in my Watch Later playlist. Then I’d start watching from there.

I think that’s a fairly common usage pattern, but I had a couple of issues with that setup:

  • There was no concept of seen/unseen within the Subscriptions tab. You would always start at the top of the list, ordered by most recent, and then scroll through until you started seeing videos you’ve already looked at.
  • Since I was doing all of my viewing within the app — both watching videos and browsing for videos to watch — there was a draw toward the Home tab to find more.

YouTube over RSS solves all of that. Every single video gets fed into Tiny Tiny RSS as a feed item and synced to Unread. I scroll through the videos in the article list, moving each video I want to view into my read later system (currently Shaarli), then mark everything as “read” when I get to the bottom. I never see those feed items again unless I specifically choose to.

Shaarli, by default, publishes an RSS feed for each link saved to it, so I follow that feed in Reeder, which acts as my read later client (I have it setup to only mark things as read manually — it works great). The YouTube videos are all intermingled with the other links I save, but a quick search for “youtube” will find all of the unwatched videos, serving as my Watch Later playlist.

From Reeder, I send it through Opener to view in the YouTube app.

Does that sound a bit convoluted? Probably. And I’m certain there’s a lot of room for improvement to help streamline much of the process. But for now, this is how I watch YouTube and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You see, I spend significantly less time on YouTube now. That second point in the list above essentially never happens anymore. Since I launch directly into the video that I plan to watch and my “watch later” list exists outside of YouTube, I don’t have the same draw to browse the Home tab.

But beyond that, it gives me a bit more freedom on the web. If another video service comes along that features creators I want to watch, as long as they offer an RSS feed, it doesn’t matter that they aren’t on YouTube. With my setup YouTube itself is insignificant, it’s just a video player app. In that way, RSS is the great equalizer.

And that’s likely why YouTube doesn’t make it easy to follow channels by RSS. They don’t offer any type of feed discovery on channel pages and the OPML download that used to be available from a difficult to find subscriptions page disappeared sometime last Fall. Each channel does still have an RSS feed, but you have to work a little bit to get it.

You can use this URL template for each feed:

https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=UCGYdWR8QUYn88lG0PBeJQ_g

That’s an RSS feed for my buddy Matt Birchler’s A Better Computer channel, which is excellent. If you haven’t already subscribed, I would encourage you to do so — by RSS or otherwise.

The bit after channel_id= is what you’ll need to change. The example above is A Better Computer’s channel ID, but you’ll want to change that for the given channel you’re looking to subscribe to. For many channels, the channel ID is right in the URL. For example, here is the URL for A Better Computer:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGYdWR8QUYn88lG0PBeJQ_g

As you can see the bit at the end matches the channel ID in the RSS feed.

For channels that have a customized URL, it’s a bit trickier. I suggest entering their URL into the YouTube Channel ID tool on Comment Picker. It’ll display some additional information, like the channel owner, start date, and some statistics, but the Channel ID part is what you’re looking for. Add that to the end of the RSS URL and enjoy following YouTube creators in the RSS client and service of your choice.

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