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What is Grayjay?

Grayjay is an android app. It’s in early development but already works as an excellent video player. The goal of the app is to allow you to watch videos from creators on many platforms on a single app. This means that it doesn’t matter as much to you if the person is on Youtube, Twitch, or Odysee you can subscribe to them all from a single app, even without an account! I imagine for many people who’ve wanted to break away from certain large platforms, but have stuck around for a few great creators, this is a good option to solve that problem.

My immediate impression of the grayjay app was a good one. It seems like there’s a very well-designed interface for browsing and watching videos. As someone using a de-googled grapheneOS phone, it was an outright upgrade. Where before I wouldn’t be able to cast youtube videos to chromecast at all, with Grayjay I was able to cast right away. I had no issues trying to follow people on supported platforms and everything just felt seamless.

I really like the design choice to have a solid user interface and abstract each platform into a plugin with particular features. You can even filter by platform in search, and even disable particular platforms as a whole in the sources tab. You really are very in control with this app, you can choose to limit what platforms are featured on the “home” tab, and even search. I’m sure things like comments and payments will be different from platform to platform but it served the very basic role of being an excellent app to follow and search various video content creators.

Can This Help Fight Against Censorship?

In short, I’d say I’m very optimistic. While this app can’t stop anyone from being banned on a particular platform, it is already a very effective tool for following people across many platforms. Putting polycentric to aside for a moment, the very fact that it’s possible to create new plugins to support other sites and integrate them ourselves means a great deal. I believe if Grayjay (and apps like it) started to become more common, we would see much better adoption for interoperable permission-less protocols. If most people were using this app to watch their videos, they could choose whatever plugins they wish. Some sources and plugins could be more or less censored than others, but the power of this system Software means that the user is in control.

For example, while at the time of writing the peertube plugin had some issues, I myself was able to correct them by writing my own peertube plugin. This is an excellent demonstration of what makes free software very powerful. I didn’t need to ask for permission, the code and details were just sitting there for me to take the initiative. This means that in a very short time I was able to conform grayjay to work with my own self-hosted peertube instance and make it work even better than the current state.

It’s actually quite hard to overstate what this actually means. This particular app can be used to support any platform your device has access to. Any set of videos on a website can be first-class citizens on the grayjay app. I can definitely say I think this really does level the playing field when it comes to online media. Suddenly, those who want to follow my peertube can with the same app they use to follow their mainstream youtube channels. Every user gets full control over what they do and don’t want to see.

Moving Forward

In conclusion I do think this is the start of something exciting. There is a lot of excellent free software apps on F-Droid so I hope this can be someone’s start into becoming more comfortable with free software in general. The more you shift away from proprietary software the more you appreciate the gains made by using software that respects you as the user. If you like what this app has to offer I would highly recommend trying out AntennaPod for Android as well. It’s an excellent podcast app that supports multimedia and works pretty well as an RSS reader too. I would argue that it does most of what you would want out of an app like Grayjay, but the more the merrier.

I do have some concerns however, one of the problems FUTO is trying to solve is decentralized online identity. As someone concerned about the implications of Elon Musk trying to transform Twitter into “the everything app” I’m not sure building an open-source everything-app is a good goal. Grayjay works very well as a multimedia app, and I think it’s great for that. I’m not sure I would want to then start entangling everyone’s personal lives directly with it. The advantage of a decentralized online identity would be that when someone is removed from a platform, or even gets censored by ISPs there would be a way for the audience to migrate to other options or even a hidden service.

That said, the advantage of free software is that it really is what we make of it. People can definitely appreciate the great features this offers, and even entirely strip out whatever future enhancements are added on top. I think Grayjay is an excellent example of how to build censorship resistant software, even if it itself isn’t reaching the ideal of Free and Open Source Software.


I have not been paid by FUTO or anyone else to make this review, or try the software.

Correction: Grayjay isn’t Free and Open Source (FOSS)

The PeerTube plugin is licensed under the GPL a Free Software License, but the Grayjay app isn’t, it’s licensed under a different license. Why does this matter? Essentially, FUTO is welcoming user control and collaborative innovation when it comes to their plugin system, but not the app itself. To go further, this increased my concerns stated below about integrating other identity features. In short, the Grayjay app is useful, but still lacks essential software freedoms. If you’re interested in an android app that can truly decentralize the media landscape, I’ll reiterate my endorsement of antennapod.

FUTO Tech explains it on twitter

Gabriel

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Published: Nov 02 2023
Updated: Jun 22 2024
Tags: Review Grayjay PeerTube Social Media Entertainment

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