I, like many of you, watch a fair bit of video content online. Whether it be YouTube, Odysee, or PeerTube, I engage with this form of media on a nigh daily basis.
Typically, that means going to each website or opening different apps to watch videos from various creators on each platform. That was until I stumbled upon a little Android app called Grayjay.
What is Grayjay, and what can it do?
Developed by FUTO, Grayjay is an Android app that lets users watch video content from several different platforms in one centralized feed. This includes the previously mentioned options as well as Patreon, Twitch, Soundcloud, Rumble, Kick, Nebula, and Subscribestar. This is possible via the app's plugin system, which is open for development and will hopefully see even more video sources in the future.
Users can choose which available sources to enable or disable, and they can even access premium content if they sign in to their respective accounts. For example, if someone you support on Patreon releases video content, signing in to your account via the Grayjay app will pull in their patron-only content and display it next to your other free or paid subscriptions.
On the other hand, you don't need to sign in to watch videos from YouTube, PeerTube, Odysee, etc. Subscriptions are stored locally, and Grayjay even supports importing subscriptions from apps like NewPipe.
Grayjay also features a built-in ad blocker, SponsorBlock support, downloading, casting, background playback, and much more. I could spend a lot of time dissecting the full functionality of the app, but I won't do that now. Just know there are plenty of features to satisfy most power users.
Distributed commenting and rating
Another thing that sets Grayjay apart from the competition is FUTO's solution to comment moderation and rating.
As you might expect, Grayjay displays the video's origin platform comments and live chats. That means you'll see and be able to engage with the standard comments section below each video like you would on its native platform.
What's different about Grayjay is that, at the flip of a switch, users have access to an entirely new distributed commenting and rating system called Polycentric.
FUTO call this "a distributed text-based social network centered around communities." They claim Polycentric gives users and creators more control over their interactions, rather than leaving that up to the platforms the content is hosted on.
This alternative decentralized approach to commenting promises to combat censorship, deletion, and potential manipulation, giving control back to the people who use the platforms. Although, in my experience so far, I haven't seen too much interaction here yet, and the little I have hasn't been entirely tasteful.
That being said, if Polycentric takes off as a viable alternative to centralized commenting and rating, and if moderation is still something creators have the power to enact, then this alternative could solve many censorship problems people currently experience across various platforms.
Follow creators, not platforms
It doesn't end their either. Grayjay isn't just a power user tool to consume content. It's also trying to pit itself as a hub for creators as well.
This is first apparent by the in-app section where users would typically browse channels they subscribe to. Instead of a term like "channels," users can navigate "creators" they follow. This makes sense given that these accounts can be across users' various enabled sources, so the term creators is more platform-agnostic.
Not only is it more cohesive, but this is a concerted effort by FUTO to get people used to the idea of following content creators, regardless of the platform. This approach hopefully means creators can build an audience separate from the platforms they distribute their media on.
To build on this new paradigm even further, FUTO has developed another project called Harbor, which is a separate app built on top of Polycentric and integrates into Grayjay seamlessly.
Harbor allows users to create and link their identities across platforms and navigate them in one location. FUTO bills it as a privacy-friendly identity management application that can be "your one-stop solution for a seamless and organized online experience."
If FUTO's approach to following creators pans out as they hope it does, that could mean a future where platforms don't matter nearly as much as they do now. Users will be able to stay up to date with and support their favorite creators regardless of what nook of the internet hosts their content.
Is Grayjay open source?
In short, yes, Grayjay is open source software. But is it free software? Unfortunately, no.
FUTO licenses Grayjay under their own in-house license. Though it's open source, and you can find the source code on Gitlab, the license does not allow commercial redistribution. This means the code is not free software, if that matters to you.
According to the license, users have access to the code for review, compilation, and non-commercial distribution. That means users can review, modify, and share any part of the source code as long as they don't make money.
In one of FUTO's promotional videos, founder Louis Rossmann claims this license approach is to combat redistributed versions of the app that may contain invasive ads. This is something apps like NewPipe have run into, and FUTO chose to use their non-permissive, non-copylefted license to hopefully avoid this issue.
This approach also allows FUTO to more easily sell licenses for the app. FUTO have chosen to go this route to financially support the app without relying on the use of ads.
The previously mentioned Harbor and Polycentric Protocol are also both open source. While the former touts the same FUTO license as Grayjay itself, the latter holds a BSD 3-Clause license. Though it's still not copylefted, this makes Polycentric good, old-fashioned free software!
How much does the app cost?
Grayjay is completely free to use indefinitely. That means you can use all the features I've layed out and more, and you won't have to pay a penny.
But like I briefly mentioned, FUTO sells licenses for those who wish to support the project. Licenses cost $9.99, and you can easily share the license key across devices. So, if you want to support FUTO and Grayjay's future development, this is a great way to do so.
Is it available on other platforms?
Unfortunately, Grayjay is only available on Android at the moment. But fret not, FUTO claim other platforms can expect future releases. There should be apps coming to iOS, macOS, Windows, and Linux. Time will tell if this is the case, since there appears to be no official timeline for these releases.
What are the downsides?
You may be thinking Grayjay sounds great and all, but what are the downsides? Admittedly, there are a few.
The biggest issue in my opinion is stability. The app is currently in beta, and the occasional crashes remind you that's the case. Thankfully, the majority of my experience with Grayjay has been quite stable, but the hiccups here and there are still worth noting.
Another issue I've found is that the app doesn't display YouTube shorts. For many people, that won't be a problem. For others, this can be a real bummer. I, for one, enjoy the occasional piece of short form content from creators I already follow, so this is a big downside for me.
The only other gripes I have with the app are either superficial preference or I previously touched on in this post. This includes the fact that Grayjay isn't free software, and it's not available on other platforms. But for those of you who don't care about free software, and you primarily consume video content on your Android device, these are non issues.
This definitely wasn't a full Grayjay review or anything, and there are many features about the app I didn't even touch on. That being said, I think you can pick up on my feelings about Grayjay throughout this post.
Apart from a few shortcomings, Grayjay has become my favorite way to watch video content on my mobile device. It's fast and simple, yet it offers more than enough to satisfy power users.
All-in-all, if you regularly watch even one of the aforementioned video platforms on your Android device, Grayjay is definitely worth a try. You can download the app from the Play Store, or cop the self-updating app directly from Grayjay's website at the link below.