Odysee aims to build a more freewheeling, independent video platform

Odysee is a new video site that CEO Jeremy Kauffman said was created to recapture some of the freedom and independence of the internet he grew up with — an internet where “anyone could speak and anyone could have a voice.”

Kauffman argued that since then, the internet has become “very corporate,” with a small number of companies controlling the flow of information. Odysee was created to provide an alternative — and eventually, more than that.

“Some would call it an alternative to YouTube,” he said. “We like to think it’s the successor.”

The site was created by the team behind the Lbry (pronounced “library”) blockchain protocol. Kauffman emphasized that neither Odysee creators nor their viewers need to know anything about the technology (“blockchain is a how, it’s not a why”), but he said this approach gives those creators more direct control of their content and their audience. As Kauffman put it, “Your channel exists, effectively, in a cryptocurrency wallet that you can download.”

The Lbry website offers a few more details: “For the same reasons that nobody can prevent a Bitcoin transaction from taking place, nobody can prevent a transaction (like a publication or a tip) from appearing on the LBRY blockchain.”

The Odysee website sits on top of this protocol. While anyone could, in theory, publish anything to the Lbry blockchain, Odysee restricts content based on a handful of community guidelines that prohibit things like pornography and content that promotes violence or terrorism.

Still, Kauffman said, “We do think that YouTube is far too strict.” As an example, he pointed to the Google-owned platform’s decision to remove an interview with the Trump administration’s pandemic advisor Scott Atlas in which he questioned social distancing and stay-at-home orders. (Dr. Atlas resigned from his position in the administration last week.)

“Strict” is not exactly the word I’d use to describe YouTube’s moderation policies, and I’d also argue that it’s a good thing that the big digital platforms are being (somewhat) more proactive in blocking or at least labeling misinformation around high-stakes topics like the COVID-19 pandemic, or President Trump’s efforts to de-legitimize his defeat in the November election.

Kauffman countered that in the Atlas example, “You don’t delete the video. That’s not how science progresses.”

And while loudly declaring your dedication to “free speech” has increasingly served as a euphemism for attracting right-wing content and users, Kauffman said that’s not his aim.

“We want to be a space where all voices can be heard,” he said.

There’s also a compelling argument that the big platforms simply have too much power, so regardless of your opinion on any particular platform or decision, you could see Odysee as an attempt to return that power to individual creators.

Plus, politics only represents one slice of what’s being published on the site.

“If you want to go watch ‘The Daily Show’ or Gordon Ramsay clips, go to YouTube,” Kauffman said. “If you want to watch this crazy, trippy video that a 19-year-old made in their house but it’s super interesting, that’s the kind of stuff that you can find on Odysee.”

Not that Odysee necessarily expects creators to post exclusively to the site, as Upper Echelon Gamers acknowledged in a statement:

The greatest draw for me to Odysee was an automated second library of content that can build on its own without increasing my workload. Combine that with a much clearer monetization formula, and far more responsive communication with the administration and you have a platform that is very exciting to work with.

Odysee officially launched this month, but it says that since the beta version went live in September, more than 400,000 people have posted a total of 5 million videos to the site, which is already attracting 8.7 million monthly active users.

The plan is to eventually make money from advertising, with creators given full control over how they monetize. Individual viewers, meanwhile, will also be able to pay to skip ads, even if it’s just for one video.