YouTube recently announced that we're watching one billion hours of its videos every day.
For one person, that's 100,000 years' worth of viewing, a challenge even The Grail Knight would have struggled to meet. But while YouTube can often feel like a flea market of video fluff, there are riches to be discovered beyond its cheap, neon lights and clickbaity facade.
The key to success is setting up and tailoring your account, then using the array of Chrome extensions, apps and hidden settings to turn it into the world's best TV servuice.
So before you're sucked into the vortex of watching cats jumping in fright at stationary cucumbers, follow our collection of tips - or just jump to the section you're interested in using the shortcuts below.
1) Choose your channels
The number of YouTube channels on offer makes Sky's EPG look feeble. Where do you start? Here are a few of our recent favourites:
YouTube is basically just a modern of version of You’ve Been Framed plus a few cat videos and Bruno Mars, right? Not if you dig a bit deeper. Kurzgesagt (German for ‘in a nutshell’) is a series of beautifully animated monthly videos that explain complex subjects like quantum computers and Gamma ray bursts. And yes, after that you can watch the baby hippo video.
Game Maker’s Toolkit
Journalist and games designer Mark Brown dives under the bonnet of videogames and explains the mechanics behind their design in this insightful series. You’ll find out how Jonathan Blow designs puzzles games, why regenerating health bars are so popular in first person shooters, and how Titanfall 2 has saved the first person shooter with its pacing and variation.
Watching a modern-day caveman building mud huts and slings in might not sound like the biggest thrill for tech fans, but this channel is one of our favourites for two reasons. It’s a great example of how to tell stories through video without a single spoken word. And if you’re a bit frazzled after too much Horizon, it’s a brilliant way to unwind before nodding off into your desert island dreams.
Looking for more channel inspiration? Check out Stuff's favourite classic YouTube haunts.
2) Set your alarms
Spent the afternoon subscribing to your favourite channels? It’s time to set up some alerts to make sure you don’t miss any episodes.
Head to settings (the gear icon in your profile), then ‘notifications’. Now choose the kind of alert you want (email, phone alert or both).
This will only occasionally prod you when a new video is posted though - if you want to get an alert for every new video, you need to go to ‘manage all subscriptions’, click the bell symbol and check 'send me all notifications for this channel'.
3) Save for later
One lunch break is ever enough to get your fix of cute animals, dangerous liquid nitrogen experiments or gif-with-sound compilations. That's where YouTube's 'Watch it Later' button comes in. It does exactly what it says on the tin, creating a playlist of videos for you to peruse at your leisure later on.
When watching a video just tap the + button in the top corner of the video player to add it to the playlist. If you're browsing videos instead, hit the triple dot menu button, then 'Add to Watch later'. To remove videos from the playlist you'll have to go to your Account tab, then Playlists, then 'Watch Later'. Hit the menu button near the video you want to remove, then tap 'Remove from Watch Later'.
4) Banish Auto-play
One day, YouTube decided to start being "helpful" and took it upon itself to automatically play videos one after the other, non-stop. It turns out that this particular decision is less helpful, and more incredibly annoying.
Thankfully you can kill it off in less than a second by flicking a Disable Auto-play switch - a tiny little thing that's easy to miss, which lives on the upper right hand side of the page, above the Related Videos column.
5) Straight to TV
If you're rocking a Google Chromecast, smart TV, console or PC, then you can easily control what you watch straight from your smartphone or tablet, without having to mess around with annoying onscreen keyboards or fiddly remotes.
Just hit up youtube.com/pair, enter the code, and you're on your way to big screen video town.
6) Share the highlights
When it comes to the internet, most people have the attention span of an ADD-riddled goldfish, which is why every precious second counts. There’s no point sharing a video of a dog playing the piano, if the first 30 seconds is filled with pointless footage of the owner setting up the camera.
Instead, you can share videos and specify what time they start playing, letting you kick things off at just the right moment. Just hit the Share button beneath a video, then specify the time you want in the ‘Start at’ box, before checking it, sharing the link, and reaping some sweet video karma.
7) Think of the children
Kids these days might think they’re all that, what with their pokemans cards and x-station games machines, but they still need protecting from the big scary world - a lot of which leaks onto YouTube.
If you want to save your little tykes from night terrors then all you have to do is scroll down to the very bottom of a YouTube page, turn Restricted Mode on, and enter your password to lock down the device. If they’re lucky enough to have their own smartphone or tablet, then there’s a dedicated kid-friendly YouTube app which automatically does away with all the nasty stuff.
8) Cure your earworm
YouTube comment sections tend to be littered with people asking what song was featured in a video they just watched, but there’s a faster, easier way to get an answer instead of waiting around for someone to respond or using Shazam.
Just head on over to mooma.sh, paste the YouTube URL, and it’ll analyse the video’s audio and identify what song was used.
9) Make a quick gif
It’s a scientifically proven fact that everyone loves a good gif, and YouTube videos are an absolute gold mine of raw material just waiting to be chopped and converted. Luckily you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to create your own gif.
All you have to do is add ‘gif’ to the start of any YouTube url, and you’ll automatically be taken to giftoyoutube.com, where a simple online editor lets you select a chunk of video up to 15 seconds long, letting you immortalise your chosen moments forever. Off to reddit you go, and don’t forget to share some of that sweet, sweet karma.
10) Become a shortcut wizard
With millions of cat videos to churn through, every second counts. Thankfully, YouTube supports a bunch of keyboard shortcuts to help you dart nimbly through its wares like a cheeky little monkey through an Arabian market. Here are our favourites:
- k = pause or play
- j = rewind 10 seconds
- l = fast-forward 10 seconds
- m = mute
- 0 = jump to beginning of video
- 1-9 = jump to 10%-90% of the video
- + = make caption font bigger
- - = make caption font smaller