YouTube Go isn’t for you. It’s for the folks in developing countries, who have to deal with crappy 2G cellular internet connections and terrible battery life on their phones. The app, says author and activist Cory Doctorow, “treats telcos as damage and routes around them.”
The new app, which will also be available to anyone who prefers to save bandwidth on their fancy smartphones in the developed world, is designed not to waste precious data. Instead of starting to play a video at full-quality as soon as you reach the page, Go will show you a thumbnail that you can tap for a small preview first. Then you can opt to download the video to watch later. This lets you gather videos while on unmetered Wi-Fi instead of streaming them on a dodgy or non-existent connection later. You can also choose the streaming resolution to further save expensive bandwidth.
But perhaps the best part is that users will be able to share videos with other people directly, by beaming them between phones, with no internet connection required.
This, says Doctorow, is perfect for the Indian market, “where internet coverage is intermittent, provided by monopolistic carriers that have a history of network discrimination.” That description might apply to the U.S. market too, where the lack of government regulation has led to a stifling of competition, and expensive, data-poor mobile internet plans.
The plan is good for YouTube and its owner Google, too. By routing around the telcos, it can also route around their censorship and any kind of preferential blocking they might do on the behalf of preferred partners. Imagine if Google’s search was choked to a crawl while a local alternative was allowed to operate at full speed. This peer-to-peer model could also be used to create a kind of local internet, allowing data to hop from phone to phone.
Tahiti did something similar last year, using a popular app called FireChat to allow its citizens to communicate even after hurricanes brought down the island-chain’s communications infrastructure.
There’s more in it for Google than just altruism, though. It gets to try and make YouTube as popular as it is elsewhere and to keep serving ads, even without an internet to provide them.
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