Technology

The best YouTube apps, extensions, and tweaks you should get

Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 16, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, welcome to our delightful corner of the internet, sorry about all the productivity apps, and also, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) 

Hope you all had a great holiday, or at least a great week with one fewer email in your inbox. This week, I’ve been testing Supernotes as a daily diary app, reading about what it takes to make an iPhone in India and whatever “gamified theater” is, unsubscribing to every brand that sent me a “Happy Holidays!” email, hunting for games to play on my new Backbone controller, watching Mike Birbiglia’s excellent The Old Man and the Pool special (and listening to his podcast, Working It Out), and ramping up my holiday movie watching in a big way. 

I also have for you a new truck (you know which one), some fun year-end wrap-ups, a couple of new shows to watch this weekend, a lot of ideas for making YouTube a saner place, some cool AI projects, and more. 

As always, the best part of Installer is your ideas and tips. What do you want to know more about? What awesome tricks do you know that everyone else should? What app should everyone be using? Tell me everything: [email protected]. And if you know someone else who might enjoy Installer, forward it to them and tell them to subscribe here.)

We’re a little more entertainment-heavy than usual this week because ’tis the season I suppose. But lots of fun stuff to get to. Let’s go.

  • The Tesla Cybertruck. It finally launched! Ish! I have spent so many hours staring at and talking about this thing for the last four years, and I still can’t decide if I love or hate the design. Slowly but surely, it looks like we’re about to start seeing them in the wild — and until then MKBHD’s 40-minute video will have to do. Also, if you bought one… wanna road trip?
  • iA Writer 7. I love the way this writing app integrates ChatGPT: it detects when you’re pasting in generated content and prompts you to note what’s human and what’s AI, and it treats AI more as a “help me brainstorm and think” tool than a “just write this for me” one. Tons of clever UI, and I think exactly the right approach.
  • Godzilla Minus One. This sounds like a more complex movie than your average monster flick, but in a really good way. And just from the trailers and pictures I’ve seen, this one’s going to be worth viewing on a big screen just to see the way director Takashi Yamazaki depicts the beast itself. 
  • Spotify Wrapped. All the year-in-review stuff seems to have kicked off this week — YouTube, Apple Music, Pocket Casts, and more — but Spotify’s just better at this than everybody else. The AI-powered “DJ: Wrapped” feature has been a particularly fun way to trip back through all the weird stuff TikTok got me into this year.
  • Apple’s and Google’s apps of the year. This is the other year-end source of good stuff: the app store lists are always a mix of very popular apps you definitely already know and a smattering of really cool, unknown stuff. I’m loving Stumble Guys so far, and how did I not know about Mubi before?
  • Teenage Engineering’s EP-133 KO II. I’m not really a musician, but I find myself desperately wanting the new $299 KO II, which is both a cool music-making machine and just a gorgeous set of buttons and knobs. (I got a bunch of crap in our comments for calling it a synthesizer and not a sampler, which, fair! Sampler is more accurate. But the distinction is blurry, and it doesn’t really matter — this thing looks fun no matter what you call it.)
  • Dot Social. This might be the first “brand” podcast I’ve ever recommended here. But it’s a good one! Flipboard is all in on the fediverse and the open web, and CEO Mike McCue’s plan is to talk to smart people about it. The two episodes are with some of the smartest people in this space, and they’re both excellent.
  • Obliterated. Apparently, this new Netflix show, which sounds like The Hangover meets Zero Dark Thirty, is bad. I don’t care. I’m absolutely confident I’m going to love it and watch every single episode — I’m a sucker for a spy flick, and a silly comedy, and especially the intersection of those two things.
  • Slow Horses season 3. This show, on the other hand, undeniably rules. (As does the book series it’s based on, by Mick Herron.) It’s a story about washed-up MI5 agents roped back in for one more job… and then a bunch more jobs. From what I hear, season 3 is the best yet — add it to your holiday watching list for sure.
  • Proton Mail. The latest release notes on Proton’s mail and calendar apps are super funny. There’s nothing huge and new here, it’s just like, “We fixed all the stuff you wanted us to fix, here you go!” And it’s great. If you’re looking for a privacy-focused alternative to the whole Google suite, Proton’s a great one. (The Drive file-storage app is a particular favorite.)

YouTube is an amazing platform, and all these years later, I keep being amazed by the stuff on it. The other night, I watched a 13-year-old video of a dude putting together a crib that is no longer sold, and it helped me do it myself! What! 

But YouTube as an app… kind of sucks. You just want to watch a video, and you’re overrun by recommendations, a million social features, and too many ways to buy something. YouTube doesn’t have a single decent way to save something to watch later, and it’s all algorithmic to the point of being unusable sometimes.

So recently, I’ve been exploring a bunch of big and small ways to improve the YouTube experience a bit. I’m not trying to get rid of ads or beat the system, just… enjoy YouTube more. I’ve found some I really like! So I figured I’d share:

  • The Play app. I now open this instead of the YouTube app. It’s an app for storing and organizing video from all over the web, but I pretty much only use it for YouTube. After this week’s update, it can automatically bring in videos from channels you subscribe to, which makes it even more useful. It’s Apple-only, unfortunately, but it works across Apple devices, including the Apple TV. This is so much better than trying to manage a library in the YouTube app.
  • Piped. Piped is a clever workaround: it uses the YouTube API to let you search for and watch anything on the platform but doesn’t send any data back to Google about you or what you watch. There are Piped-compatible mobile apps, too, and if you’re feeling enterprising, you can even self-host the app and run it however you want.
  • Unhook. There are a bunch of browser extensions out there that let you remove stuff from the YouTube interface to get a quieter viewing experience. Unhook’s my favorite because it’s so customizable — I turned off all the recommendations and sidebars but left chapters and comments. And thanks to a wonderful Unhook setting, my automatic YouTube homepage is now my subscriptions and not the default For You feed. 
  • Enhancer for YouTube. Another browser extension, and kind of the spiritual opposite of Unhook. This one can hide things like comments and recommendations, but it can also add so much more stuff to YouTube. A lot of it is really useful! I like having a one-click way to screenshot a frame, some of the keyboard shortcuts are handy, and I have very much enjoyed creating my own custom YouTube theme. (It’s very gray.) I’ve seen some folks having issues with it recently, but it continues to work fine for my purposes.
  • Bookmark It. One last browser extension, which lets you take time-stamped notes on a YouTube video and return to them later. I use this when I know I’m going to want to come back to a specific moment later, which happens more often than I expected.

My new YouTube strategy is working well so far: when I find something I want to watch later, I dump it into Play. I have a few folders for educational stuff and longform interviews, but mostly, everything just goes in the pile to be watched later. When I want to find something specific, I go to Piped, especially if I don’t want my YouTube algorithm to be overrun by, like, plumbing videos. Otherwise, I’m using YouTube — but a much less chaotic version.

The goal was always to find the stuff I want to find on YouTube and not be bothered by everything else on the platform. I’m getting closer! If you have ideas for what else I / we can do to make YouTube better, I’m all ears: [email protected].

If you’ve been part of the Installer community for very long, you know I can’t help myself from constantly switching to-do list apps. I sincerely think I’ve tried them all. But I keep coming back to Todoist, which is available everywhere, super-duper fast, and just makes sense. 

Over the years, I’ve also gotten to know its founder, Amir Salihefendic, a bit. He has smart thoughts on productivity tools but also just about how we can live better, saner lives online. (One time, he tweeted a picture of his calendar, and it had, like, nothing on it. He could just do work! All day! What a life!) In addition to building Todoist, his company, Doist, is also working on Twist, which aims to be basically a less chaotic take on Slack and messaging.

I asked Amir to share his homescreen figuring he’d skew pretty minimalist, and I was right. Here’s Amir’s homescreen, plus some info on the apps he uses and why:

The phone: iPhone 15 Pro.

The wallpaper: My lock screen cycles through pictures of my kids and family photos 🥰 Homescreen wallpaper is just black.

The apps: Calendar, Photos, Google Maps, Spotify, Overcast, Audible, Halist, Twist, Todoist, Safari, Phone. 

The most interesting are probably:

  • Todoist is a to-do app (surprise! ) 
  • Twist as a team communication app (another surprise! ) 
  • Overcast as a podcast player
  • Halist as a ChatGPT alternative. I created my own ChatGPT alternative as I don’t fully trust the privacy policy of ChatGPT (because they can train on the data). 

I also asked Amir to share a few things he’s into right now. Here’s what he came back with:

  • The OpenAI drama. It’s like the real-life version of HBO’s Succession show (which is fantastic). We could say it’s the nerd version of Succession.
  • I’ve started watching Blue Eye Samurai, and it’s incredible.
  • Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. This is one of the best games ever! There’s still a community on Twitch, and I regularly watch games. I also played a bit with friends, but my eyes got super sore, so I am on pause.
  • Lastly, I am reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Elon Musk, and it’s a wild read. It sounds like an absolutely chaotic life. Reading what it takes to build some of these accomplishments is interesting.

Here’s what the Installer community is into this week. I want to know what you’re into right now as well! Email [email protected] with your recommendations for anything and everything, and we’ll feature some of our favorites here every week. 

“This awesome project out of Mozilla, Llamafile. You can get a pretty fully featured version of ChatGPT running locally on your own computer (with image analysis and everything), super easily. I followed the three steps and got the thing working in less than a minute, and it works as fast as GPT-4 (so, more slowly than GPT-3.5) on my Intel 2019 MacBook Pro. It’s really cool.”  – Matthew

“Me and my wife are recovering from watching the finale of Modern Family and found Fresh Off the Boat to be a great watch. Absolutely hilarious!” – Adam

Trash Baby. Chaotic and creative and wacky AI-based photo remixing app. Combine two photos to create some really out-there outputs. It’s a really creative and collaborative play on generative AI. Every “baby” is an unexpected excitement.” – Kyle

“It’s called Loddlenaut, and it recently came out on Steam! Your job is to basically clean up a polluted ocean planet and to become friends with the Loddle creatures living there. P.S. You can pet the Loddles.” – Andrew

Last Stop Larrimah. Being a town of only 11 people, Larrimah is kind of like Cheers. A place where everybody knows your name (and also spends most of their time in a bar). But they’re not all glad you came. When one of the residents goes missing, two others become prime suspects. And the theories as to how they might have disposed of the body, well, I won’t spoil it for you.” – Carl

“In response to the recommendation for Frinkiac, the Simpsons meme generator, I thought I’d recommend the equivalent Futurama meme generator, Morbotron, which is made by the same people. Now you can create all the ‘Shut up and take my money’ memes you desire!” – Jonathan

Fleeting Notes. In my quest to de-Google my life, I have found a really great replacement for Google Keep. It’s cross-platform, available offline, and syncs with Obsidian. Plus it’s end-to-end encrypted, open source, and free. Perfect for when I have something I need to quickly jot down or remember without the hassle of creating a whole Obsidian note.” – Braedon

Travle. Wordle-style, you play once a day, it counts your streaks, etc. The premise is super simple: they give you two countries and a number of attempts you have to name the countries that connect them. Sometimes they spice it up and tell you a country you need to avoid going through. My girlfriend and I have been playing it every day for months now, and there’s also different versions where you name regions / provinces in a specific country.” – Sam

“Here are my two fastest ways to add to Apple Reminders. 1: On my iPhone, I use this app called Remind Me Faster. 2: On Mac, I use Type to Siri. E.g., Remind me to call home at 4PM.” – Krishna 

I am deep in lip-syncing TikTok, y’all. I don’t know how I got here, but I’m here: there are countless people on TikTok who, like, sing beautiful harmonies in garages and kitchens while making very intense faces and body motions, and it turns out, a lot of those people are prerecording their audio and autotuning it before pretending to sing it live, and now, there are a bunch of creators whose shtick is to call those people out, and people on all sides are mad. (Do you ever write a sentence and immediately realize you sound insane? This is what I’ve become.) But the best part was when shirtless Charlie Puth did a video that was just like, “Everyone uses autotune, it’s 2023, let’s all be nice to each other.” And everyone got mad about that, too! But I think shirtless Charlie Puth is right. The internet should listen to shirtless Charlie Puth.



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