How to Use YouTube

Using YouTube is easier once you learn the basics

Girl using YouTube

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When it comes down to it, there are two ways to use YouTube—as a viewer or as a creator. You can watch other people's videos, or upload your own. Of course, the vast majority of people on YouTube use the site and its family of apps to watch content.

Use YouTube Anonymously to Watch Videos

Unlike other social networks, YouTube doesn't require you to create an account before you can search for content or view videos. Searching and watching are two activities you can engage in anonymously without needing to sign in.

But if you want to broadcast yourself or upload your own content, you'll have to register for a Google account and get a username and password, because you can't upload videos without a user ID.

Get an Account to Broadcast Yourself

Google, which bought YouTube in 2006 and now operates it as a subsidiary, got rid of standalone YouTube accounts a few years later. Today it lets people use any existing Google ID to sign into YouTube so they can create custom channels and do all the things allowed with a YouTube account. If you don't have a Google ID or don't want to link it to YouTube, you can create a new (joint) YouTube and Google account, which basically means creating a new Google ID.

Our guide on the YouTube account signup process walks you through the basics.

Use YouTube for Basic Activities

Signing into YouTube as a registered user lets you do a lot of stuff you can't do while browsing the site anonymously, such as:

  • Saving favorite videos for quicker viewing later.
  • Commenting on videos you watch.
  • Rating videos you've watched.
  • Creating playlists of videos to watch.
  • Operating your own video channel.
  • Uploading videos for others to watch.

Browse and Watch Videos on YouTube

Watching videos is straightforward—just press the play button and the video will start streaming to your computer or mobile device. By default, the video appears in a box on your screen, but you can make it fill your screen by selecting the full-screen icon.

You can browse categories by topic, run keyword searches, or scroll through the most popular or trending videos to find footage to watch. The search function has filters you can apply, too, in case you want to search for videos by date or popularity level.

There's also a YouTube Charts page showing popular videos, plus there are lots of blogs about trends on YouTube.

YouTube's Massive Scale

The amount of content available on YouTube is truly amazing. It's available in more than 80 languages and most countries worldwide, so its content is diverse.

YouTube receives more than 2 billion unique visitors monthly. Collectively, they watch more than 1 billion hours of footage per day. About 500 hours of video get uploaded to the site every minute.

Upload Videos and Share With Friends & Strangers

YouTube was created by former PayPal employees and launched in 2005. The idea was to simplify the messy process of sharing videos, which has long been complicated by the many different codecs used by various cameras and online video sites.

These video formatting issues can still be tricky, but YouTube has taken much of the pain out of putting videos online. Most smartphone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras store video in formats compatible with YouTube.

Size limits on your video files are 128 GB per file, or 12 hours.

Manage Each Video with Individual Settings

For each video, you can set privacy levels (i.e., decide who can view it); decide whether you want people to be able to rate the video (using YouTube's star system) and leave comments for others to see; and set licensing rules for how others can use your material.

YouTube offers online video editing tools, but they are fairly crude. Many people prefer to do significant editing offline before uploading the final footage.

You can annotate your videos by adding comments as a note at certain points in the footage, or through a speech bubble that will be superimposed on the video image, like text bubbles in comics.

Finally, you can share each video in multiple ways—by sending out a URL as a link in an email, for example, or by grabbing the embed code YouTube generates for each video and pasting it on another website.

Your Own Video Channel

All your uploaded videos are grouped together into your own video channel. You can set the privacy level, determining whether the public can watch them or only authorized friends.

You can make your custom YouTube video channel look spiffy by uploading your own logo or another image. Each video you upload can be customized in terms of how the controls look. And, of course, you can add titles and descriptions to help people decide if they want to watch your individual video clips.