How to Use YouTube

Using YouTube is easier once you learn the basics

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. Still, many people on YouTube use the site and its family of apps to watch content.

Art student using YouTube.

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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.

If you want to broadcast yourself or upload your own content, you must register for a Google account and get a username and password. You can only upload videos if you have 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 in to 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 YouTube and Google account, which 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 in to YouTube as a registered user lets you do a lot of stuff you can't do while browsing the site anonymously, such as:

  • Save favorite videos for quick viewing later.
  • Comment on the videos you watch.
  • Rate the videos you watched.
  • Create playlists of videos to watch.
  • Operate your own video channel.
  • Upload videos for others to watch.

Browse and Watch Videos on YouTube

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

You can browse categories by topic, perform keyword searches, or scroll through popular or trending videos to find footage to watch. The search function has filters you can apply to search for videos by date or popularity level.

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

YouTube's Massive Scale

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

YouTube receives more than two billion unique visitors monthly. Collectively, these visitors watch more than one billion hours of footage per day. About 500 hours of video is uploaded to the site every minute.

Upload Videos and Share With Friends and Strangers

YouTube was created by former PayPal employees and launched in 2005. The idea was to simplify the process of sharing videos, which has long been complicated by the 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 video files are 128 GB per file or 12 hours.

Manage Each Video with Individual Settings

For each video, you can set privacy levels (for example, to decide who can view it), decide whether you want people to rate the video (using the YouTube 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 these tools are fairly basic. 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 is superimposed on the video image, like text bubbles in comics.

Finally, you can share each video in multiple ways—by sending a URL as a link in an email, for example, or by copying 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 video channel. You can set the privacy level, determining whether the public can watch the videos or only authorized friends.

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

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