Why You Need Web Video Extensions Like Vinegar

YouTube is so cluttered, it's almost like Flash Player all over again

Key Takeaways

  • Vinegar is an extension that cleans all the junk off of Youtube videos.
  • YouTube has gotten so bloated, it’s like Flash Player from decades ago.
  • Blocking ads also blocks revenue for video creators.
Vinegar extension on youtube.com on iPhone and iPad

Zhenyi Tan

Have YouTube videos gotten so bad that we need browser extensions to fix them?

Vinegar is a Safari extension for macOS and iOS that banishes the YouTube video player and replaces it with Apple's built-in player. This allows for proper Picture-in-Picture (PiP), better subtitle support, full-screen mode from anywhere, and more. Vinegar also removes ads. 

The extension has some downsides too, but overall it rids YouTube videos of all their usual annoyances. But how did it come to this? The last time web video was so bad, it was due to the Flash Player that killed the battery on any device that used one. 

"The YouTube player situation has gotten bad enough that we need another extension to fix it," says Vinegar's developer Zhenyi Tan in a blog post

Flash Flashback

Remember YouTube 5? It was a custom-designed HTML5 player to replace the Flash-based players used for video playback in the early 2000s.

Flash Player, most recently owned (and discontinued) by Adobe, was software that played videos, animations, and ran games inside the browser. Its problem was that it was absurdly inefficient. Flash was so bad that Apple never supported it on iOS because it was just too battery-hungry. Yet, its popularity led to Steve Jobs' famous open letter, Thoughts on Flash, which attacked pretty much every aspect of it. 

"YouTube isn’t really as bad as Flash, at least not yet."

Now, we’re used to our browsers having built-in video players, which wasn’t the case back then. But YouTube’s player has become so annoying and bloated that an intervention is required. Enter Vinegar. 

Vinegar

Vinegar comes from developer And a Dinosaur, who is also responsible for several other fix-up extensions that can block Google’s AMP pages, or simply make it more obvious which Safari tab is currently open.

Vinegar replaces any video player with a simple, built-in player. It’s possible to do something similar without an extension, but it requires clicking a Javascript bookmarklet every time you need it. Vinegar removes ads, all those annoying video-suggestion thumbnails that appear every time you pause a YouTube video, makes PiP available any time (as well as full-screen video), and prevents YouTube from tracking your watching activity. 

Vinegar extension on youtube.com

And a Dinosaur / Zhenyi Tan

You also get nice touches like support for Safari’s built-in subtitle engine and a toolbar at the top of the screen, which lets you choose the resolution of the video—including a setting to force the default resolution and stop YouTube serving a low-res stream. 

It even works on YouTube videos embedded on other sites. 

The only downside is Vinegar doesn’t allow play/pause with the spacebar, though that’s coming in the next update. And like any browser extension, you have to be sure you trust the developer, as it has access to every page you visit (on iOS, you can choose which sites it can see). 

A Moral Quandary

YouTube isn't really as bad as Flash, at least not yet. It doesn't kill your battery when using it, for example. But in many ways, it's anti-user. Much like how a news website can end up covered in so many ads that you can't read it anymore, YouTube's ads and algorithms make watching videos unpleasant. 

But those ads pay the creators, so isn't it morally wrong to block them? 

"The only way creators get paid is from ad revenue. And for a lot of channels, ad revenue means everything," online marketer Sam Campbell told Lifewire via email. "That's why blocking ads hurts creators more than just about anything else you can do to your YouTube."

"YouTube’s player has become so annoying and bloated that an intervention is required."

YouTube pays around half of its ad revenue to the creators, so blocking ads is a big deal. On the other hand, too many ads can put people off altogether.

It’s a tricky decision, but YouTube has put itself—and its creators, who really have nowhere else to go—into this situation. It’s a little less clear-cut than with regular ad-blocking because those ads are often a real privacy or security risk and don’t often provide money to indie creators. But aside from the ads, the YouTube experience is, to be charitable, a little overloaded.

Vinegar fixes that and is just $2 on the App Store.

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