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YouTube is a revolutionary service, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without its flaws. There are many features on the site that are designed for convenience, other features that are meant to satiate legal requirements, and then there are features that are plain missing. Here are some ways to easily spruce up your YouTube experience.
Despite the Hack YouTube title, there’s nothing illegal going on here. Most of these changes are done through plugins/addons/extensions and one of them is even right there on the site. So have no fear, you can have a more user-friendly YouTube in a matter of minutes – legally!
Perhaps the largest annoyance in YouTube – other than those pesky ads – is the proliferation of annotations. You know the text boxes that pop up at random points in videos, often coercing you to subscribe or comment or give the clip a thumbs up? Yeah, those things. It seems like most videos are flooded with annotations, enough so that the original video can barely be seen under it all.
One way to deal with this is to disable annotations on a video-to-video basis, but if you want a more global fix, YouTube actually has an account feature that lets you disable annotations by default. Just go to your Account Playback settings and uncheck the “Show Annotations on Videos” option.
Note: This feature requires you to have a YouTube account, which is essentially a Google account. If you’re one who wants to avoid Google at all costs, then this solution may be out of your reach.
ProxMate [, Firefox] [No Longer Available]
ProxMate isn’t actually a YouTube-specific addon, but it will most certainly alleviate a lot of frustration on your end if you experience regionally blocked videos. Videos can be blocked for many reasons and there are many methods of unblocking regional videos, but ProxMate handles all of it out of the box through proxies.
This is just a great plugin in general. Its efficacy doesn’t stop at YouTube; it can also unblock content on Grooveshark, Pandora, MTV, Turntable.FM, Hulu, and Google Play. If ProxMate ever gives you any trouble, you can manually set a different proxy to use.
YouTube Options is an all-in-one plugin that can utterly transform your YouTube experience if you allow it. In fact, it’s one of the extensions on our Best Chrome Extensions page. With it, you can:
- Disable ads, annotations, and auto-play.
- Set default video quality and size.
- Pre-buffer videos with Flash.
- Automatic looping of video playback.
- Easy video controls using the mouse scrollwheel.
- And much more.
The author of this plugin comes right out and says that these “features” are actually just workarounds based on YouTube’s architecture, so when YouTube updates their pages, some features are bound to break. Thankfully, the author is quick with his updates as long as you let him know when something stops working.
Note: For some reason YouTube Options does not offer a Firefox alternative and I’m not sure why that is. For now, if you want to use this plugin, you’ll need to use a different browser.
SmartVideo For YouTube [Firefox] [No Longer Available]
For those of you with subpar and shoddy Internet connections, buffering can be a real issue. The worst part of it all – at least if you live in the US – is that most of the time you can’t even upgrade to another ISP. A better Internet connection would result in faster and cleaner YouTube video playback, but alas, that’s often not a viable option.
SmartVideo is a Firefox addon that not only improves buffer quality and video playback, but offers a few other options to maximize your video quality. It’s not as comprehensive as YouTube Options above, but it’s still something:
- Set when videos should play: on page load, at a specific buffer percentage, or just let SmartVideo automatically decide when it would be best.
- An option to not load any video data until you click on it.
- Sound notifications when the buffer has reached a specified loading percentage.
- Set a default video quality and size for all YouTube videos.
- Loop video playback without having to refresh the page.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loaded up a YouTube video only to be disappointed. Maybe it wasn’t the kind of video that I was expecting. Maybe it’s a video of such low quality that I’d be better off not seeing it. Maybe there’s even a screamer (or worse, Rick Astley) at the end of the clip.
For the most part, YouTube video ratings are a good indicator of a video’s quality level. I’m sure we could all point out circumstances where a great video didn’t receive the reception it deserved and crappy videos that have over 90% likes. But with YouTube Ratings Preview, you can see a video’s rating even before you view it.
If you have this plugin installed, you’ll see a video’s rating overlaid on top of any thumbnail you see of that video (as long as you’re on the YouTube site, of course). It may seem like a trivial improvement, but trust me, it’s one of those things where you don’t know how useful it is until it’s gone.
YouTube has had nearly a decade to perfect its user interface, but it’s still not there yet and it probably won’t be there for many years yet. Until that day arrives, you can use the options and plugins above to tailor your YouTube experience to your own preferences. Get rid of the annoying features that bother you and go back to enjoying videos once again.