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Owncasts Is an New App That Makes It Easier To Watch Decentralized Owncast Livestreams

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The developer of Owncasts – an iOS and tvOS application that has just been announced, issued a lengthy blog post to explain the decision to come up with the app, the functionality of Owncast server software that powers it, and the motivation to create it as an alternative to YouTube or Twitch-powered streams.

The app is designed to allow users to watch live video streams, and do so independently. Gabe Kangas explains the history of the project, including an early Owncast directory as a way to demonstrate how the app can be used in different scenarios.

The problem with that, Kangas notes, is the centralized nature of the directory – whose purpose is to allow for video stream discovery – and this point is something he intends to work on making “less centralized” – regardless of it being based on ActivityPub.

That being said, using the directory is not necessary as Owncast does not control what users do with their own servers, and allows many apps to show Owncast streams, cross-platform. Given the nature of the project – being “standards based” – this also means the possibility of using it to build new apps for specific streams.

Offering standards for server software and proof-of-concept and experimental added features is one thing, but it represents a barrier to entry and a convenience problem for the majority, i.e., non-tech savvy users, given the ultimate lack of such apps.

Kangas in the end arrived at a point where he put together Owncasts for iOS and tvOS – not to be confused with Owncast itself. The developer notes that there are limitations that pertain to some convenient features he is aiming for, like push notifications.

Here, the functionality requires a server being listed in the directory, and the reason is the design of Apple push notifications themselves – which prevents individual servers from sending them independently. And that’s an instance where Owncasts’ concept of decentralization has to give way.

Kangas mentions almost abandoning the project because of the hurdles Apple put in his way, finding “every possible reason to reject it” – but eventually deciding to press on.

“One law firm, one conversation with Craig Hockenberry, a series of appeals, and a bunch of creative workarounds later, somehow I made it over the finish line,” Kangas writes of his experience with Apple.

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