Why watch YouTube all by your lonesome when you can create a virtual watch party and watch with far-flung friends? I found a number of sites that let you sync YouTube playback among friends. All of the sites I found were free, but I wanted them to be well-designed and easy to use. That is, I wanted them to be free of registration demands and if not ad-free then at least not overrun with ads. In the end, I found three I liked best: Let's Gaze, MyCircle.tv and ShareTube. Let's have a look at each.
When you arrive at Let's Gaze, you are presented with a simple, elegant design. You can either click a button to Start Gazing or watch a quick demo video. Opt for the former and you will be able to invite a friend watch YouTube or a local video on your computer. You can send your invitation via Facebook or email or can copy and paste it and send it anyway you'd like. Once your friend opens the link, you'll then be able to paste in a YouTube URL to begin playing a video. If you choose to open a local file with Let's Gaze, both users will need to have a local copy of the video.
Let's Gaze features a huge video playback window without any ads cluttering the view. It features a small video chat window that you can toggle on and off. Both people can control the video -- pausing and skipping ahead and back -- but only the person who sent the invitation can choose another video. The drawback to Let's Gaze is that it limits sharing to only one other person and does not let you set up playlists. And it doesn't work on tablets and phones -- only computers.
MyCircle.tv has my least favorite design of the three services here, but it's also the most versatile. The landing page is chock full of stock art images, and then the playback page features two large ads. But if you are willing to put up with the ads, you'll be able to share not only YouTube videos but also content from DailyMotion, Vimeo and SoundCloud.
To get started with MyCircle.tv, enter a URL from one of the above sites and then invite others via Facebook, Twitter or email to join your "room." You can also share the room code, which your friends can use to join a room from the MyCircle.tv homepage.
MyCircle.tv does not feature video chat but does have chat box for text-based chatting and an option to enable audio chatting. The service works on mobile devices but not with the audio chat feature. You can create playlists and invite more than one other person. You can also adjust a setting to allow all users to control video playback or lock it so only the room's originator can control the video.
ShareTube is the simplest of the three services. It works only for YouTube videos and lets you invite others only by copy and paste or sharing your room's name. It doesn't feature video or audio chatting -- only text chat. And it doesn't work on mobile devices. You can, however, invite multiple people to join your room and you can create playlists.
To set up a room on ShareTube, you need to give your room a name (only letters and numbers -- no spaces) and click the "Make a room" button. You will then need to choose a user name for chatting purposes, but you don't need to register with an email or anything. With your room set up, you can then enter a YouTube URL to begin watching a video or search YouTube to find a video.
You won't find a button to invite others. Instead, you can copy and paste the URL from your browser and send it to your friends. Or you can just tell them the name of your room, which they can then enter on ShareTube to join your room.
In related news, check out Showgoers for similar syncing and sharing functionality for Netflix.