It's all too easy to go to YouTube as a knee jerk reaction whenever you want to find a video on the internet. In fact, the term has passed into common parlance to refer to any user-generated internet film footage much the same as Google has come to refer to search. But if you take the time to have a look around, you'll notice some perfectly good video services in their own right, such as the very popular Vimeo. Some of them, in fact may even be better. So, how does our alternative example compare with the big kid in the playground?
Like all good internet phenomena both Vimeo and Youtube were started by some budding entrepreneurs but have both since been bought up by corporate giants. However Google chooses to present its offices and ethos, its power and influence are second to none online making the company officially The Man as far as the world wide web goes. So, as a user and contributor to YouTube you are supporting the big G machine and all it stands for whether you like it or not. As it happens, it may not stand for anything that bad at all but it's worth bearing in mind.
Comparatively speaking, Vimeo is the little guy, but not by much. Owners IAC have over 50 consumer brands including notably Bloglines, Ask, CollegeHumour and Urbanspoon. You're certainly not saving the manatees by choosing Vimeo over YouTube but it might be a factor for the more corporate conscious.
Vimeo will not host any commercial videos, gaming videos, pornography or anything else not created by users. YouTube is a little more stringent in its demands, if perhaps only subtly. Google's requirements are the uploads should not be defamatory, contain pornography, copyright violations and material that might encourage criminal behaviour. Much of this, of course, is very reasonable and very necessary given the size of the audience. However, as a smaller player, Vimeo does not have to include such overt holds on subjects with such grey areas like whether a video may or may not spark illegal activities. There have also been issues with other subjects including religion and incidents like the Hillsborough football disaster. Vimeo may well have problems in the same areas but there's no particular hard and fast rules on the matter.
Both sites will delete certain videos they deem unacceptable. YouTube relies on its community to flag videos in breach of the terms rather than vetting each on individually. The system works well but it does mean there's more of a chance of catching something inappropriate before its taken down. Whether you view that as an advantage or disadvantage is up to you.
Being more much more in the spotlight, YouTube has famously had many more issues with copyright than any other video service. Both Viacom and, more recently, PRS in the UK have sought damages and pulled their content from the pages. Doubtless Vimeo would face the same problems but its smaller size means that these larger companies aren't bothering to look for their material there with quite the same fervor. Consequently, you're more likely to Premier League football, Saturday Night Live sketches, music videos or whatever else you might be looking for without finding that the content has disappeared.
The other issues over copyright to note is that YouTube gave over IP addresses and the details of millions of its users to Viacom in the landmark court case. Doubtless the same precedent would apply to such an injunction against Vimeo but with less legal action likely, there's less of a chance of having your data involuntarily shared with a third party.
On the other hand of course, Vimeo's catalogue represents a drop in the ocean compared to the force of nature that is YouTube. YouTube has 20 hours of footage uploaded every single minute. That's nearly 2 million minutes of new video each 24 hours. Vimeo's 13,000 daily uploads is impressive especially given that 10% of those are in HD but it's just a different league. If you want to find a clip or you just want choice, YouTube is the place to be.
Vimeo's greatest boast is that it hosts the highest quality user video on the internet. While the site was quick to adopt 720p HD, YouTube has done the same as of this year. What's more, sometimes a lower quality is preferable. YouTube differentiates with both YouTube Mobile and YouTube TV which are optimised depending on where it is you're looking at the films. That's a handy data saver that Vimeo doesn't offer.
Where Vimeo still can shout though is in terms of video bit rate. The service offers up to 5,000 kbits whereas YouTube delivers around 2,000. Naturally, you're not always going to get that magic 5,000 with Vimeo but the footage does look noticeably smoother. That said, YouTube offers better audio bit rates with anywhere up to 256kbps but you'll only get up 128 with Vimeo although it is at least in stereo.
Both services can cope with just about any video file you care to throw at them but they have different rules as to the quantities of data that you're allowed to add. YouTube has set a maximum length of 10 minutes to any one video unless you happen to have a partner account. No file can be larger than 2GB in size either. With Vimeo there is no maximum length of footage but the maximum file size is only half the size at 1GB and with a basic account you're only actually allowed to upload 500MB per week which might not get you that far.
The limit on Vimeo never used to exist until Plus accounts were introduced which offer multiple channels per user, no advertising, priority encoding and 2-pass re-enocding which gives better quality results. So, to some degree, the original users' accounts were downgraded with the introduction which did not go down to well, leaving one wondering whether it's something Vimeo might be happy to do again.
With well over 1 billion views each day, YouTube is a far more powerful promotional tool than Vimeo will ever be. If you're big on YouTube, you're famous whether you like it or not. For filmmakers, photographers, musicians and creatives in all sorts of fields, YouTube can be and has been a platform where people have hit the big time. It's still very possible on other services but it's a simpe case of numbers. If you want your work to be seen by as many people as possible, then YouTube is the way to go.
YouTube is for the masses while Vimeo has an air of refinement about it. As a result, there's not only a better quality of video content but also a more friendly comments stream to say the very least. If you want some fair appreciation of your creation, then upload to Vimeo. YouTube is strictly for the thick-skinned.
One very nice touch with Vimeo is that you can download just about all of the videos. So, long as you're a signed up member you can get the footage as the original file that it was uploaded as to keep and enjoy at your leisure. Although there are plug-ins and add-ons and ways that you can do this on YouTube, it's far more convoluted and often doesn't reap particularly good results.
At CES at the beginning of the year, just about every TV manufacturer released a range of internet connected, widget-based products for the living room. Almost all of them had a YouTube widget. Nobody, was that fussed about a small service like Vimeo. Things will change as time goes on but, just as with the iPhone in the mobile phone field, other companies look to support the big player and it's YouTube that we'll find easiest to access wherever we happen to be.
With the recent deal to bring ad supported film and TV content onto YouTube, it might not be a case of which of the two services is better than the other but more a case of which is appropriate for your needs at that moment. The commercial route takes Google's video service more towards the likes of Hulu and iPlayer with a shift of focus away from its user generated roots that Vimeo still holds on to. It just depends what you feel like watching. So long as it all stays free, then everybody's happy.