Vimeo vs. YouTube – is there a winner?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to those of you who found your way here through Google or other search engines. This is a site built for graduate students at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Feel free to poke around – there are plenty of discussions, lectures and reviews that pertain to digital storytelling and video. A good place to start is this post on a few tips and techniques for conducting a video interview. And feel free to offer any insights you may have in the comments.

UPDATE – Feb. 11, 2012: Vimeo has launched a site redesign in part to support HTML5 encoding and to put more prominence on the site’s video content. You can find more details on the relaunch here.

All, I’ve had a couple questions on which video posting service is best to use – Vimeo or YouTube.

To clear up confusion, the easy answer is: neither. But they do both have their strengths and weaknesses – a full discussion amongst users available here.

The case for Vimeo

But basically, YouTube is for the masses, Vimeo is a more “pro,” specialized platform. You will not get all the nonsense to wade through on Vimeo that you do on YouTube as it’s a slightly more difficult to use service, which helps weed out the chaff. It used to be that playback quality, especially for HD, was far superior in Vimeo. That’s not really the case anymore, but it still is a high quality playback experience. And, of course, there is no time limit in Vimeo, whereas YouTube caps uploads to 10 minutes or, I believe, 100 megs in size. To make the most of this, you may have to upgrade to the Vimeo Plus (not free) option, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

The case for YouTube

Where YouTube has more strengths is in it’s popularity and portability. People are much less likely to find your work in Vimeo because many fewer people actually use Vimeo, which decreases your chances for getting the all-important inbound links. But YouTube racks up billions of stream hours each month. Of course, that makes for a pretty high noise-to-signal ratio, but the chance of being seen with millions of monthly visitors and related viewing links in YouTube is much greater. And most people have heard of YouTube and are familiar with the service, where as Vimeo’s specialized platform may not be as intuitive. Lastly, YouTube is or is in the process of encoding video in the HTML 5 standard that makes it’s content viewable on all mobile platforms. Vimeo’s new – but buggy – iFrame option helps in this respect, but it’s not quite as iPhone user friendly.

Then there’s the social aspect on both. The comments on YouTube are not what you would call very useful – though they can be highly entertaining. Though YouTube is generally thought of as a social media platform because of the ease of sharing capabilities. Vimeo, however, is great for videographer specifically because of the comments. Because its community is made up of somewhat likeminded people, the interplay is generally more technical in nature – offering questions, tips and suggestions on how to create your content and make it better. Questions on how things were created, technical details, equipment use and settings are the norm.

So what do I use?

To me, the clear winner is … both. I think the exposure and speed and ease of use makes YouTube a must for anyone posting video to the Web – as long as it’s shorter than 10 minutes. Just make sure to include a link to your site!

And Vimeo is perfect for anyone who appreciates higher quality content and a slightly more discerning viewers – if fewer of them.
So post your stuff in both places and pick the playback interface you like best as the one you use for your site. But do try both to see which you prefer.

Of course, there are other options. A good post here looks at a couple of the better contenders. And new sites are in development. Stumble across one? Share with the class – or leave a link in the comments.


Using your iPhone or Android to shoot, edit and/or upload video? YouTube comes out on top here if only because the ability to upload straight to YouTube is now baked in to most video apps. Vimeo, though, offers an Android and an iPhone app for upload that also has a built-in editor.

Depending on your phone, Internet connection and other factors, you may have limitations on how long your video clips can be for mobile upload. You’ll want to experiment a bit to find out what works for your apps and phone.

For more on using a smartphone for reporting and mobile digital storytelling, check out this guide on apps and techniques.

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