The YouTube for artistes.

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April 7 2009 5:54 PM

YouTube for Artistes

The Web video site Vimeo goes after an audience tired of the poorly lit basement aesthetic.

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In particular, Vimeo began to attract photographers who wanted to stream the sort of footage that wouldn't really work on YouTube. Here's a shining example: On the first warm-weather weekend of 2008, Keith Loutit, a photographer in Australia, planted himself on the ridges overlooking Tamarama Beach, in Sydney. His high-def camera was outfitted with a series of tilt-shift lenses, which produce a shallow depth of field, making a scene resemble a miniature town. The result is an enchanting landscape that one can watch several times over. (Loutit has made several other videos in this style.)

Many of Vimeo's competitors, including YouTube, have since given users the option of posting high-definition videos. Vimeo's continued appeal comes from the atmosphere that developed from this emphasis on good videos. For instance, the staff puts out ideas for filmmakers to tackle on the weekends—things like creating an homage to your favorite Vimeo video or making an orchestra out of everyday objects. Vimeo's staff also regularly post funny videos of their own.

These efforts make Vimeo seem like a small town, a sensibility that's especially apparent on the comment threads attached to videos. Where YouTube is notorious for attracting the most inane and vile commenters on the Web, people who respond to Vimeo videos are unbelievably nice. "I won't say you'll never find a negative comment, but in more than two years, I've literally seen 20 negative comments," Whitman says. "And I've watched 50,000 videos easily."

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It's unlikely that Vimeo will ever be as big as YouTube, though that's not really its aim. With size comes all kinds of problems—lots of terrible videos, lots of terrible commenters. What Vimeo proves is that online, being well-behind the leader has its benefits. I'll always head to YouTube when I'm looking for the next viral sensation; for the real talent, though, I'll go to Vimeo.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.