Vimeo vs. Gamers

Today, in tech news:

  • Twitter has announced that they are banning all messages (or “tweets”) relating to Apple, due to capacity concerns, given the massive usage spikes during Apple keynotes and product releases.
  • Flickr announced that screenshots and drawn artwork will no longer be allowed for upload, as they do not truly constitute ‘creative expression’ and do not jive with the mission of the site.
  • LiveJournal specified new policy, banning posts about user’s parents. “We simply do not want to spend the money and resources to host these entries,” said management.

To users of these services, all of this probably sounds ridiculous. Sites based around user submitted content would be foolish to restrict content based on topic, media type, or content.

The above headlines are fake, but this one is not: Vimeo is banning videos related to video games.

“The Vimeo staff has decided that we are no longer going to allow gaming videos on Vimeo. Specifically, we are no longer going to allow game walk-throughs, game strategy videos, depictions of player vs player battles, raids, fraps, or any other video gaming videos that simply depict individuals playing a video game. Videos falling into this category will be subject to deletion as of September 1st; new videos of this type will be removed.” – Blake Whitman, Vimeo Staff

Vimeo’s staff has given two (out of “many”) major reasons for this policy change. Neither reason is structurally sound.

The “Our Mission” Argument

First, “Vimeo staff does not feel that videos which are direct captures of video game play truly constitute ‘creative expression’.” Vimeo staff argue repeatedly in the comments that these videos would not meet the spirit of the mission for the site:

“Again, Vimeo is making no claims that we are deleting these videos because they are “illegal”. We are deleting them because we do not think they are in line with Vimeo’s mission.” – Dalas Verdugo, Vimeo Staff

An immediate question is raised: what is Vimeo’s mission statement? The closest thing I could find is on the About Vimeo page, which states that Vimeo is People connecting through video. This is woefully non-specific, but an elaboration follows, and I ask you to pay attention to the first and last sentences:

“Vimeo is a thriving community of people who love to make and share video. From simple moments to masterpieces, Vimeo is the perfect home for you to upload, store and share all the video you create. Your video’s quality and security is important to us, and that is why we’ve built advanced privacy options, sharing tools, and high quality video encoding. So whether you are an amateur filmmaker, proud mom, restaurant critic, or just a guy with a cellphone, connect with Vimeo today.”

Vimeo’s public mission statement is not exclusionary. They do not obstruct, they invite.

“One of the things we think defines Vimeo and differentiate it from YouTube is the humanity. We’re not sure game videos advance that idea.” – Andrew Pile, Vimeo Staff

Vimeo has now placed themselves in the most unholy of positions: they are now prejudging the merit of submitted content. Vimeo’s staff has been very careful to avoid mentioning the word “art”, instead questioning whether an entire genre of videos “truly constitutes ‘creative expression'” or “advance the idea” of “humanity”.

Once a company has indicated that they are willing to judge content, you might as well start racing them down the slippery slope to the bottom. If game videos don’t constitute “creative expression”, then neither do screencasts. concert videos (recording someone else’s work), or videos of the Fishstick.

Does Vimeo want to set a precedent where they are arbitrators of worth? Signs are pointing to WE SURE DO.

The “Capacity” Argument

“This decision is not going to be overturned. As stated in the blog post, a major reason is that we simply do not want to spend the money and resources to host these videos. That alone is reason enough.” – Dalas Verdugo, Vimeo Staff

If judging content wasn’t enough, Vimeo is also playing the Fail Whale card. And playing it poorly. From the policy change post:

“Gaming videos are by nature significantly larger and longer than any other genre on Vimeo. Over these last few months they have been the single biggest reasons for our transcoder wait times.”

For the sake of those who are not Vimeo users: Vimeo only has one account level, which gives all users 500MB of upload a week. Again – the site already enforces quotas on users. Which means that even with every user (550,000+) on the system already capped, the system cannot keep up with the demand.

It’s not uncommon to be faced with scalability and capacity challenges when building websites. Twitter has received a ton of scrutiny on this over the last six months as the site has failed and failed.

But: Twitter seems to understand service continuity better than Vimeo. (I can’t believe I wrote that either.) But, really – consider this:

In the event that our estimates and preparations fail, we have designed a way to keep Twitter updates moving quickly through the system to their respective recipients. We have isolated and created on/off switches for many Twitter features. Should it become necessary to shed incoming load quickly, we can turn off features such as stats, pagination, and several others to preserve the reliability and timeliness of your Twitter timeline.

It’s frustrating as hell, and I certainly love to kick and scream over these service restrictions. But Twitter, even through their failures, has not compromised their core functionality. They haven’t placed additional restrictions on their users either. That’s worth acknowledging.

Vimeo has the Fail Whale card in hand, and rather than play it smart (infrastructure improvements, a paid user model, limiting movie length, scaling site functions based on load), they’re using it to tell part of their userbase that their content isn’t worth hosting.