Instagram has launched a new feature that allows users to share short video clips — but photos and video are very different animals, and the audience for the latter may not be as large as Instagram thinks. It definitely doesn’t include me.


On Thursday, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom introduced the Facebook-owned platform’s new video feature with the kind of hushed and reverential tones that are usually reserved for announcements about a new Pope, or a declaration of war. And in a sense it is a declaration of war: a war against Twitter, which wanted Instagram very badly and has its own short video feature known as Vine. But it is a war I refuse to take part in, and I don’t think I’m the only one — and that could reduce the likelihood that Instagram’s offering will ever truly become “the Instagram of video.”

Before someone brings it up, some of this is undoubtedly a “hey you kids — get off my lawn” response on my part. Not only am I old (so old I remember when phones couldn’t even take video) but I confess that I kind of liked Instagram the way it was, with just photos. It was quieter, more contemplative somehow. But I think there’s more to it than just liking things the way they were. Video and photos are very different animals in a lot of ways (the creator of 12seconds, an early video service, seems to agree).

For one thing, video is very difficult to scan or browse quickly, which is something I (and I’m assuming other users) like to do with photos and other types of content. I browse Instagram while I’m waiting for a train, while I’m in line for something or at the airport — any time I have a couple of minutes to spare. I can scroll through a surprisingly large number of photos and get a sense of what my friends are doing, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to do the same thing with video clips.

The noise factor

There’s also the problem of crappy videos, because let’s face it, there’s going to be tons of them. As Om pointed out in an interview on BloombergWest TV, this is likely to be a serious issue for any Instagram user — and it’s a problem that is compounded by the fact that videos take a much larger investment of time. While six seconds (the time limit for Vine) or fifteen seconds (the limit for Instagram) might not seem like a lot, when you are trying to browse and the video is irritating or just poor quality, it’s like an eternity.

Drew Breunig, a blogger who works in advertising technology, described the problem well in a post earlier this year about Vine and the idea of an “Instagram for video.” Given his job, you might expect Breunig to see a short video-clip sharing service as a gold mine, since it would be perfect for video ads — but he points out a lot of good reasons why video isn’t likely to take off. In effect, he says, the math doesn’t work:

“The problem with video social networks lies in variable Y: it takes much too long and too much attention to consume a single unit of content. This results in less feedback, which dries up the volume of content, which needs to be high to maintain a cache of enticing videos. And the network fails.”

That’s not to say there can’t be video-sharing networks that many people enjoy — Vimeo is pretty good, and so is YouTube, obviously (although I would agree with Breunig that it is a very different beast from what Instagram is trying to create). But it reduces the likelihood that such a network will ever become as huge and mass-market as Instagram, because it won’t appeal to enough users.

Great for kids — and for ads

None of this is to say that Vine and even Instagram’s video feature won’t get users, because they clearly will. My daughter and her friends are obsessed with Vine, and I’m sure it will find a home with many younger users who want a place to share funny clips of them making faces or singing along to crappy pop songs or whatever amuses them. And there’s clearly some value for Facebook in appealing to that demographic, since most of them (in my experience) never use Facebook any more.

There’s also no question that advertisers will be interested, and I think that is a big part of the reason why Twitter and Facebook/Instagram are so fired up about it: It is the perfect length for advertising, and therefore plenty of existing video assets from commercials and TV shows can be re-purposed for it, and video monetizes way better than simple banner-style ads (for now at least), which is why every media company is doing it.

So perhaps it makes sense for Facebook, and for Twitter, and for advertisers — but it doesn’t make sense for me, and I would suspect a large number of other users. And that’s why I won’t be clicking on your Instagram video, no matter how much you want me to.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / SueC

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  1. I think the old Steve Jobs’ “car vs. pickup truck” analogy applies here.

    For most cases, a photo (ie: the car) will work just fine. It gets the job of capturing a moment done well, and quickly. But in a handful of cases a Vine/Instagram video does things that a photo can’t. For example, a well done time lapse of a roadtrip along Highway 1 captures the entire experience more than a single photograph ever could.

    The world needs both cars and trucks, just not in the same #’s. Now that we have these “tap to record” short video apps, I think social photos and videos will co-exist for a long time.

    1. That’s a great point, Adam — and I can certainly foresee special cases where video clips make sense, such as a news event like the Kennedy shooting, or the birth of a child, etc. But even in those cases I am likely to want a longer video than 15 seconds — and I don’t think there are enough of those cases to build what people seem to mean when they say “the Instagram of video.”

      1. First off you are old
        To my point. Instagram and vine lets you upload videos real quick as opposed to youtube. If you have real quick thing to say or show it to someone and catch a fun moment that doesn’t require more than 5minutes of video, I would just grab my phone shoot and upload right in less than 30 seconds. If you don’t want to watch it then don’t watch it. We don’t need to hear your complain. Obviously rest of the world disagrees as you can see how viral it went.

        1. I don’t like video on Instagram and I find Vine to be annoying. I’m 16 and I can assure that’s not “old”. Your argument is invalid.

          1. Well you are just too young. Your argument is invalid

  2. Oh…u will click on one video…lol

  3. I was really dying to see Scoble’s Google Glass in Shower video. Now that we know it’s waterproof where does he go from there?

  4. Mathew – I’m old too – but, respectfully, I think you’re dead wrong.

    I think Vine and Instagram are onto something. The problem with home videos up until now has been that they are always waaaaay too long and boring. Too few people edit their videos because it’s difficult and takes a lot of time. Vine and now Instagram are applying the Twitter principle to video – force it to be short. Shooting and editing become merged into the same step because of the time limit. Just as SMS and Twitter taught the email generation to be concise, Vine and Instagram will teach us to improve on short video clips. You watch. Let’s meet back here in a couple of years and see how things are going.

    I like the UI of Vine more, but I think Instagram will win by a landslide unless Vine changes. I only use Vine occasionally because the only way to share it is via social networks, and I don’t want to publish all of my video shorts. Instagram includes an email version, which I will use regularly to send video shorts to my parents, who are of the email generation.

    Thanks for your perspective.

    1. Thanks — it’s entirely possible that I’m wrong :-) and I think they both will be used — but I don’t think the audience for short video clips is anywhere near as large as the audience for photos, for the reasons I talked about in the post.

    2. SMS and Twitter taught the email generation WHAT? Both are the major culprits behind the degradation of the writing skills, forcing even skilled writers to dumb themselves down on the level of ADHD-suffering teenager. I cannot believe someone advertises this as a positive development.

      1. While I agree that texting (more then anything) has dumbed down users ability to type correctly. I also believe for people like me, who care how they come across, it won’t change anything.

        Dumb will always be dumb and make excuses for being ignorant, while others like me will use it as a tool, not an excuse to write like a Neanderthal

        That being said, videos on instagram will do the same thing. This will separate the two types of users the way cream rises to the top… In this case, it will be their use of it and my non-use of it.

  5. Embrace Change Thursday, June 20, 2013

    You are old… They are not targeting dinosaurs… They’re targeting the future. Just like there are crappy photographers there will be crappy videographers… BUT there are going to be amazing videos too… Which you will be missing out of because you are afraid of change… Sad…

  6. You don’t have to click on them, they play automatically.

    1. That was my comment! ;-p

  7. Well, Instagram is stupid (moronic filters and low res,way to ruin memories),Vine is stupid (6 seconds is more gif than video) ,Twitter is mega stupid and i don’t even care about the Instagram’s new feature enough to look at the details.
    Still ,short videos are a lot easier to browse than longer ones and it’s not very different from browsing pictures if they have a decent preview mode.(i can think of 2 ways,like most porn sites do it and like Bing does it and on touch devices they can easily allow to enlarge the preview on the fly). The goal here should be to make video browsing fast and that’s why it seems to work so far,even if it’s as stupid and pointless as Twitter.
    It’s not like Youtube is getting any better, Google has been sleeping on its laurels and Youtube is so y2k. At least others are trying.

  8. Space successfully filled with words.

    Amazing you get paid to kill other people’s time with words about how precious your one time is.

  9. I think you’re right. They should’ve at least separated videos from photos when scrolling through the stream. I don’t want to have to mute my phone I open Instagram, it’s a deterrent.

  10. A lot of people are commenting on age here… And I am 17 and honestly I don’t like the instagram video… Because instagram is just for pictures… I liked the idea of having two separate things one devoted to my pictures and one devoted to six second funny and random crap… I don’t want them smushed together… I will not participate in instagram video!

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