New iOS (s aapl) app Tout thinks 15-second video status updates for Facebook and other social networks is what users want. But, despite obvious interest from the development community, the track record of social video sharing to date is shaky at best, especially among the mobile crowd. Is this trend waiting for its moment to shine, or is the truth that most users won’t ever come on board?
Consider the track record of some social video apps to date. 12seconds offered essentially what Tout does: the ability to record short video clips and share them with your social network. In its heyday, it had a dedicated following, including some influential bloggers, but despite the love, it never really gained wider acceptance or a successful business model. Co-founder David Beach noted on Quora that “12 is better suited for the mobile app space,” arguing that had it been “designed as a mobile app first (if iPhone and Android (s goog) apps existed when it was launched), then it might have faired [sic] better.” But how much better?
Justin.tv’s Socialcam app provides a good place to look for an answer to that question. Unlike 12seconds or Tout, it doesn’t place a limit on your video length, but it does allow you to share videos with your contacts on Facebook and Twitter. Socialcam reportedly netted 150,000 downloads in its first two weeks, but that’s across two platforms (Android and iOS), whereas Instagram was doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 130,000 downloads per week at last count. Socialcam also doesn’t appear in the App Store’s top 200 free apps, which is often a good indicator of an app’s success. Socialcam might be doing well, but it isn’t the kind of blockbuster that Foursquare and Instagram were.
Tout CEO Michael Downing thinks the social video wave has yet to crest. Speaking with Cnet (s cbs), he expressed the belief, like Beach, that 12seconds was ahead of its time, and the “macro trend” of short status updates is hitting its stride, and sure to envelop video as it progresses. It could be that social video sharing apps haven’t found the hook that drives widespread adoption (filters for Instagram, for example), but it might be that video sharing simply isn’t the next logical step for social networking.
Consider for a moment how often you shoot a video vs how often you take a photo. I’m willing to bet the ratio for most is at least 1:10, and probably much more in many cases. For me, it’s around 1:100. Let’s say I post even half of my taken photos to social networks, or take them directly through social networking apps like Instagram. Even if I did the same with video (I don’t), it’s still an itch I seldom need to scratch. Video, even with far fewer technical barriers than have existed in the past (which probably accounts for the death of standalone devices like the Flip), is still far less convenient than photography, and it likely always will be. Plus, in order for video updates to be successful, someone has to be watching. I can happily and easily click through photos on my mobile without trouble in almost any setting. Watching video (even silent films, which most are not) requires more investment on the part of the viewer, and is far more contextually sensitive.
Mobile social video might just be waiting for its “aha” moment, but there are serious practical issues that will still exist independent of any additional features an app can provide. It might also be something that’s still ahead of its time, but even if that’s true I don’t think the watershed moment is just around the corner. Society has to change before video is as easy and convenient to create and consume as static photos, and the degree of change required isn’t something that will happen overnight.
Ed.: Tout CEO Michael Downing’s name was spelled incorrectly in a previous version of this article.