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