June 20, 2013

Facebook Offers up a Big and Very Cool Instagram Video Surprise


Whether or not an Instagram video offering in and of itself is a surprise is a matter of which side of the tracks you come from. If you are part of the media tech community, you knew this was coming, and you probably also know that it should have come sooner - certainly before Twitter put its Vine idea to good use. If you are a consumer, you probably haven't given it much thought at all. If you haven't tried Vine yet, it is well worth downloading to your smartphone and checking out. We ourselves aren't avid users, but many have become so - with 13 million current users now in hand.

Facebook itself, many of us believe, has been either thinking about it for too long or hasn't thought about it long enough. Take your pick, it doesn't matter - either way the problem has been that while YouTube and now Vine are making plenty of video noise amongst users, Facebook isn't.

Or at least it hasn't until today. At a new product announcement event today at its headquarters, Facebook announced Video on Instagram. Is it a game changer?

Let's get to the announcement, and then we'll answer the question. But we'll note here that the surprise in our headline isn't the addition of video, but what the user can do with an Instagram video.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was up first and set the stage with some quick statistics. When the company acquired what was a 12 person company for $1 billion, it had 20 million users. Today those users have scaled up to 130 million users, and the 12 person team has grown to 36 or thereabouts. That was it for Zuckerberg. He then turned over the stage to Facebook's key Instagram guy, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom.

Systrom added a few more statistics: 16 billion photos have been shared over 2.5 years, and traffic now includes a billion "likes" every day. Systrom notes that Instagram is all about capturing "the world's moments." But capturing those moments isn't all about one single image in time. Which, of course, leads Systrom to…video. With that, Systrom announced Video for Instagram - which he also noted will now become instantly available to those 130 million users - immediately, as of this moment in time, as we write.

The new capability retains Instagram's entire well known user interface but now simply adds a video icon on the lower right. Systrom makes clear that the goal behind the new video capability is simplicity, simplicity and more simplicity. Using video cannot be hard, and Instagram must deliver the same easy to use capability its 130 million users have come to expect. In truth, we believe Instagram has managed to do exactly this.

First, the team decided on the right amount of video to capture. Systrom notes that, after much analysis and debate, the team locked onto 15 seconds (though it can be less, down to a minimum of three seconds). Next, they provided the user with simple control over the 15 seconds of video. A user can create the video in one 3 to 15 second stream, or the user can record the video in segments by first keeping a finger on the record button, then releasing the record button, which stops the video, and then re-touching the record button to resume. Each of these video segments can be edited out and retaken as a user may desire. In the image below, note the video segment in red. By hitting the delete button, the clip disappears.

Once a user has reached the end of 15 seconds or deems the video complete, the user taps on Next and moves on to applying filters. But these are not the Instagram photo filters. The team realized that video requires its own filters, so the team has delivered 13 brand new video-only filters specially created by an artist who specializes in video filters. Once a filter is selected, the next thing a user will be able to do - and from our perspective this is very welcome indeed - is to be able to select the specific video cover frame, shown below, that will make up the video's cover page. This is a great and utterly intuitive feature, and we'll send some applause Instagram's way on it.

The next step is to publish the finished video, and, just as with Instagram photos, it is then ready to go. It will become available in the Instagram feed and can be sent out through the same social media channels and email. Videos will also be immediately available on the Web. Unlike Vine, the completed video plays once and doesn't loop. The entire process is summarized below, though there is no reason not to go download or upgrade Instagram and simply start using it - which we did before completing our story here.

The new video capability is immediately available for both Android and iPhone. There are no specific plans for Windows Phone 8 as yet, but we suspect we'll see it become available there in due course.

We very much approve of what Instagram has accomplished here, but Systrom did have one more little surprise in hand. The team was concerned with the typical issue of videos taken with smartphones typically being shaky and jittery, and wanted to solve this issue before launching the new tool. Towards this goal, the company teamed up with a number of "video scientists" to create what Facebook now calls "Cinema" - an entirely new video (cinematic) stabilization feature that looks to remove that shake and jitter automatically as a video is being taken. We haven't given the new Cinema feature a real test run yet, but it seems to work enough to be noticeable to us.

This first version of Video for Instagram only works with videos taken directly within Instagram. Videos already in your camera roll cannot be edited or otherwise converted into Instagram videos – at least not yet.

A Game Changer?

From a pure user perspective, it is indeed possible that videos will now become the new norm for sharing. We ourselves have long preferred video clips to photos when looking to capture a moment - which is distinctly different than specifically looking to capture photographic images. From this viewpoint we are going to suggest it will be a game changer. The wireless carriers may also very much look forward to adding a few more significant bits of wireless data to their revenue streams.

From a business perspective will Video for Instagram deliver anything to Facebook in the way of new revenue streams? Will there be some new ways to monetize the new video capabilities? Immediately, the answer appears to be no. Systrom noted during a follow up Q&A that the company has put the new video capability out based on user demand, and not specifically to create new revenue streams. Well, sure, ok, we can take that at face value, but of course Facebook will be looking to figure out how it can tie this into its advertising models.

It will be interesting to hear what Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg will have to say about it at the company's next earnings call, when that comes around. No doubt it will be a question most financial analysts will want to hear some answers to. For today, we have the product itself as a pure user play.

We like it a lot already. For us as users, it is indeed a likely game changer. No doubt, 130 million users put a lot of weight behind it. From a business perspective…we'll see.

But unlike the Facebook Home announcement, which we didn't find at all interesting, today's news is a welcome addition to our social media arsenal. Well done on this Facebook!




Edited by Blaise McNamee



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