Cloning Instagram For Video Will Not Revolutionize Mobile Video

Editor’s note: Sandeep Casi is founder and CEO of Cinemacraft. Previously, he worked on Virtual Reality at General Motors, led the Systems Group at Industrial Light + Magic (a division of Lucasfilm), and was a research scientist at Fuji Xerox Palo Alto Lab. He currently lives on a plane traveling between Tokyo and San Francisco. You can follow him on Twitter.

Peter Csathy’s recent article on TechCrunch does an excellent job of addressing the requirements of mobile video sharing and the need to rethink how video services are built. Peter is right about the six “ingredients” that will make an “Instagram for video” a success, but there is a critical point that should be added to his list: the inherent difficulty of video discovery, access, and engagement.

Most of the players hoping to monetize video on mobile by following in Instagram’s footsteps are assuming that video is basically the same as photos – just longer and with bigger files. But video is a fundamentally different experience than still images, and any startup that thinks it can just apply the Instagram model to video is doomed from the start. First let’s look at what made Instagram so popular to begin with.

Obviously the social aspects and the general ease of use were important. But the feature that I think really cinched the deal for most users was the rich set of fun and distinctive photo filters. The filters are such a critical component for Instagram because they gave the users a reason to switch from simply shooting the photo with the built-in camera and sharing the images via MMS or email. Filters were the visual hook that made the whole process more fun and engaging. Without filters there was little reason to switch to Instagram, because you could do almost everything else with the built-in capabilities of the phone and your existing social networks.

But video is different, and engaging video users on a mobile device requires an entirely different set of tools. While filters can, and should, be part of the video experience, on their own they cannot solve the problem of how to get consumers to discover and engage with video. The best video filters in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference unless the consumers are motivated to watch the video in the first place.

The primary reason that photos inspire such massive user engagement online is that consumers can flip though lots of photos in minutes and visually engage with the content immediately. With a glance they can determine if the picture appeals to them and can like or dis-like them in a matter of seconds. This enables more comments, likes, and shares – leading to massive engagement.

Video, unlike still images, consists of a stream of dynamic visuals. While it is compelling as part of a long period of engagement (television, DVD, cinema), it is not as instantly suitable in its current form for mobile consumption due to the short attention span of consumers on mobile combined with the issues of oversubscribed, congested mobile networks.

Following are the primary reasons why video lags behind photos in terms of user engagement.

  • The thumbnail of the video is the single point of advertising for the video. In most cases the thumbnail may not fully communicate the context of the video’s content. If the thumbnail doesn’t engage them visually, users will choose not to click on the video.
  • Consumers do not want to invest time to view the whole video if it is not engaging. In most cases they will close the video in fewer than 10 seconds. The content could be compelling later on in the video, but it was not interesting enough in the 10 seconds that they chose to view.
  • In other situations, a consumer will like only a portion (clip) of the video and doesn’t want to share or like the entire video. Even when they do choose to share or like the whole video, it is extremely difficult to communicate to the recipient where the most interesting parts of the video are located.
  • While the cloud (and cheap local storage) solves the issues of archiving for home videos, it doesn’t eliminate the pain of searching for clips from the archives and sharing clips with friends and family seamlessly to or from a mobile device.

These problems are complex but solvable, and the process of addressing them promises to be both interesting and lucrative. There is a need for video solutions such as search, visual cues to interesting clips of the video, thumbnails that offer visual summaries of the video, and embedded objects that can engage consumers with contextual commerce. Startups that can innovate with solutions to these challenges will be able to help publishers monetize and continually re-engage consumers with their content more efficiently and effectively.

There are numerous startups competing to create a video “clone” of Instagram. Even if one does emerge a clear winner in this race, it will ultimately fail if it does not solve any of the significant problems of video discovery and engagement. The revolution will not begin when Instagram for video comes to your mobile device. The revolution will begin when video engagement becomes as seamless, fun, and immediately engaging as mobile photos.