Mike Isaac

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Grasping for a Vine: Video for Instagram Will Be Sole Reveal at Facebook Event Thursday


Instagram plans to release a video product this Thursday at a press event at Facebook’s headquarters, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, marking the first time the robust, 100-million user network will stray from being strictly a photo-sharing app and dive head first into the world of moving pictures.

The new video product is something that the service said it was planning to do for two years now, and there have been numerous rumors about it in recent weeks. As was first reported by TechCrunch, it’s actually going to happen this week. Sources said that Thursday’s event will solely be focused on Instagram’s new video product and there will be no other Facebook product reveals.

While details of the product have been kept under wraps, sources said Facebook is seeking to differentiate itself from Vine, the popular instant video app from Twitter, which is now available on both Apple iPhone and Google Android. It recently announced that Vine has 13 million users.

The worry, said sources, is that this late-to-the-video-app-party offering will be seen as a copy of that, much as Facebook’s Poke service was received as a copycat to the explosively growing SnapChat.

In a sense, video on Instagram is not a complete surprise. After the rise of products like Viddy and Socialcam last summer, many have expected some sort of mobile video offering from either Facebook or Instagram.

As it happened, that so-called “Instagram of video” turned out to be neither Viddy nor Socialcam, but rather Vine, the standalone app offering from Twitter.

Twitter has become one of Facebook’s largest competitors — and coincidentally enough, the company that ultimately lost out on acquiring Instagram to Facebook in a whirlwind, billion-dollar acquisition deal.

So, not so coincidentally, Vine just did a “Thank you to our community” post on its company blog, with the promise of more features to come soon (see Vine video below).

With its success, Twitter has loudly trumpeted the fact that Vine has hovered around the No. 1 most downloaded free app in the App Store for weeks, a position only solidified by the recent release of Vine for Android.

Obviously, Facebook — and therefore Instagram — cares about video. But the question now is, can Instagram pull off a video product without screwing up its user experience and turning off users?

Part of the appeal of Instagram as it stands today lies in its simplicity. Scroll down the ever-flowing cascade of photos in your stream and the movement is seamless, easy to ingest. Its elegance and ease of use is one of the key reasons why Instagram has seen such a rapid growth curve over its short lifespan.

The introduction of video directly into the stream could break up that simple flow, potentially putting off many who have come to love the ease of moving quickly through the feed. Think of the time it takes to look at a photo and that low threshold for attention is exactly what makes them so easy (and addictive) to consume.

It’s simply not the same with video, which takes more time to load and view. So it will be interesting to see how Instagram — still led by co-founder Kevin Systrom — handles the integration.

To that point comes the issue of how long the videos themselves will be. Ex-Reuters employee Matthew Keys reported that videos would range between five and ten seconds — somewhere in between Vine’s six-second sweet spot and Viddy’s longer 30-second times. Again, it’s TBD on whether or not users will have the patience for it.

Facebook has gone after competitors in the past with varying degrees of success. Poke has been a spectacular flop. Same with the Quora-like Facebook Questions, and the very Foursquare-ish Facebook Places.

In other words, just because Facebook is aping your product, doesn’t mean you’re gonna get crushed.

Is it fair to call video on Instagram a Vine clone? Maybe, maybe not. The new product isn’t here yet, so we don’t know exactly how it will work.

But let’s be clear: Facebook wants to own mobile video just as badly as anyone else.

Until we know more, please enjoy Vine’s claymation-style thanks video:

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald