With todays Instagram+video announcement I thought I would take a minute to share what I have been thinking about the new generation of photo sharing services on mobile devices. My feelings on Instagram in general have been heavily mixed for quite some time now, I have written about mobile photography in the past and so I don’t feel the need to get into that aspect of it right now. What I am interested in though is the direction Instagram is going. After their acquisition by Facebook everyone cried out in worry that things would change but any sudden shift in the network would have shaken way more people off of the instalove tree. Continuing along a slowly evolving path makes much more sense in the long run.
As far as this new race to become “the instagram of video” is concerned, I think that its roots were bit messy to begin with. As gifs suddenly became the trendy new thing a few apps tried to come up with instant gif sharing but none of them ever stuck because the charm of gifs people were sharing were the cultural references and viral trendiness of the video snippets, not home made photos turned into moving ones.
Vine came along and tried something different mixing up the idea of a repeating video snippet and the familiarity of a square frame but it has failed to catch on widely because like any new social network, we need a compelling reason to bother joining another service. Browsing through Vine it seems as though the only thing it is good for is amateur comedy. Trying to cram creativity into these snippets is a stretch and I feel will be a quickly passing fad.
The way I see it, Video apps were created only to claim victory over a market that doesn’t really fix any problems or have a willing audience to begin with. It’s like trying to bring back the Twinkie, snack cake bakeries thought that the public wanted it because there was so much talk about how much people would miss them but when they start to come back onto he market, no one really cares. So many have tried to make compelling video apps for mobile devices yet no one seems to have realized that the simplicity of a single photo, (or once frame), is so much more charming, quick, and fun to make than a full video. Remember the moving photos in Harry Potter? Not quite that easy in reality I’m afraid.
Perhaps most interesting to me at least is that Flickr, long thought to be accidental losers in the race to mobile photo sharing dominance for not jumping on the train soon enough, was in fact the first to offer a short video clip functionality among photo sharing. It was intended to be for those random videos most people accidentally shot on their digital point and shoot cameras but thats just the thing, no one really cared about those accidents enough to make Flickr video anything special. Photographers reacted in the exact same way those using instagram heavily are reacting to the change now, with a skeptical, almost angry mindset. Today, Flickr video is all but dead for most users.
Instagram has some obvious advantages in its mobility and the fact that its name is now more or less a verb that may as well be in the dictionary (aka. crazy popularity). But in this shift away from its original charming, simplistic self, the service is shaking the tree again and while many of its purist “iPhone only 4life” users will simply ignore it, I think that a number of people will eventually tire of its new split personality timeline.
This is where VSCO has such an amazing opportunity with its upcoming Grid service. While it is all well and good that they are acting modest in saying they are not trying to compete with Instagram, its fairly obvious that they are. Of course they have to say that, Instagram is what willed their existence into life to begin with. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. That said, they are perfectly aligned to become highly popular among serious mobile photographers if they play their cards right. In making a simple, elegant service that avoids playing into typical social network traps it could find a lot of love waiting for it when they finally open their doors.
So while I still find making photos with my iPhone more of a hobby and sometimes a distraction I still enjoy following along and having fun with it and am interested in seeing where we go from here. I’m sure you will see a number of videos pop up on my Instagram feed when I feel a video could be fun to add and I fear my already mostly neglected Vine feed will start to look more and more barren as time passes. Let the 1:1 video wars begin.