Ah, Instagram. The perfect app? It checks all the boxes of success: explosive growth out of the gate with near universal praise plus a quick acquisition for a ridiculous sticker price. And, it’s still growing.
What makes Instagram, Instagram? Why was this the app that turned us all into photographers and not Hipstamatic or another of the countless filter apps that came onto the scene at the same time? Why did Instagram’s now cliche aesthetic (heavy filters + square photos) catch on?
Instagram is simple. Minimal. It created a dummy proof way for anyone with a smartphone (i.e. everyone) to share the near constant stream of images we create in today’s mobile world. It turned the folder full of photos on your phone into another way for you to tell your story, to share your process. Something that’s easier to create (and consume) than a tweet or a tumblr post but just as impactful.
But as the sins of the father rub off on Instagram (now sharing offices with Facebook) and their growth continues to include people like my mother and her high school friends, those itching to discover the next big thing are growing increasingly loud. Who (if anyone) can do the same for video that Instagram did for images? Which apps will raise to the top and who will fail, if they haven’t already.
Can the process creating a movie on mobile be as simple and powerful as snapping a photo on Instagram? There are plenty of people trying to tackle that puzzle.
Searching for the Instagram of Video
Many have written about what the “Instagram of video” should do. It’s requirements for success. Some focus on the technical specifications like video quality and transcoding speeds, others believe success pivots on understanding the difference in how users engage with photos vs videos.
I’ll let other nerds argue about codecs and content management systems. I want to take a step back. What is it that makes video so much harder that images? iMovie has been around for ages but it’s rare to see a friend throw together a quick “home movie” like every happy family from every computer commercial does on the regular.
Images are powerful. They are snapshots into other world. Glimpses frozen in time and consumed (usually) for just a few seconds.
Video is a different animal. It can tell a progressive story. It can build, crescendo.
Instagram was able to reduced work of photography (using a very lose definition of photography here) down to the most basic tenets of what separates a “good photo” from a “bad photo”. It’s not about manipulating brightness levels or curve adjustments or layers, leave that to the pros. They realized that simply forcing users to spend an extra second considering the composition of their photo (by requiring you to crop it into a square) and picking from a swipeable list of preset filters, users could elevate the photos with minimal effort.
So what is the video equivalent? Where should the focus be? Should we focus on automation with apps that pull together multiple clips and sounds and spit out a final product with little to no user input? Or should the emphasis be on the storytelling, on using video to tell compelling stories even if it is just about our trip down the road to munch on some poutine.
Trying to answer this question is an increasingly crowded gaggle of apps attacking video from slightly different angles. Many slightly tweaked variations on the same theme. Taking different routes to the same goal: creating videos as fun to share and addicting to browse as Instagram. He we look at four different approaches.
Video 101 – The most basic approach. Filters, music and share buttons, oh my!
The first round of apps trying to crack the Instagram nut are fairly simple. Social Cam (the most Instagram-y app of the bunch) lets you shoot a video (no length requirement) add a filter, overlay some music and voila, a masterpiece ready to share. Celebrity backed Viddy has a near identical feature set with the added benefit of a popular Facebook Timeline app. Klip is similarly straightforward with basic filters and shooting options resulting in quick bursts of fairly boring videos.
GIF Hybrids – Walking the line between static images and full motion some are looking to gif-esque videos to fill in the gap.
Lightt thinks the key to success is in shear volume of sharing. Lightt creates an ongoing timeline of short, gif-ified video clips. The looping stream of gifs is fun to watch but, also kind of disconcerting. It feels like you are channel surfing through someone else’s camera roll. Glmps on the other hand aims to use video as context for photos. Snap a picture and glmps will also record a video of what is happening when the photo is taken. You can browse the images and see clips of the “behind the scenes” action.
Auto-pilot – Point these apps in the direction of your videos and let them handle the rest
Lumify will take all the clips you feed it and output a fast paced final product that automatically cuts between filtered clips and adds music. Magisto achieves a similar finished product after users designate clips and choose from a handful of video themes like “Happy Birthday” or “Holidays at home”. Strum from Smule builds on the success of their “I am T-Pain” app but this time, with video. Strum asks for nothing more than a 15 second video of a person talking. After a few seconds of processing magic it produces a highly stylized music video with both video and, wait for it… audio filters!
Storytelling Platforms – Apps that harness the power of storytelling rather than low hanging visual gimmicks
PTCH is a video editing app with a laundry list of features and abllities. Building a video is easy: simply pull in “assets” from your own camera and remix them to fit your needs. The interesting approach PTCH takes comes into play after you share your creation. Your followers have the ability to remix (or “re-ptch”) your video, allowing them access to all assets you used in creating your film. Breaking the ingredients free of a final video into malleable chunks rather than a single, static youtube video.
In my opinion, the most promising of the group is Directr. You may not be Spielberg or Cameron but that doesnt mean you can’t learn from them. Directr uses “scripts” in the form of premade story borads that help you create videos of everything from “My trip to the cafe” to “My 10 favorite things of the week”. Directr gently guides you through the process of taking multiple shots to tell your story then combines them into a beautiful short (always less than 40 seconds) film. The focus is squarely on storytelling rather than visual gimmicks or over complicated social sharing schemes.
The space is crowded. There are more ways to upload a polished video than ever before but, should that be the goal? The “Instagram for video” will likely be a storytelling platform, not a visual effects warehouse. Images will always be easier to create and consume but videos can tell stories. They can weave a narrative.
The winner of this race will be the team that strikes a solid balance between automatically handling the video “production” side of things allowing users to focus on creating stories worth sharing.
What are your favorite apps for sharing video these days and what do you think the current offerings are missing?