Technology

Video Wars: Facebook 15, Twitter 6


Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram, announcing the company's new video-sharing tool.

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram, announcing the company's new video-sharing tool.

Six-second Vines, meet 15-second Instagram videos.

On Thursday, Facebook announced a new short-form video sharing tool for Instagram, the photo-sharing mobile and Web app it bought last year. It’ll compete with Vine, Twitter’s popular app, which the press dubbed “the Instagram of video”—and which has stolen some of Instagram’s thunder. Besides competing with Vine, the Instagram video tool could be a home for Facebook’s long-planned video advertising.

The Instagram video-sharing tool has several features Vine lacks: color filters, image stabilization, and other editing tools. Instagram videos can also be more than twice the length of a six-second Vine. This ought to please critics, who say Vines are too short to be useful, but it may bore those who already say they’re too long.

Facebook’s (FB) biggest advantage over Twitter, though, is the size of the Instagram community. Founder Kevin Systrom says Instagram has 130 million monthly users, and it’ll be easy to get them sharing videos with a feature integrated into an app they’re already using. Systrom says he’s been trying to add video-sharing capabilities as far back as Instagram precursor Bourbon but was limited by mobile hardware and connection speeds.

While Vine has taken off since its January launch, it’s the first big video-sharing app of its kind, and the market is still in its early days. When Vine started up, video-sharing apps such as Cinegram, Viddy, and Socialcam were being used by fewer than 2 percent of U.S. iPhone (AAPL) users, according to data compiled by Onavo Insights for the news site TechCrunch.

Vine followed a typical path for successful social media apps. Its 6-second videos were simultaneously proclaimed a new form of cinema and denounced as an idiotic tool for narcissists. Then it took off. Vine is currently the fourth most popular free app in the iTunes Store and is being used by 10.7 percent of iPhone users each month. The service announced several new features this week and recently released an Android-compatible version.

Facebook has been searching for ways to monetize its products, especially on mobile devices. But it has tread carefully with Instagram. When Facebook changed its terms of service in a way that allowed it to use Instagram shots in ads, users responded swiftly and angrily, and Systrom had to publicly reassure them on the company blog and remove the language from its use agreements. Ads don’t appear in the app, unless you count the accounts various companies have set up to communicate with Instagram users directly, which don’t mean money for Facebook.

Video ads could be a particularly lucrative form of advertising for Facebook, but its program to begin selling them has been delayed, according to Advertising Age. At some point, though, video ads will come to Facebook, and some form of advertising will come to Instagram, whether its users like it or not. “From the start, Instagram was created to become a business,” Systrom told Facebook users in December.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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