The Genius Of Instagram's New Video: It Can Also Stay Still

In response to Twitter’s Vine, the social network has found an elegant way to introduce moving pictures in a way that allows anyone to turn a photograph into a memory with just a tap.

Digital photo and video are taken exactly the same way: light soaking into a sensor. Yet the essence of them is so different. One is a moment frozen in time, the other is a moment captured. It’s a big difference, the distinction between a butterfly captured alive to flutter around inside a jar and a one a lepidopterist has pinned to a board for classification.

Today, Instagram announced that they are bringing video clips to their previously still-only social network. On the surface of things, it’s a clear reaction to Twitter’s encroachment with Vine, a video-only social network in which snippets of life are captured in six second spurts. Yet look deeper, and Instagram is trying to do something more interesting: Keep the butterfly alive while keeping it pinned.

The way video will work on Instagram is elegant. Load up your Instagram stream and nothing will look much different: you’ll still see a long vertical carousel of still images with captions and vintage filters applied to them.

The difference, however, is that if you tap on some of these images, they’ll start to move. They’ll turn into videos, which can be up to fifteen seconds each and have a number of video-specific filters applied to them. When you upload a video to Instagram, the service finishes everything off by asking you which frame to display as the preview image. These photos are just videos that have collapsed into a single moment in time.

The brilliance of Instagram’s approach to introducing video to the service is that it’s not just that if you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to; it’s that you don’t even have to see videos if you don’t want to. If all you care about is photos, then that is all that Instragram will show you. But if you touch a photo? It might suddenly come to life.

One of the things that made Instagram the perfect social network is that it was a purified form of sharing, in which the only thing being shared was a transfixed moment in time. There were, of course, other photo social networks before but Instagram managed to make in-roads with casual shutterbugs in a way sites like Flickr never could: it’s not just that they made it fun and easy for people to share photos, it’s that they made people feel like artists while they did so. Now they’re doing the same thing with video.

Now that Instagram has introduced video to the service, it’s natural to wonder if the social network’s winning formula of simplicity has been compromised by its $1 billion Facebook buyout. Is this just the beginning of a long period of feature creep, culminating in the Facebook-style sharing of our entire lives?

The way that Instagram has handled video is a reason to have renewed faith in the service. Yes, they’ve responded to Twitter’s Vine service by introducing video, but they did so elegantly, allowing anyone to turn a photograph into a memory in just a tap. More importantly, they did so without compromising the core vision with which the company was founded, more than a billion dollars ago.

Now that we can tickle the butterfly alive, the question for Instagram is: What’s next? As a social network, it’s perfect; as a medium for sharing light soaking into a sensor, there’s no new frontiers to forge. Instagram will be pressured to do more, to add more features, to allow you to share more things. But now that video is here, this is it: If they do anything more, they’ll simply stop being Instagram.

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  • Irene Velveteen

    At first, the idea of video on Instagram horrified me.
    It seemed messy. Unorganised. And what were they going to do with their instant camera logo? 
    But the way they've executed this is great.
    Up to 15 seconds is perfect time!

    Instagram is the app which uses most of my internet data. So as a con, it'll be sucking up a whole lot more.
    I hope it's worth it.

  • YouMayNotAgree

    Actually, Android users don't have the option to avoid the videos, unless they scroll through their feed very quickly; videos open automatically on Android devices.

  • YouMayNotAgree

     Thank you, NGS2963!  You're right!  I'd had no idea. Thank you for taking the time to mention it, I appreciate it.  :)

  • Vince Usher

    Yeah seriously agree with get rid of screenshots, this was meant to be about photography, not ridiculous messages and cheesy motivational quotes.

  • Vtaylor247

    A "repost" feature should be next. No more screenshots!!!!  Yeah...that's all.

  • Irene Velveteen

    God forbid they should add a 'repost' feature. We don't need another tumblr.

  • Sherwin Sowy

    Another genius move - putting the video time limit to 15 seconds. That's just enough for brands to put in their 15-seconder TV ads.