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Instagram Video Highlights YouTube Weaknesses

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YouTube may have the most to lose from Facebook’s response to Vine, 15 second format videos on Instagram.

Normally, I don’t blog about the day-to-day battle between socnets. The evolution is tiresome, and is best covered by trade pubs/blogs with reporter teams. However, in this case there are several macro trends in play that have not been well discussed.

The following issues spell trouble for YouTube (and Google as a whole):

  • Shorter video formats are increasingly desirable for mobile and tablet devices.
  • Communities of people enjoy each other’s short videos in social network streams, much like they share and view photos.
  • Thanks to these short video formats, online social network users are willing to tolerate poor video quality caused by bandwidth limitations and amateur videography.
  • Few people can make a decent 60 second video. But given the low quality threshhold, six seconds is easy for the average joe to record a video on a cell phone. Fifteen seconds is still shorter than 60, but the Verge argues that Instagram’s addition may be too much for the low tolerance threshold.


Lebron James experimented with Instagram’s 15 second video format after winning the NBA championship.

These shifts in video consumption reveal fundamental weaknesses in YouTube’s current format. In fact, one could say that YouTube lacks the social context driving Vine, and possibly Instagram video.

Instead, YouTube has become a gigantic content repository, favoring professional and amateur short movies, generally 30 seconds to five minutes long. It relies on an older format of sharing, RSS subscriptions via channels (much like blogs), and viewer sharing.

Social network conversation requires viewers to share individal videos to their larger social networks. YouTube’s only natural sharing backbone is Google+. While Google+ has made great strides, it lacks Instagram and Twitter/Vine’s engagement levels. Consequently, YouTube does not benefit from its own highly engaged content stream like Instagram/Facebook and Vine/Twitter do.

These weaknesses make the #1 video social network highly vulnerable. Competitors can erode users that just want to interact with their friends via goofy videos in a visual stream. As a result, YouTube may become the Flickr of video social networks, the largest repository for higher quality content, but lacking the social interaction (and page views) of its lesser brethren.

Here’s another observation, Facebook continues its McDonaldization of products. When another competitor does something, Facebook steals it demonstrating a lack of internal innovation. While Instagram takes on Vine’s social video stream, Viddy was the first network to offer a 15 second format.

I’m not convinced Instagram video — which lacks the simple UX of Vine — will succeed. Facebook’s “Me, too” approach has been hit or miss in the past. It’s not clear that people who like shooting photos will easily migrate to video. However, Instagram video does highlight the larger social movement towards video content.

What do you think of Instagram video and the larger market trends?

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  • http://danielrothamel.com Daniel Rothamel

    I think you nailed it with this– _”YouTube may become the Flickr of video social networks, the largest repository for higher quality content, but lacking the social interaction (and page views) of its lesser brethren.”_

    The thing I find interesting about Instagram video is the way that many of the photographers have used it to bring their photos to life. Much of what is on the #whpmovingphotos tag is like that. It is the type of thing that could never exist on YouTube, but is perfect on Instagram.

    My only beef with the 15 seconds thing is that it enables marketers to be spammy. 15 seconds is half of a TV commercial spot, and adequate time for spammy marketers to do lame announcements, contests and such. I’ve already seen some of that in my stream.

    • geofflivingston

      I agree. Short video formats do give professional videographers the opportunity to market their stuff to larger audiences.

      And I am not sure people are willing to tolerate 15 seconds of bad video as much as they will tolerate 6. Plus the UX is not as good as Vine, so casual users will have a harder time.

  • RandyBowden

    I think you are on target Geoff, we are snipping away with the amount of consumption with each interaction. I also you giving me the quote of the week and crafted it perfectly …”Facebook continues its McDonaldization of products. When another competitor does something, Facebook steals it demonstrating a lack of internal innovation.” Looking forward to your book.

    • geofflivingston

      Long term, Facebook is often playing catch up because of this. If response time fails, it will continue to see segmentation, and be forced to acquire its way into the next evolution of media. This makes it more of an AOL-esque brand than a true powerhouse, in my opinion.

      Thanks for the encouragement on the book, Randy. I appreciate your support here and in the larger social context.

  • http://www.razorsocial.com/ Ian Cleary

    That’s a really interesting observation, I never thought about this but you’re right. Youtube is in danger of becoming old school!

    • geofflivingston

      Very much so, and as a result of not being optimized for mobile and social. Evolution is a bitch!

  • jeffespo

    Damn I must say that video makes me dislike LeBron a bit less now. I actually like his use. Our attention spans are shrinking no question about it. While I love some of the videos I have seen on Vine/IG, I am still not sure it will be fully embraced by the business sect. The reason in my thinking is six seconds enough to get a message across? A thank you or quick screen grab yes, but other longer how to’s or a longer FAQ/fix maybe not.

    Google has a lot of issues with social and YT is just part of the problem. I’d argue that their acquisition for relevancy could be a foreshadowing of what may be to come for FB’s me too mentality.

    • geofflivingston

      LeBron needs to save someones life if I am going to actually like him. On Vine/IG format length, some of the early experimentation would indicate that people can make it work. I kinda like it. People said the same thing about Twitter’s 140 character cap, too.

      The Google issues are another blog post in their own right. For sure. Thank you for commenting, Jeff!

  • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

    Honestly, I think they are all very different mediums with very different purposes. Ten years ago, it would be like comparing a magazine ad to a brochure just because they happened to be printed on some form of paper.

    I’ve also never really seen YouTube as being a social network, even if it had some social aspects. It’s really about broadcast and there is nothing wrong with that. Not everything needs to be social on the web.

    • geofflivingston

      I can see why you would say that. I liken it to an early social content property that pre-existed social networks. Social networks brought the stream. The stream is the issue for YouTube, IMO. Content length, less so. But in many ways it is Flickr with a ton of search capability. And like Flickr, it is in danger of being left behind.

      • http://gearboxmagazine.com/ Brian Driggs

        Rich nails it. It’s all about the purpose. These sites seem to be all about building a large audience of younger, mobile users, then generating eleventy-billion ad impressions. Anything about UX is spin. Shorter clips mean more impressions.

        And YouTube isn’t really a social network, either, unless your idea of social is mindless, illiterate hate speech from anonymous mouth breathers or streaming music on a background tab while you do stuff that matters. ;)

        Vimeo, however, seems to be evolving into something more mature. When there’s nothing on Netflix, and you’ve watched all the downloads, it’s nice to turn on their “Couch Mode” and check out what they recommend.

        Still. Interesting thought.

        • geofflivingston

          Guess, I’m going to have to disagree with you, too, on that one. UX is far from spin, it’s the essence of what makes a brand, and whether or not a technology takes off. As to the social network/YouTube comment, I’ll defer to my earlier comment. I do appreciate you coming by and offering this opinion.

          • http://gearboxmagazine.com/ Brian Driggs

            No worries, Geoff. I agree with you completely on UX. Guess I’m a little pessimistic on a Monday afternoon. :P

            Yes, smaller clips mean less data meaning better UX OTA, but how much is “We want to help you connect with people all over the world on low signal” versus “We can generate 4-10X the ad impressions when videos are capped at 15 seconds each.”

            Then again, maybe Vine or whatever will be the altruistic solidarity machine I wish would grow like this. Maybe my view of Facebook – and what their aggressively pursuing this model means – is distracting me.

            This morning @timkastelle pointed out that even though 90% of something might be crap, we need to remember that 10% is still probably brilliant, and we should focus on that 10% more than the 90%.

            Clearly, I just failed to do so! #facepalm

      • http://richardrbecker.com/ Rich Becker

        I’m more inclined agree on the stream issue. Organization needs some revitalization. But in terms of ever shorter content, it’s hard for me to say too much because I’ve been bucking the shorter content trend on my blog much like someone else I know. Heh.

        Besides, a 6-second video is like a puff a smoke on a windy day. It also makes for a lousy music video. There are places it could be a win, but I’d need more than a comment to flush it all out.

  • Pamela Morse

    This is very much along the lines of what you told us last September..short is good, so tighten. I have not tried Vimeo, and might, but I only recently tried instagram, right before the video rollout. I am having fun finding out how long 15 seconds really is. True, visual and short is ruling, who would have thought this short??

    • geofflivingston

      Yes. Long form works when it is rich and says what it needs to say. Rambling and long is not so good. That’s why a good editor makes a great film, versus a wreck of unnecessary scenes! Thanks for coming by! I hope you are doing well.

  • http://brianvickery.com/ Brian Vickery

    One intriguing thing – 15 seconds vs 6. I haven’t done Vine yet because I would really have to cram to fit that timeframe…even if if I just did one “tip”. 15 seconds seems much more reasonable without the viewer “checking out” because the video is too long.

    • geofflivingston

      It will certainly be interesting to see how the 15 seconds does in comparison now that there’s some weight behind it. It’s kind of like watching a grand experiment unfold before our eyes!

      • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

        Since a test of the two platforms side by side would have too many variable to confuse results, the test would need to be a Instrgam video shared on Twitter.

        Allowing for possible love/hate of Instagram, I’d guess that Instagram would win for click, Vine for native views.

        Length tests would have to be inside the Inttram interface.. using a 6 second video vs 15 seconds.

        However, I’d still go both Vine and Instagram.. depending on where my audience is.. making it a test of how well I engage my audience, not the platform :)

    • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

      When we look at a format as something we have to cram into, we’re going to have trouble. If the format/channe/audience changes, create for it.

      I feel your pain. I’m no record against SMS length as “will never be used” back in the early 90’s. If someone told me I’d one day write about book about 140 character messages, I would have said “impossible”

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    I sense a bit of link-baiting here. YouTube has dealt with the multitude of differing standard since it began, and led the way on interoperability. This is far from the last someone will have a new encoding, tech or artistic standard.

    Will someone make finding and watch the video I want easier? That’s the potential YouTube killer :)

    • geofflivingston

      Every post I write is meant to be linked to, Warren. Regardless of your tastes, Vine and Instagram Video make it clear that the video others want to watch is shorter than what you find on YouTube, created and viewed by their fellow social network users, and then viewed in a collective stream. Cheers.

      • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

        Okay.. cheap shot. I like the post (unlike most all link-bait posts)

        My view is that the platform and the lengths are what they are. Yes, the two products are similar, but my Instagram audience is not my Twitter audience.. Each is more important that the channel used

        I know we agree. Pitching in my two cents for clarity and entertainment purposes.

        FYI, I found this post via the link as recommend by someone. Didn’t even catch that it was your site till later. How’s that for showing it’s great content? LOL

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  • susancellura

    For me, the issue is I’m still working on companies to utilize video the right way, much less have to educate them on these new trends.

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