Instagram Video Highlights YouTube Weaknesses

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?