Jimmy shared me this article from Medium: Vine™ has a wall to climb
See, the genius of Instagram is that it makes mediocre pictures look awesome. Suddenly everybody was an “artist”. That old sign? Wrap it in Mayfair: 96 likes. Your cat? Add a touch of Willow and he’s instant vintage: 127 likes. This was all folly of course, but we believed we were awesome because Instagram helped us to.
Yet Vine was a different animal. The videos were shaky and looked…well, average. Your content was only as beautiful as what you put into it. Then Instagram comes along with its filters and stabilization and crushes it. Add the ability to overlay your favorite tunes and you’ve got a masterpiece.
Brandon Carl has some good points, and I’d like to add my own.
There are plenty of tools that can you make feel great artistically, but in order for those tools to gain traction, the output has to be content that can be easily consumed by a mass audience. Content that is both attractive and easily consumed maximizes the potential feedback loop – I create content; people view it; they like or give me feedback; I feel good about this and do more.
That is the real key to viral content – easy creation of reasonable-looking content AND easy consumption.
Instagram made almost any photo reasonably ok to view while also giving creators an easy, almost brain-less way of improving their creations. Photos are very quick to view (1-2 seconds of attention span). Instagram facilitated growth by not allowing mass uploading. You could not upload a bunch of stuff at once – I think we’ve all seen someone would uploaded everything from their lives in a big mass and hated it. By forcing users to upload one at a time, users picked their best photos, added effects to make them even better. When you’re looking at your Instagram feed, you’re receiving a curated version of your friends’ best photos.
The winner was the viewing user. He could easily keep viewing photos, whether from friends or the general public. The curated and filtered output guaranteed a higher chance that he would enjoy the content, creating more engaged users to provide positive feedback for the creators, which then created more creators (who saw the feedback loop for themselves) and inspired more content. Instagram’s win was not adding filters to photos. It was by creating a system in which traditionally passive users became active creators and then giving those users enough feedback and encouragement to keep on going.
So, let’s take this argument to video. Creating a filtered photo takes a few seconds. Viewing it, similarly, also is quick. Video, however, is much different, and I compare it more to blogging versus microblogging (Twitter, Weibo, Mimo.vn).
Blogging gives you everything you could possibly want in terms of options – unlimited characters, formatting, attachments. Yet, less people will blog because (I believe) it’s more of a mental strain. If I can do ANYTHING, I don’t know what to do. With all this power, I have to write something substantial, but I don’t have anything to say. And that’s where the power of limitations and Twitter came in. With Twitter’s limitations, you could write very little, but everyone else could only do just as much. Your crap was probably no worse than the next guy’s. Thus, you felt more free to just start posting, and you could get in the habit of doing it more often because it was ok to have very little to say. It’s easier to have very little to say many times in the day than have a huge thing to say once a week. Writing a blog (like this) could take hours, while the microblog version would take seconds (“Instagram Videos may be too complex for both viewers and creators”).
For the viewing microblogging user, no matter how many updates they get in their feed, each update can be consumed in 2-3 seconds. Even if I write the dumbest thing in the world, my followers will get over it very quickly and move on. They won’t feel like they wasted a ton of time on me. If they had spent 5 minutes reading a terrible blog (hopefully, not this one), however, the feeling would be much stronger and more residual (“I’m never reading this idiot again”).
For video, I’ll compare the viewer and creator aspects of Instagram’s Video and Vine.
Viewing: as I mentioned, when reading a Twitter update (or Instagram photo), you know no matter what, it takes perhaps 2-3 seconds to consume, no matter how bad it may be. Very quick consumption. With Vine, you can say the same. I believe their team chose the 6 second maximum with this mental friction in mind. I am guessing that Vine looked at animated gifs and how long the viral ones tended to be as a sign of what is the maximum easy attention span that users have for motion content. That means, how short does something need to be so that you’ll just view it without any thought. Yes, the maximum attention span for amazing content is theoretically hours – that’s what movies are. But what is the time limit of a video from what an average user can create quickly that won’t tire the viewer? When I read blogs or go on random websites, I can remember animated gifs that last for 5-6 seconds and loop. I usually put in the time to watch them no matter how mundane.
From the Vine videos that I have watched, I have the same feeling about them as animated gifs – I can consume a lot without getting mentally tired, even if the videos aren’t that good. My feeling, however, is that 15 seconds has crossed that barrier from being really easy to “I have to think about whether I really want to sit here and wait for this”. It’s a conversion issue, and a few seconds difference makes a tremendous difference in whether someone will stay.
I don’t agree that videos can become like photos – photos can look good with a filter if you’re only scrutinizing it for a few seconds. Videos that last 15 seconds, however, may have their flaws exposed. When viewers can have negative experiences with videos (“this sucked”), this degrades the feedback loop. Less people enjoy the content, less give feedback and encouragement, less people then participate or join to create new content.
I could browse through 10 filtered photos of cats but I don’t want to watch a 15 second video of a cat even if the total consumption length is the same.
Creating: The magic of Instagram was taking a previously passive social media creator and giving him a tool in which he could do something immediately with it. With the 6 seconds and limited options on Vine, you don’t have to think much. You cannot do very much even if you wanted to. It’s a much more level playing field versus everyone else. With Instagram giving users more options and more time, the user has to think of something more significant. There is only a nine second difference, but it’s actually a 250% relative difference. Your videos have to be more than double the length. Yes, you have more options, but that also lets people with more video experience create something much better than you, making you feel more intimidated before getting started.
In case you’re thinking, just because you have 15 seconds doesn’t mean you have to use all 15 seconds, remember the case of blogs. Just because you have unlimited freedom doesn’t mean you have to write 500 words. You could write ten. But people don’t. Instagram videos make me think more, worry more, feel I have to put more of an effort in.
The hardest part to doing anything in life is getting started. Going back to my original argument “easy creation of reasonable-looking content AND easy consumption”, I think Vine will find better success at enabling both. Instagram’s features are more about making it simpler for people who already interested in video, while Vine is about getting people who never otherwise would do video to start. To get people to create content, you have to give them an environment in which others will want to view it, and not just the good content. Good content survives everywhere in any format, but relatively few people create it.
This is about getting your average quality video views, exposure, and feedback in order to continue that positive feedback loop.
I do not create video, primarily because I don’t really like watching a lot of personal video – not even my own. It’s a big mental time commitment, and I feel it has to be something good. I oftentimes just feel too embarrassed or I don’t have an idea of what I can do that can have an impact. The cam could be shaky, there might be too much ambient noise, there are a lot of reasons for me to not start. Medium removes all those issues – I cannot have those things even if I want them. The videos in Medium are like the photos in Harry Potter. They’re not videos, as we think of them, but they add an extra dimension to still photos that’s valuable but still easy to consume by the viewer and yet not difficult to make by the creator.
If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!