The debate over whether Instagram’s new video tool will kill Vine, a platform which offers people a similar ability to create super-short stop-motion “films,” is the wrong argument. Instead, the question we should be debating is: Will Instagram’s new video tool gut Instagram’s wonderful photo tool? In other words, I’m less worried about Instagram killing Vine than I am worried about it diluting the very thing that made Instagram so wonderful to begin with.
Immediately following Thursday’s Instagram announcement, it seemed that every technology site, content marketer and Twitter commenter put Vine and Instagram video in opposite corners of the ring. A trending hashtag on Twitter (which, ironically, owns Vine) on Thursday was #UsingVineIsLike, which mocked Vine as hopelessly unhip and old-school through comments like this:
#UsingVineIsLike Checking myspace to see if you got a friend request.
— OfficialAndOnly™ (@_AfricanKingg) June 20, 2013
Why the debate? “Both [Vine and Instagram video] are short-form video tools, both allow users to create small stop-motion films, and both are owned by social media giants,” wrote CNET in Why Instagram Video and Vine Are Apples and Oranges. CNET says that the nuances of each means that there’s room for both tools in content creation land. (For the record, I suspect they’re right. Especially because of the Twitter thing, which gives content creators a seamless way to distribute embedded Vine videos – you can’t embed Instagram videos on the Twitter platform, but merely link to them.)
The opponents… err, fruits… in this debate, though, are wrongly cast. The apples and oranges here are actually photos and videos, and not one video platform vs. another video platform.
The way we interact with photos and videos is inherently different: Scrolling through an photo-only Instagram feed is a less frantic, less noisy experience. The best photos pack a lot of story into their images, whether they are from brands or from people, and very often they create something magical out of the mundane, they create art from the ordinary, allowing all of us to “realize life,” as Thornton Wilder’s Emily calls it in Our Town.
(“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?” Emily asks. Most don’t, the Stage Manager responds, aside from the “saints and poets, maybe.” “—And Instagrammers!” Thornton might say, if he were writing his play today.)
(The thought of that dialogue amendment makes me laugh, actually…!)
As a creative and content outlet, Instagram puts magic wands in the palms of Muggles, and as a result has tapped into a kind of collective, creative expression (which is in part why a whole industry has cropped up that allows Instagram users to print their Instagram photos on canvas, posters, and the like).
Videos, on the other hand, are inherently different. Side-by-side with quiet stills, videos are noisy, more aggressive, and (at least in my own Instagram feed) inherently more demanding. It reminds me of the experience of watching home movies: It’s fun, but there’s something that feels almost too specific about the experience, too. Photos allow you to put more of yourself into the image – they soften the experience so you can make of it what you want. (Or in the case of family photos, remember what you want — and leave the rest). Video, on the other hand, aggressively tells you what to think: It leaves less room for interpretation, because it conveys far more persistently (not unlike poor Emily’s visit to her 12th birthday in Our Town, now that I think of it).
This isn’t me saying video isn’t artful or creative: Far more it. Video is definitely an image with a pulse. But when video is mixed into Instragram it draws me more to it, and makes me short-change the photos.
Instagram could easily solve this problem by creating separate tabs that allow you to toggle between video and photo, or by giving its users a preference setting of some kind. Or maybe that’s not important? Maybe it’s just me who feels this way?
“Change is hard,” my teenage daughter Caroline said to me solemnly, after listening to me whine about the 5 million new videos that flooded Instagram within the first 24 hours of the update. The move makes total sense for Facebook, but it changes things for its users. So maybe I just need some time to get used to it.
Change is hard. Maybe that’s it.
Or maybe, it’s not.