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Highsnobiety Commentary June, 26 2013

The Unintended Side Effects of Instagram’s New Video-Sharing Feature

Anyone that uses Instagram might have noticed a significant change in their feed over the past few days – namely, the inclusion of video. After introducing the new feature last week, the Facebook-owned app has been overrun with users trying their hand at the new medium within the medium. The results thus far have been less than spectacular to say the least, as the average user has come to realize it is far harder to share a beautiful memory through a short video than it is through a photograph. While adding video to the insanely popular app is the next logical step in Instagram’s evolution, the upgrade has produced a series of unintended side effects that have left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Whether or not the inclusion of video has a long-term negative effect on the app remains to be seen, but a few problems certain to be addressed in future updates are apparent already.

Just like Instagram’s photo offerings, videos include the ability to add over a dozen different filters. Although they are a familiar and perhaps necessary inclusion, filters regularly fall flat when it comes to moving images. Yes, video quality on smartphones has come quite a way in the past few years, but in order to keep the app running smoothly, loads of compression is required, a fact that becomes even more apparent when a filter is applied. The result is oftentimes a blocky, choppy video that resembles a quickly-made GIF more so than it does an Instagram-worthy video.

In many cases this compression and loss of quality wouldn’t be an issue. In fact, it would be welcome if not solely for the sake of sharing videos quickly and easily with an established following. However, Instagram has successfully built up a reputation as an app that allows even the most untalented among us to capture and share the best moments of our daily lives through simple images, saved in relatively high-quality, topped off with the filter of our choice. Now, instead of having a clean stream of eye candy, we’re forced to sift through videos that seem to have no purpose other than to highlight our shortcomings when it comes to filmmaking. Sure, this could be blamed on the people we follow, but as many now know, it takes a lot more than a filter and automatic image-stabilization to create something worth sharing.

The effect this has on Instagram as a whole appears, for the time being, mostly negative. Instead of continuing its reputation as a trustworthy resource for sharing and viewing still images of our friends’ lives, the app’s identity, branding, aesthetic, image or whatever you want to call it, has been watered down.

On paper it makes sense for the app to include a video-sharing feature for a multitude of reasons, including the chance to slow down the spread of its main competitor, Vine. With 13 million users and counting, the Twitter-owned app has cultivated its own dedicated following, but more importantly than that, its own aesthetic. Vine’s editing options encourage a certain sense of creative exploration, all of which must fit into a 6-second video. The purpose of Instagram’s video feature, on the other hand, is so far unclear. Mark Zuckerberg and Kevin Systrom, for their part, described the feature as the future of memory, a way to capture the moments and experiences that you wanted to remember, and to share them with your friends. What that actually means is anyone’s guess, and at the end of the day it’s up to Instagram’s 120 million users to decide on the aesthetic and the purpose.

Early user suggestions to fix this identity crisis include the ability to divide your feed, separating the images from videos, along with the option to simply block all videos. Both options seem valid when it comes to cleaning up the endless feed, but neither quite tackle the issue of maintaining the unique identity Instagram has worked so hard to build. Different editing options might help in this case, in order to fine tune the video-sharing service and guide it towards a more refined aesthetic that fits seamlessly with the one the app is known for. In any case, it’s only natural that users will dedicate more time to crafting exceptional videos once the initial hype has died down. This will undoubtedly take time and may not reach the same level of creativity and care that Vine users pay to their videos, but at the very least we’re sure to see a noticeable improvement over the next few months.

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