Venturing Away from Israel

An Attempt to Blog by Micha Porat

How Instagram overcame the odds to beat Twitter

In January 2013, Twitter announced the launch of Vine, a mobile video platform that tries to mimic what twitter has done so well with short messages, in a video form. Historically, Twitter tried to make a similar move with photos, with limited success. But this time, it seemed like they nailed it. The user experience was great. It was simple. And very quickly, all of our twitter streams were packed with Vine videos. Personally, I was not a huge fan of the 6 seconds time limit or the automatic restart, but the platform was so intuitive it seemed obvious why it quickly turned into such a success.

Five months later Instagram launched its cinema feature, which they could argue is the way to mimic what they have done so well with photos, in a video form.  You could also argue that it is basically an exact copy of Vine, adding a flexible time clock up to 15 seconds, and some Instagram-ish basic filters. Since it learned so much from the Vine launch (and copied the good stuff) - the platform was as intuitive and as friendly, and quickly caught on.

Fast forward 1 month, and while Instacinema usage is skyrocketing, I would guess Vine’s growth has slowed down significantly.  This statement isn’t based on scientific proof, but is rather derived from articles I read and mostly from a good look at my Twitter & FB streams. I would also venture a bet that Instacinemas on average get a lot more impressions because they are a natural part of the very popular Instagram feed. Who ever looks at their Vine feed? In any case, both platforms are huge game-changers for mobile video (and that’s for another blog post), but they are particularly interesting in evaluating what did Instagram do right that Vine didn’t?  How did Instagram overcome the first mover advantage Vine so clearly possessed? Here’s my attempt at explaining:

  • Distribution - When twitter launched Vine, you had to discover the app, download it, and open it to use. Twitter was counting on the strength of its platform to spread the word, and indeed that was somewhat effective. However, Instagram trumped that, with an app update to its already existing install base of photos users - so essentially every Instagram user immediately had the cinema feature when the app updated itself. Now it was just about awareness - the conversion reduction of the download/install/open was removed. That’s something.
  • Branding - Vine?  what’s Vine?  Oh, it’s twitter’s movie platform. How many times have I heard that over the past 6 months? Twitter didn’t want to dilute it’s twitter brand, and took a bold move in trying to create a new brand for it’s video platform. That has a lot of upside, but was also a huge risk. Instagram leveraged it’s strong brand, one that is associated with innovation and originality, and doubled down on it for movies.
  • Technology - Instagram added an image stabilization capability, which is of huge significance for videos capture on mobile. The videos look cleaner, sharper, and easier to consume. Vine did none of that. Instagram also added minimal filtering features which were tremendously successful in the original photos capability - and I would assume that these filters are showing to be a success as well.
  • Timing - Vine launched first. They wanted the first mover advantage. They wanted to be associated with the innovation. And they succeeded with that. However, Instagram moved very quickly after, learning from the feedback that Vine received (6 seconds too short? Loop not really interesting?) and augmenting with innovation of its own. They proved that sometimes it is better to launch a better product than to launch first. They took their inferior timing an turned it into a position of power.

So it seems like this war has been won - or at least the first battle has. Instagram seems en route to capture the early adopters of this market. They did it through a thoughtful approach, one that combined innovation, timing, and more than anything, learning from others. It is one of the more impressive mobile platform launches I have seen recently. 

Having said all that, the mobile video space is huge. It is in its early days. And both Vine and Instacinema are just signs of how great products can really transform this industry and how much more innovation there is to be had in the world of mobile.

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