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Why Instagram video and Vine are apples and oranges

With the unveiling of Instagram's new video tool, it's natural to want to compare it to Twitter's Vine tool. But the early consensus is that they're really very different.

Actor and filmmaker Adam Goldberg tried out Instagram's new video service yesterday.
Screen shot by CNET

For someone who has made as much of an impact on Vine as actor and filmmaker Adam Goldberg, it was only natural to see if the new Instagram video tool presented a comparable creative outlet.

After all, in the hours immediately following Thursday's Instagram announcement at Facebook headquarters, it seemed that every tech pundit wanted to put Vine, Twitter's video service, and Instagram video head to head. And why not? Both are short-form video tools, both allow users to create small stop-motion films, and both are owned by social media giants.

But Goldberg, whose surreal, haunting, six-second masterpieces quickly made him one of the most celebrated Vine auteurs, took just minutes to decide that Instagram video would never give him what he wanted.

"It's a completely different technology," Goldberg told CNET. "That Vine aesthetic is not possible, unless they decide to make [Instagram video] more touch-sensitive....I don't know why they even bothered to have the feature to keep your finger pressed down on the screen, because it doesn't have that stop-action quality that [like Vine] lets you create weird Lynchian dreamscapes."

But Goldberg wasn't saying that Instagram video was a failure. Rather, he argued that the new tool was simply a very different animal than Vine. Essentially, while his Twitter feed was full of people expecting him to say that one was better than the other, or that six seconds was a better time limit than 15 seconds, or vice-versa, he feels the two services are basically apples and oranges.

Goldberg was hardly alone in determining that Vine and Instagram video shouldn't be compared too closely, despite their Twitter and Facebook provenances, respectively.

Take social media expert Gary Vaynerchuck, for example. A high-energy observer of just about all things digital, Vaynerchuck posted a (YouTube) video yesterday responding to what he said were countless questions about whether Vine or Instagram video were going to "win." "My question," he asked rhetorically, "is, why not both? Why can't both Instagram 15-second, non-looping videos, and Vine 6-second, looping videos work?... I think both win."

To Vaynerchuck, the two services are likely to appeal to very different types of users. That's because they offer different actions, and meet different needs. "Different people will pop out and be successful on both," he said. "Some people are good at status updates on Facebook and not on Twitter, and vice-versa."

While it's too early to tell, it would seem that Vaynerchuck's prediction that different types of people will find utility in the two services is likely spot on. For one thing, Vine's looping feature has allowed many users to creatively turn six seconds of video into something much richer than one would imagine possible.

Whether that was by design or not, there's little question that, as Ori Neidich, the technology principal at the New York management consultancy Etonian, put it, the best Vines can be watched on loop, over and over again. The effect, when done well, can be a deeper story than would be possible with a single pass. An example is Ian Padgham's very clever use of Vine as a way of turning street traffic into a scene where he appears to be playing with toy cars.

By comparison, while Instagram's tool will let users start and stop their recording until they've hit 15 total seconds of video, there's no looping. That certainly doesn't mean there won't be highly entertaining or clever uses, but it will be different. "At the end, it's all about the story," said Amit Lavi, the marketing director for Slidely. "There are stories you can tell in six seconds, but they need planning and articulating exactly the right message and script. Fifteen seconds is just about the right length of time that allows everyone to tell a story in a very simple way."

Marketers have flocked to Vine, finding that the looping stop-motion style makes for fun, interesting, whimsical ads -- without feeling too much like ads. Given Twitter's obsession with bolstering its ad platform, its major source of revenue, in advance of a possible IPO, that's a very welcome development. Facebook would no doubt like to repeat that marketing success with Instagram video, and with Instagram's huge user base and integration with its parent, not to mention its recent adoption of hashtags, it's tough to bet against that eventuality.

In that regard, Vine and Instagram are no doubt competitors, and one way to tell who wins could well be who ends up with the lion's share of the ad revenue being spent on social video.

Not first to the video party
While most of the attention in the wake of Instagram's video launch has been focused on that tool and on Vine, it's worth remembering that there are plenty of other short-form video services to choose from. Of course, none come with an automatic nine-figure user base, as Instagram does.

Video comes to Instagram. James Martin/CNET

Still, neither Twitter nor Facebook were the pioneers in the space, regardless of the ink that has been devoted to those two companies' offerings. "We're kind of tickled that those guys decided to zero in on the kind of combination of features and form factor that we developed a couple years ago and has worked well for us," said Michael Downing, the CEO of the video sharing service, Tout.

There are those, however, who think that there really may be a battle between the two services, and that just one can win. "Instagram's 15 seconds feels more flexible for capturing life's moments, but it's more than the longer timeframe that makes Instagram a better user experience than Vine," said Greg Tseng, the co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based social network Tagged. "Instagram's integration of video with its existing product (versus Twitter maintaining a separate video product with Vine) simply feels seamless."

One advantage Instagram has as it enters the video wars that can't be discounted is the strength of its 130 million users. Vine, by comparison, has just 13 million, despite its being owned and operated by Twitter, which has more than 200 million users.

That means that anyone who posts an Instagram video automatically has a huge potential audience -- and Instagram users with large followings will have their work seen by many more people than they would on Vine. "Instagram is working with a massive user base while Vine is still working from the ground up," Tseng said, "and that's likely enough to make Vine wither."

Another who thinks that Vine is at a disadvantage is Mithun Baphana, the CEO of Photovine, a new Flipboard for video-type app. "The advent of filters was a big factor with Instagram's early success, so that is a benefit over Vine," Baphana said, "and allows the users to make far more engaging production video with the added length giving them a greater ability to tell a more complete story than Vine presently offers."

A Twitter spokesperson said that the Vine team settled on its format by testing "various video lengths, ranging from about four seconds to ten seconds, as they were building Vine. They found that six seconds was the ideal length, from both the production and consumption side."

For its part, a Facebook spokesperson said that "Instagram is about capturing moments and we believe the constraints in place help create compelling and simple videos for everyone to consume in a mobile setting."

In the end, though, it's the experience of power users like Goldberg that may best demonstrate how different Vine and Instagram video are, and why there are good reasons to think of them in different categories, regardless of their similarities. "I've done two," he said of Instagram's tool. "I might walk away for a while. The last thing I need is another habit."

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