Top Trends of 2012: Social Video Apps (Warning: Seedy Content!)

Continuing our review of the first half of 2012, we look at an emerging product type that became popular this year: social video apps. The two leading contenders are Socialcam and Viddy, each vying to be the breakout app. But at least one of those apps is using dubious seeding tactics to get ahead...

After image sharing network Instagram was acquired by Facebook in April, attention turned to the same type of app - but for video. Essentially social video apps have the following characteristics:

  • Mobile-based, just like Instagram. These are smartphone apps that enable you to shoot short videos and share them.
  • You're encouraged to apply image and sound filters to your video (again, like Instagram).
  • Videos are shared liberally on Facebook.
  • Unlike Instagram, both Socialcam and Viddy have websites that highlight content.

Who's Winning?

While we recommended Viddy in May, the differences between it and Socialcam are minimal. We chose Viddy because it was simpler and its 15-second limit on video clips encourages users to be creative using Twitter-like brevity. As The White Stripes showed in the last decade of popular music, constraints can help a lot with creativity.

However, Socialcam appears to be the most popular of the two apps right now. It has been accused of gaming Facebook, which we'll examine shortly. But first here are the current user numbers, according to Facebook tracking site AppData:

As you can see, AppData statistics show that Socialcam is currently nearly 5 times more popular than Viddy in terms of Monthly Active Users (MAU). Indeed, Socialcam is more than twice as popular as the second-placed app listed: Yahoo! Social Bar. These statistics seem too good to be true... which turns out to be the case.

Seedy Socialcam

At the beginning of May, Viddy was actually more popular than Socialcam. However in just two weeks Socialcam added an extraordinary 40 million MAU. As AppData's sister site InsideFacebook explained, Socialcam's rapid rise was largely attributable to Facebook’s still experimental Open Graph. In particular, both Socialcam and Viddy utilized the Facebook auto-sharing feature to drum up new users.

Socialcam went further than that, by engaging in some trickery. Socialcam seeded its website with popular YouTube videos - that is, videos not shot with the Socialcam app. When you click to watch one of those YouTube videos, Socialcam pops up an "Add to Facebook" request.

That makes it seem like you have to approve the request in order to view the video. But in fact, clicking "Cancel" gives you access to watch the video. If you do approve the "Add to Facebook" request, you are giving Socialcam permission to automatically share any video you watch onto Facebook. Judging by the number of Socialcam links I now see in my Facebook News Feed, this seedy tactic is working. Which of course makes those videos even more viral, because they're all over Facebook, which leads to even more users.

Socialcam did clean up some of its early trickiness. But sadly, this is a common thing on the Social Web: get big fast by sneaky tactics, then go legit later.

Where To Next For Social Video Apps?

The jury is still out on whether sharing short, smartphone-created videos is going to become mega-popular. Frankly, the AppData statistics can't be trusted at this point (not AppData's fault, it's due to the experimental nature of Facebook sharing). So we can discount the 80+ million figure attached to Socialcam.

Almost all of my Facebook friends upload and share photos, but not many of them do the same with videos. Regardless, I remain bullish on the trend, because smartphone technology will continue to improve when it comes to video. This may lead the next generation of Facebook users to utilize social video content much more than us.

Also the odds are pretty good that Facebook will buy one of Socialcam or Viddy within a year, before the market gets too heated. So this is a trend to watch... just be careful which Facebook permission boxes you click!