As we pulled into Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters, the company's sign echoed an invitation sent to journalists: "A small team is working on something big."
What is that something?
"I'd like to introduce video on Instagram," Instagram founder Kevin Systrom announced Thursday morning.
Instagram: More Than Photos
"Instagram is a way to stay connected," said Systrom, now nearly a year into his employment at Facebook after its $1 billion acquisition of the photo-sharing startup last year. Systrom defined Instagram as a place for "visual imagery," "moments," a "place for love"—"no single thing, but a collection of ideas and inspiration."
Notably, he didn't say Instagram was about photos. Instagram has a lot of photos, mind you: 16 billion of them, Systrom announced, taken by 130 million users.
"We've taken photos and made them beautiful," said Systrom. "What do we work on next?"
That, it turns out, was video.
Systrom said he and his cofounder, Mike Krieger, had considered video years ago, but didn't feel like they could deliver the "speed, simplicity, and beauty" they could achieve with photos.
A small startup, Vine, acquired by Twitter, launched a video-sharing app that suggested one could do exactly that. Many observers have noted this, and it's widely thought Instagram's move is a competitive response to Twitter's launch of Vine.
What's Different About Instagram For Video
The videos are limited to 15 seconds—a bit longer than Vine's six-second limit. And crucially, there's an ability to very simply edit videos as you take them. With Vine's current app, you have to start over from the beginning.
Instagram's known for its photo filters—and there are entirely new filters for video included. Users can also pick a cover frame for the video from any still image captured.
"This is the same Instagram we know and love, but it moves," says Systrom.
Instagram video will be available for both Android smartphones and iPhones today, Systrom said. It will also include an autostabilization feature Instagram calls Cinema.
Setting The Stage For Video Ads
Interestingly, the 15-second limit is longer than some reports had it. (Rumors suggested Instagram videos might vary from 5 to 10 seconds in length.)
But it is long enough for short-form video advertisements. Ad Age recently reported that Facebook, Instagram's owner, might delay the launch of video ads until the fall.
That delay might disappoint eager advertisers. But it will allow time for Instagram users to flood Facebook with short videos.
By that time, users will be far more accustomed to seeing videos in their news feeds. And marketers will likely experiment with Instagram to create promotional clips that fit into this new stream of videos seamlessly. When Facebook starts offering video ads, one way it might sell them is to let marketers pay to promote Instagram videos on Facebook—a far less obtrusive way of bringing video ads to the social network.
Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite