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Why "Instagram for Video" is a Bad Idea: Commentary

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I am a positive person.  For me, the iPhone is always half full. There is a document named “Silver Lining” in my Google Drive. And it’s always sunny on this side of this side of the Internet. That’s why this edition of Spicy Ideas is tough for me to write. While I normally champion spicy ideas and the people that pursue them, I am obligated to call out bad ideas that I see gathering momentum. The latest one making the rounds is that we should all be looking for the “Instagram of video.” Let’s talk about why this is a bad idea and then see what really deserves our attention.

When the worlds largest social network, fresh on the edge of launching its initial public offering, buys a quirky photo-sharing app for $1 billion, people tend to take notice. And while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may have kept his board of directors in the dark about the acquisition until the last minute, I don’t necessarily think it was a bad decision. Even with rumors swirling that Instagram leveraged a possible counter offer from Twitter to force Facebook to pull the trigger, I still think Zuckerberg nabbed a hot property. Having just launched an Android version of their simple photo-focused social network, Instagram was already one of the top apps on the iPhone. With 13 employees, they built a rock-solid app that did one thing very well—share edited, filtered photos. With Facebook launching its IPO, I understand bringing on the hottest app team of the moment.

It only makes logical sense that the sale of a photo-sharing app will beg the “what’s next?” question. Obviously, the technology flavor of the moment is video, and now we have Viddy raising capital at a $350+ million dollar valuation, and Mark Zuckerberg is fanning its use-base flame by creating an account. Adding 500,000 users a day has pushed Viddy to the top of the Apple App store. It’s primary rival Socialcam, powered by longtime online video platform Justin.tv, has been gathering users at about the same pace and is neck and neck with Viddy on the top 25 list of downloaded apps. According to TechCrunch, Socialcam just closed an angel round of funding, and while the dollar amount is still unknown, the list of backers includes names like Tim Draper, Yuri Milner, Ashton Kutcher, and more.The video sensation has spilled over on to animated GIF apps as well. Gifture, Cinemagram, and GifBoom are all rocketing up the download charts with functionality that animates photos in a looped .gif file.

So why is this a bad thing? A major buy for a photo app company should raise all the boats of tech startups. The problem is based on the motivation for the buy. Facebook bought Instagram as a defensive maneuver. Whether it was to obtain a talented mobile team (Facebook has experienced difficulties with stability on its app); to buyout a hot, growing user base; or to make itself look good for the upcoming IPO, all of these reasons are focused on Facebook and not the end user. The next great video app will only succeed if it focuses on creating a killer end user experience. With the glut of incoming video apps (and believe me, they are coming by the bucketful), app builders will be distracted by figuring out how they can be bought out by Google for $1 trillion. That may win the battle, but f ocus on the user will win the war.

Secondly, lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice. With the 24-hour churn of tech speculation, everyone is looking for the same set of circumstances to happen with a video company. It’s not going to happen. The next major deal will be out of the blue and unexpected, just like this one was. 

Finally, we are focusing on the wrong things. If we truly want a killer social video app, then we need to focus on what makes it dramatically different, not how much it can be sold for or how many users have amassed around it. And interestingly enough users and price tend to follow those that build something unique. So instead of searching for the next “Instagram” grand slam, let’s look for the base hits and support those apps that are in it to build something that works. Turn down the volume on the 24-hour rumor mills and reward those that are building something that is useful for you.

Video is supposed to be a help not hype... and I am positive about that.

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