When Instagram was acquired by Facebook, users rightfully feared that the app was doomed to become a dumping ground of ads and sponsorships. But so far the Instagram ads have been included in a mindful way, and the user experience has remained consistent to its origins.
Then came the threat of looping video. Even though Instagram’s core user base embraces the app primarily as a way to share snapshots, video is here to stay. Instagram sees it as a way to enhance a more interactive, social experience. And, more to the point, it’s the way to take a clear swipe at two of its biggest channel competitors, Snapchat and Twitter.
Instagram has just upgraded Explore, its video channel. There’s now a stream of hashtag-triggered continually updated and curated content. We saw the first of it with Explore’s one-off event for the recent Halloween weekend.
The new Explore parallels Twitter’s Moments feature. In the case of the Halloween event, videos were hand-picked for their quality, much like the tweets shown in Moments, which are contributed by selected users. The curated feature ran for 24-hours, a current events window specific to the Halloween weekend. Users who wanted to contribute to the theme used a topical hashtag to be considered for inclusion.
The experiment is over, but the videos can still be viewed.
Snapchat managed to reinvent itself over the last couple of years. Its Live Stories video feed is an obvious inspiration for Instagram’s Explore. The primary difference between the two is timeliness. Snapchat comes and goes. Instagram’s video content potential will have greater appeal to people serious about the timeline of unfolding events. Imagine Instagram Explore in use in Cairo at Tahir Square back in 2011, or on the streets in the US during the Occupy events.
Instagram also tweaked the best features of Twitter’s Moments, most notably using curated content. They are able to filter much of the “noise” that could otherwise clog the channel. All three apps share a common goal of giving people greater opportunities to contribute personal points of view.
Explore didn’t display any advertising on its Halloween experiment. But given Instagram’s need to monetize, it’s likely we’ll see sponsored videos soon enough. With 400 million active users every month, Instagram’s user base is now significantly higher than Twitter’s. The potential for a brand to reach a broad and targeted audience is overwhelming.
The curated Halloween content in Explore only displayed for US users. But it suggests that Explore could change the way we look for “news” online. Social news has been rightfully criticized for a lack of accuracy. Instagram’s decision to curate Explore content may prevent such abuses. It also puts the company in a position to censor and shape unfolding events according to its own interests, a slippery slope.
The more Instagram can maintain user enthusiasm for its app, the more potential it has to make money. The tough part will be financing 24/7/365 curation on a global scale. The Halloween videos were fun, but the real test will be Instagram’s ability to respond quickly to a breaking story and capture the zeitgeist of a trending event. And that’s only if the company decides to roll out the feature long term. We’re still waiting for Instagram to make the announcement.