Facebook gets Instagram moving with video

The new feature comes five months after the launch of Twitter's Vine video app

Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom.

Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom.

Facebook is adding video capability to Instagram, the popular photo-sharing service acquired by the social network last year.

In addition to letting users upload a picture, apply a filter and share the resulting image with friends on various social networks, people can now also use Instagram to record and share short videos of three to 15 seconds in length.

The new function will be available starting Thursday on iOS and Android as well as on the Web. Thirteen brand-new custom filters can also be applied to video now recorded with the app. And just like with photos, users can share their videos with their friends on their social networks.

In its iOS version, the tool also includes a brand-new image stabilization mode called "Cinema" to eliminate shakiness in videos.

"We're really just getting started here with this product," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, announcing the service during a meeting with the media Thursday morning at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

"This is the same Instagram we all know and love, but it moves," said Instagram CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom.

The introduction of video on Instagram adds an entirely new way for users to engage with a service that has become very successful for Facebook since the company acquired it in 2012. Instagram claims to have 130 million monthly active users; Facebook has just over 1 billion.

It can even be argued that a sizable chunk of Instagram users prefer Instagram over the more established social network. "We believe that some of our users have reduced their engagement with Facebook in favor of increased engagement with other products and services such as Instagram," Facebook said in its 2012 annual report.

Facebook's sheer size could be a factor. A recent Pew study looking specifically at teenagers found that some are turning to other sites like Instagram and Twitter due to noise on Facebook.

It's unclear if Thursday's announcement is aimed at keeping more jaded Facebook users active on Instagram. What is clear is that mobile is becoming more important to Facebook as smartphone adoption grows.

"We believe that mobile usage of Facebook is critical to user growth and engagement over the long term, and accordingly are prioritizing mobile product development," the company said in its 2012 annual report.

Facebook currently does not derive any direct revenue from Instagram, the company said in that report. Instagram is free and came with a roughly US$1 billion price tag.

Bringing video to Instagram could also be aimed at improving Facebook's ability to compete with Twitter, which released its own mobile video app, Vine, in January.

Vine lets users record short, six-second videos that play back on a loop. In addition to the Vine social network, the videos can also be shared on Twitter and Facebook.

It is surprising that Facebook has not introduced video for Instagram sooner, said Ovum analyst Eden Zoller. "There is no doubt Twitter will move quickly to up the ante on Vine and this could undercut Facebook's efforts with video on Instagram," she said in an email.

But unlike Vine videos, Instagram videos don't loop. And, although Instagram lets users create video clips that incorporate multiple shots like with Vine, Instagram offers some editing tools that let users delete the most recent shot created with the service before uploading the clip, which Vine doesn't.

One concern, however, is whether seconds-long videos can be integrated seamlessly into Instagram without disrupting the flow of users' feeds. Even the name "Instagram" is a portmanteau of the practice of old cameras marketing themselves as "instant," and short telegrams that are sent over the wire between people.

Instagram was founded on three principles: to transform mediocre mobile photos into professional-looking snapshots; to let users share those photos instantly with others on various other networks; and to make the upload process faster, according to its website.

Instagram initially launched in 2010.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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