Starting to understand the short, loopy language of Instagram video

I talk a lot about media as a new language, so I’m going to start using the blog to talk through some of the new ways we’re communicating.

Instagram video is easily a better product than Vine, if only by nature of it being integrated into the app I already use and love, so I’ll start there. Firstly, let’s acknowledge there’s a big difference between still and moving images. Still images leave at least a little to the imagination. They’re great when you’re trying to show one dramatic moment, and Insta makes them one better with a caption. My favorite Instagrams are those that use the photo and caption together to tell a bigger story, like this one:

Bro, you were so funny last night. #friendsdontletfriendsdrivedrunk

Pictures like this read like a Jeopardy question: you get the punchline in the caption, and you have to fill in the joke (drunk dog!).

So how does video change this equation? Well, sometimes it doesn’t. Some of my personal favorite Insta videos have been literally moving pictures – things that would’ve looked amazing just as a single frame, but are made all the better with subtle movement. These don’t necessarily tell a story, but video enhances the viewer’s experience of immersion in the scene. In this one, Ryan could’ve just taken a shot of the foggy lighthouse, but seeing the black streaks cross over the light really makes me understand more about the scene. In that same video, sound also plays a huge roll. I’d argue sound is the most underutilized feature of Insta video, and that’s probably because it’s impossible to get it right when you’re not yelling “HEY CAN YOU BE QUIET SO I CAN INSTA THIS QUICK PLEASE THANKS!” But done in the right way, it again enhances by bringing another sense into the mix, keeping the viewer even more immersed.

Some use Insta video to tell a short story too, and that’s the most exciting to me. They’re not huge stories, they’re more character studies or short jokes similar to the one I told with my dog. I can’t embed Insta videos (big flaw IMO, I bet they’ll fix it), but here’s a (SFW) video from today that show what I’m talking about. A perfect beginning, middle, and end: empty frame, dog falls to the ground, dog looks up. And no cuts even!

There are a few flaws to the technology though, certain elements I think would only add more to our bag of communication tricks and allow it to live up to its full potential. First, we should be able to choose whether or not to use sound, and each cover frame should indicate if the video includes sound. Like I said that’s a tough element to get right, and it’s also an easy way to completely ruin your video. Second, and most importantly, Instagram needs to allow us to embed video and pictures in other media: blogs, texts, forums, etc. That allows other users to create their own meaning out of each picture or video, in the same way we all now use gifs. It’s quite possible the best way for me to communicate something to a friend is to use a video of a guy pooping his dog(?).

What are you favorite Instagrams? Why do you like them? Let me know in the comments!

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