I "weep" for tech journalism (or why I think mobile video innovation matters)

June 21, 2013

Of course I don't weep for tech journalism (some of my best friends are tech journalists!), but I couldn't help but get a little sad reading tech journalist after tech journalist climb over each other over the past 24 hours trying to pooh-pooh or even decry the lack of innovation represented by Instagram's video announcement.

But it wasn't until my dad sent me Farhad Manjoo's piece that I felt like I needed to say something. 

First of all, I think Farhad knows that it's hardly journalistic innovation to "weep" for the end of innovation in Silicon Valley. It's a time tested way to get a lot of Techmeme page views; it always works and he knows it. Should we "weep" for journalism?

Beside the hypocrisy of bemoaning the lack of innovation with lack of innovation, I also think all this critique of Facebook and Silicon Valley is short sighted.

Firstly, there's this sense that the Instagram team could have done something awesome like cure cancer instead of making this feature. That's silly. Take it from me, I code but could not come close curing cancer.

Also, there's this sense that Facebook/Instagram is just following Twitter/Vine. That's also silly. Look at me with a straight face and tell me you think the Instagram guys never thought about how to do video before Vine. You really think the inspiration for Instagram's team to do video came from some place else than their inspiration to build the app that got them there in the first place? Silly, silly.

Meanwhile, on the social importance of trying to make short-form video consumption something the masses want to adopt, I think the critics are completely blinded by a shade of smugness about what lasting social change looks like -- about which innovation is "valuable" or worthwhile.

Before Instagram V1 there were cameras on phones and ways to edit photos and way to distribute photos. Tens of thousands of photo apps already existed in the app store. But, something clicked with Instagram V1 and it changed how people take photos on a large scale. More people than ever think they can do something creative, and try. These new creatives see the world and their cameras as an opportunity for artistic expression, not just a way to capture 4 family members standing in a row and literally saying the word "cheese" hoping to make it a better photo. Instagram invented nothing but a user experience that somehow stuck and inspired millions to be creative in a way they weren't inspired to be before.

This will one day happen with video too. Tons of video apps already exist but people don't really use video for more than documenting a moment, taking the proverbial video-cheese shots. But, the smallest UX nuance will one day change that -- and on that day (or maybe yesterday) a tech journalist or 100 tech journalists will mock it.

I, personally, am excited to see what that app is which changes the game for video the same way Instagram changed the game for photos. I don't know that we've seen the app yet, and it will be even more difficult to do than photos. Videos/cinema add the dimension of sound, frame-rate, and composition in a 4th dimension. But, when the average person can upload a Ken Burns quality video from anywhere in the world, and not just what we know now as shaky iReport footage, the world will change.

And, in case my point is missed, I think a society that embraces creativity -- where more people think of themselves as capable of creating art -- even within the confines of a single application, is better than a society that only has dull, non-artistic photos or video in it. More people who think of themselves as creative, or willing to try, probably get that important, worthwhile, and cancer-solving innovation you wish you saw at Facebook's announcement done faster.