Instagram is already a digital shopping centre, inspiration board, and celebrity news feed, but soon, it may become a bona fide video streaming service. Less than a month after Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom confirmed the app will add a "usage insights" feature letting users know how long they spend liking posts and tapping through Stories, there are new rumours that Instagram may soon allow the posting of videos up to an hour in length — something that would certainly increase users' time spent on the app.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the rumour, citing sources familiar with the feature. (Instagram declined to provide comment to Refinery29.) According to the report, only vertical videos, as opposed to horizontal, will be supported.
If the rumours are true, this would be a massive increase: Currently, Instagram only allows users to post videos up to 60 seconds long (with a minimum length of three seconds). The last time the app boosted its video allowance was in April 2016, when it quadrupled the length from 15 seconds to the current 60 seconds. Doing so involved significant work on the backend, including decreasing the file size of videos and changing how they were processed, to ensure there wouldn't be any lag time when streaming. Currently, the only real way around this time limit is live video — you can record a one-hour long live video on Stories and share that video for 24 hours after you shot it.
Videos that are an hour in length would be 60 times greater than the ones Instagram has allowed until now, and this would likely come with its own set of challenges. For one, Instagram would need to figure out how to make sure the video quality is not affected. But it would also need to find out how to let users stream videos without it destroying their battery life and using up all their data.
While the move would not be unexpected — it seems like every platform is getting in on original video these days, including Instagram's parent company, Facebook — it could come across as contradictory. If Instagram really does want to ensure users' time is spent in a "positive and intentional" way, how do hour-long videos fit into that mission? If you get sucked into watching someone's vacation footage for 60 minutes, would that count as a meaningful experience on the app?
You could definitely argue that it isn't Instagram's responsibility to police how people spend their time. However, this is the great paradox of the digital wellbeing trend sweeping Silicon Valley: In order to sell devices and ads, tech companies need to continue introducing new and improved features to attract — and maintain — audiences. How do companies accomplish that while proving to their users' that they have their best interests at heart? Which, right now, means promoting decreased screen time.
Moments after Apple announced plans to launch a suite of wellbeing tools, including a way to set app use limits and know how long you're on social media every day, reporters were quick to point out that the company also introduced two new features that will make users want to spend more time texting and playing on their iPhones — Animoji and Memoji.
It seems impossible to find a way to balance the two motivations — growing an audience and playing doctor to that audience's online health in order to maintain them as loyal customers. However, as more companies jump on board the wellbeing bandwagon, their features could start to work together in a way that is useful: Go ahead and watch longer videos on Instagram — just set a time limit on your iPhone before doing so.