Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but visual stories must be worth more by some mega-factor, judging by the success of Snapchat’s Stories feature and Instagram’s copycatted Stories equivalent, as well as the relentless pace and determination with which Facebook is rolling out “Stories” in all its properties (Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, WhatsApp Status, and its recently announced Messenger Day).

So what are Stories? Stories are akin to slideshows, consisting of video clips, photos, text, animations, or various graphics, which can be shared with selected friends or family and which automatically disappear after 24 hours.

According to Facebook’s VP of messaging, David MarcusStories have become a social media format in their own right, similar to how newsfeeds became a must-have format on social media networks.

Let’s take a closer look at the main Stories features and what contributes to their success:

Stories are semi-ephemeral

The unstoppable rise of Stories
  • According to the Snapchat founders, the impetus for developing Snapchat was that even privately shared photos could potentially haunt a user forever, which inhibits the way consumers take or enhance their photos – not unlike the feeling we’d have if every phone call we make were recorded. Snapchat’s ephemeral photos feature spurs users to abundantly take, creatively enhance, and freely share photos without needing to think twice whether they might come to regret this at some point in the future.
  • But, as the ephemeral format has grown in popularity, many users also feel disappointed that their creative visual expressions are so short-lived (in Snapchat up to 10 seconds, to be exact).
  • The – successful – middle ground?  Stories that disappear after 24 hours: leaving no permanent traces, while enabling unlimited sharing enjoyment for the course of one day.

Stories combine multiple content types

  • As we’ve seen for several years now, today’s consumers are migrating toward sharing photos in combination with other elements, whether these are additional photos (montages or collages), or other content types (such as stickers, geo-stickers, frames, text, video clips, animations, or music). Stories allow the user to do just that: sharing photos along with other content types – whatever works to tell a visual story. While photos are an important content type for Stories, they are just one of several that users have available to tell their Story.

Stories are at the epicenter of how today’s consumer share their lives – through visual messaging

  • Stories are shared through visual messaging servicesAs we’ve described before, there is a convergence happening between photo/video and text messaging apps. For example, messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, or LINE now all offer camera and photo enhancement features. At the same time, photo/video apps like Snapchat, Instagram or PicsArt have all added messaging.
  • Messenger’s transformation is a particularly interesting one. Its front-and-center camera feature now enables Messenger users to completely reverse the traditional text messaging workflow: from “first select the person you’d like to reach, type text, add photos” to “first take a photo, add text and select the person with whom you’d like to share” – the same workflow that’s offered in messaging-enabled photo apps, such as Snapchat or Instagram.

Stories are shared a la carte with friends or family

  • Similar to how the shift from permanent to ephemeral photos was followed by the pendulum swinging back to the middle ground of semi-ephemeral photos, social media have also learned through trial and error to determine the sweet spot for Story audiences. It’s somewhere between a single person with whom one texts and one’s entire friend list on Facebook (around 155 friends, according to this survey). Here the sweet spot is giving users the full range of options for sharing their Stories, ranging from all one’s friends except for the ones the user chose to block (think “parents”), to individual friends whom the user hand-picks for each story.

What if you’re not a social network? 

As Stories are becoming a must-have format just like the Feed, it’s good to think through whether or how you could adopt the Story format in your own apps or services. Sooner or later your users will simply expect to be able to share their visual creations this way.

It might be necessary to modify the Story format for your company’s purposes, for instance by making it more permanent than the Stories offered by social networks, or by implementing features that smartly deal with undesired content types, such as animations or video that can’t be printed – if printing is what your service is about. (Tinkering with a successful formula is always tricky, so this would require a fair amount of testing).

I also recommend keeping a close eye on any API announcements from social networks that would allow third-party developers to tap into the social networks’ Stories in some manner. For now, Stories appear to be rather closed, but who knows – under competitive pressure, this might very well change in the future.

More to come 

We’re clearly just at the beginning of Stories as an exciting visual expression and sharing format, and I believe we’ll see a range of innovative approaches percolate that will expand on today’s Stories concept. Expect to hear first-hand about these at Mobile Photo Connect, October 24-25, in San Francisco!


A few more things… 

Apple. Fresh from the press: Apple just announced its foray into the social video space with its Clips app, which offers many Story-like features, except that its video trailers do not disappear after 24 hours. Interesting tidbit: while Instagram has moved away from square as the default photo/video format, Clips uses square as its capture screen format.

Instagram. Another shift from ephemeral to permanent: You can now save your Instagram Live video streams to your camera roll for later viewing.

Google. Google announced the open source release of a new JPEG encoder, called Guetzli. Google claims its algorithm creates high-quality JPEG images with “file sizes 35% smaller than currently available methods.” The latter is contested by commercial compression technology provider Beamr, last year’s Mobile Photo Connect Best Business Potential Award winner: in Beamr’s tests Guetzli generated larger files than Beamr’s JPEGmini technology, used more memory, and most pointedly, was much, much slower – compressing a 12 MB image took 15-20 minutes with Guetzli, compared to 1 second with JPEGmini. Still, there might be more in the pipeline at Google, whether through further optimizations of Guezli or through innovative approaches to image compression that leverage the company’s vast machine learning resources (for instance, a few months ago Google announced RAISR, a technology for upsampling low res images while minimizing any quality losses).

Human Eyes Technology. The 8-camera, 4-microphone, stereoscopic 360 Vuzecamera is now shipping. And all of that for $799. For more about Vuze, see our The User-Generated VR Revolution study.

Photo by GuySie

Author: Hans Hartman

Hans Hartman is president of Suite 48 Analytics, the leading research and analysis firm for the mobile photography market and organizer of Mobile Visual 1st, a yearly industry conference about mobile photography.

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