In 2018, a video-sharing social media app that was originally launched in 2016 for the Chinese market became fully available worldwide after merging with Musical.ly, another Chinese-founded app. ByteDance’s app, TikTok, immediately charmed a global user-base thanks to its addictive feature of making short clips of music and lip-sync videos with neat camera effects. The fact however that the China-based app could also potentially gather data on user location, biometrics and imaging that could be freely accessed by the Chinese communist government has led to efforts by some countries, including the US, to ban it. While TikTok is legally embattled, some existing social media apps have been conceptualizing possible alternatives.
One of these is longtime US-based photo/video-sharing platform (and Facebook subsidiary) Instagram. And as The Verge would have it, they have released a new feature for their social media service that rather feels like a competitor to TikTok. This feature is called “Reels,” and it was launched by Instagram in initially 50-plus countries this past Wednesday, August 5, available for both iOS and Android. The deal is the same as TikTok: short videos 15 seconds long, with music and effects, shareable with friends and searchable through the Instagram Reels library.
There are of course enough differences between Reels and Tiktok so as not to be taken for a mere copy. Registering for Reels gives the option of making the account public or private. Public accounts will have created videos available for browsing on the platform, while private account videos can only be shared to the user’s Instagram feed and Stories. And as stated before, Reels is not a separate app from Instagram but a fully integrated feature of it, using the same filters and tools in an integrated environment, similar indeed to Instagram Stories, which was their answer to Snapchat.
To say that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, based in Beijing, is concerned about Instagram Reels is selling things short. The company actually accused Instagram’s own parent Facebook of app plagiarism, though Instagram product director Robby Stein insists the two platforms are distinct. While Stein does credit ByteDance for popularizing the short video format that made TikTok so viral, he is of the opinion that “no two products are exactly alike.”
Come September 15, if a bid by Microsoft to acquire TikTok from ByteDance falls through, then the app will be officially banned in the US, just as it is already banned in India last June.
Image courtesy of Business Insider