Quick, somebody build another mobile video app! Oh, thank goodness: This afternoon, Facebook unveiled something called Riff, an app that lets users collaboratively edit video clips together. And while it’s not the first app of its kind, Riff is pretty well positioned to have an impact on how people create and share video.
Here’s how it works: You start by recording a video clip of up to 20 seconds in length and giving it a theme or topic. From there, friends have the option of recording their own clips to tack onto the video. Then their friends can do the same.
“The potential pool of creative collaborators can grow exponentially from there, so a short video can become an inventive project between circles of friends,” explains Facebook product manager Josh Miller in a blog post.
Essentially, it’s like Vine with collaborative editing, but without social features like liking and commenting (the focus here is on creation rather than interactivity).
Riff comes from the same Creative Labs department that spun off apps like Paper, Slingshot, and Rooms, the latter of which was born out of Facebook’s acquisition of Branch, the social conversation service founded by Miller and backed by Ev Williams and Biz Stone’s Obvious Corp. At Facebook, Miller is evidently applying his product expertise to the range of one-off apps that Facebook Creative Labs is tossing against the wall in order to see what sticks.
This is also part of a larger push into video for Facebook. Eyeing the serious ad dollars that can come from engaging video, the company has been ramping up its focus on the medium, reportedly taking aim at YouTube’s dominance and even challenging traditional TV for lucrative eyeballs.
Mobile is a significant piece of this puzzle for Facebook. In 2013, Instagram added support for short video clips in response to the rising popularity of Twitter’s Vine. Then last summer, Instagram released Hyperlapse, a stand-alone app for recording time-lapse videos.
The explosion of video-focused mobile apps isn’t unique to Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary. These things are popping up everywhere. The collaborative editing concept has been around for a few years in the form of apps like Vyclone. Newer entrants focus on mobile live streaming: A few weeks ago, Meerkat was going to revolutionize journalism and cure world hunger. Now it’s already out of fashion, having made way for Twitter’s very similar Periscope app, which was immediately used to document a collapsed building in New York’s East Village.
But perhaps the hardest-to-miss elephant in the room is Snapchat. The ephemeral video and image messaging app has morphed from the go-to sexting app of teens everywhere to a budding media powerhouse, complete with Vice documentaries and its own exclusive web TV series. Oh, and you can send payments with it too. Because why not?
Recognizing the potential of the wildly popular app early on, Facebook famously tried to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion, an offer that was politely declined. Presumably experiments like Riff are Facebook’s way of further feeling out the possibilities in the social video space in lieu of actually owning a massive hit like Snapchat.
As typically the case with new apps like this, there are no immediate plans in place to monetize Riff. But it’s easy to see how the project, which was inspired by last year’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge viral sensation, could snowball into a revenue generator if it takes off.
The Ice Bucket Challenge helped Facebook grow video views 50% from May to July 2014 to hit 1 billion per day. If Facebook could build a tool to catalyze and host these viral video explosions, it could soak up huge amounts of video engagement, allowing it to slide in lucrative video ads.
Whatever revenue Facebook winds up reeling in from video, it’s evidently going to come from a variety of apps and initiatives. Riff has a huge leg up by virtue of the fact that it’s tied to Facebook’s social graph and the social network’s enormous user base.
If it takes off, Riff may well prove to be a notable, if not enormous, slice of that revenue pie one day–that is, provided it doesn’t go the way of Color.