TECHNOLOGY NEWS

We Tested Instagram Reels, the TikTok Clone. What a Dud.

Millions of people have used the social media app TikTok to make and share short, fun, entertaining videos. I, Brian Chen, am not one of them.

Count me as one of those never-TikTokers. As an older millennial, I have exclusively used Facebook’s Instagram to post photos of my dog. I have never made a 15-second dance video.

But that all changed last week. That was when Facebook released a TikTok copycat called Reels, which is part of Instagram. Its introduction suddenly made making short videos a lot more interesting.

Facebook’s timing was brilliant. That’s because TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance, has been under major pressure from President Trump. He has identified TikTok as a national security threat and threatened to ban the app from the United States, prompting numerous panicked TikTokers to look for alternatives.

So here was an opportunity to test Reels and compare it with TikTok. I invited Taylor Lorenz, our internet culture writer and resident TikTok expert, to share her thoughts about how Facebook’s clone worked versus the real thing. With her experience and my novice knowledge, we could assess how both the never-TikTokers and the TikTok die-hards might feel about Reels.

The verdict? For her, it was: Not good. For me, it was: Confused.

Let’s start with what was copied. Both TikTok, a stand-alone app, and Reels, a feature inside Instagram, are free to use. With Reels, Instagram mimicked TikTok’s signature ability to create short video montages, which are overlaid with copyrighted music and embellished with effects like emojis and sped-up motion.

The similarities pretty much ended there — and not in a positive way for Instagram.

On Instagram, the videos are published to a feed known as the Explore tab, a mishmash of photos, sponsored posts and long-form videos. On TikTok, videos are surfaced through For You, a feed algorithmically tailored to show clips that suit your interests. Reels also lacks TikTok’s editing features, like song recommendations and automatic clip trimming, that use artificial intelligence to speed up the process of video creation.

Taylor and I each tested Reels for five days and then talked about what we had found. We didn’t hold back.

TAYLOR I can definitively say Reels is the worst feature I’ve ever used.

BRIAN Please elaborate. As a never-TikToker, I feel that it’s probably the worst Instagram feature I’ve used, too, but your feelings seem stronger than mine.

TAYLOR It’s horrible. Not only does Reels fail in every way as a TikTok clone, but it’s confusing, frustrating and impossible to navigate. It’s like Instagram took all the current functionality on Stories (a tool to publish montages of photos and videos with added filters, text and music clips), and jammed them into a separate, new complicated interface for no reason.

To me, it’s really unclear whom this feature is for.

BRIAN Let’s walk through how to use Reels.

To open the feature, you tap the Explore button (the magnifying glass) and open someone else’s reel before hitting the camera button to start creating your own reel.

So I have to watch someone else’s video before creating my own? This is a waste of time, battery life and cell data.

TAYLOR You can also create a reel by swiping right in Instagram to enter the camera and then selecting Reels, a button next to Story. Which is confusing.

BRIAN It’s totally undiscoverable without reading instructions. But OK, you find the button to create a reel. Then you can start recording videos or add videos you’ve already recorded. Then you can overlay music and some effects like emojis and color filters. Then you write a caption and publish.

How does this compare with TikTok?

TAYLOR TikTok is better in a million ways. The main one being that TikTok removes all of the friction that normally comes with trying to make a good video.

On TikTok, you can just grab a ton of videos (like, hit select on 17 different videos of all different lengths), and dump them all into the app and hit a button. TikTok will automatically select highlights from your videos and edit them in a way to match the beat of whatever sound you choose. This makes it so easy to create a really engaging, smooth video in under 10 seconds from a ton of footage.

Here’s an example of Reels versus TikTok of the same thing. You can see which is better! READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/12/technology/personaltech/tested-facebook-reels-tiktok-clone-dud.html