The Digital Download: Video, VR, and volatile chatbots

This week featured a lot of video offerings, in addition to Microsoft reintroducing Tay after her disastrous debut and Google giving AdWords its first makeover.

Just before Valentine’s Day, a lot of the industry news was video-centric. This week in digital featured some déjà vu, as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and AOL announced video updates, from longer ads to new formats that aim to improve viewability.

Adding videos to Instant Articles wasn’t Facebook’s only move over the past few days. On Monday, the first Oculus Rift headsets shipped out. Other highlights include an overhaul for AdWords, a new Pin for marketers to play with, and a surprising decision by Microsoft.

Various platforms add to their volume of video offerings

Instagram has gotten so much attention for the upcoming update to its algorithm that its other update passed by without much notice. On Tuesday, the platform announced that it’s upping its video caps from 30 seconds to a whole minute. The change is in response to an explosion of views; the amount of time people spent watching videos on Instagram has increased 40 percent in the last six months. T-Mobile and Warner Bros. were early testers, with the extended videos set to roll out to everyone in the coming months.

Instagram’s parent company has updated its own video offerings, as well. Starting April 12, publishers will be able to place video ads on Facebook’s Instant Articles. The videos will be both autoplay and user-initiated, and include pre-roll advertising before their editorial video content.

Snapchat continues to get more competitive with a video-related enhancement of its own. Chat 2.0, which also launched Tuesday, is a collection of features that improves upon the platform’s entire arsenal of communication. In addition to auto-advancing Stories and recording audio notes, Snapchat users can now place video and audio calls, and record short, GIF-like videos of themselves.


Rounding out this week in video, AOL debuted two new video formats for publishers on Tuesday. One is the Out-stream player, which starts playing when half of the video is visible on-screen, expands while it’s playing, and then pauses when viewability falls below 50 percent. The other, SideView, allows publishers to put their videos in webpages’ sidebars and resize them depending on browser side. Both aim to increase viewability. 

The long-awaited Oculus Rift starts shipping

In other video news, Oculus Rift headsets finally started shipping on Monday. The only consumers to receive the headsets are those who got on the preorder list back in January; everyone else will have to wait until July.

Now that more people will have their own Oculus Rifts, will that accelerate virtual reality (VR) from being “the next big thing” to “the big thing?” Only time will tell.

Microsoft to move forward with chatbots, despite the Tay disaster

Last week, Microsoft rolled out a chatbot named Tay, who was quickly taken over by trolls who programmed her to tweet derogatory remarks. Microsoft shut the bot down and retooled it, rereleasing it Wednesday. The Cortana-powered Tay was less offensive, though she did tweet about smoking pot in front of police.

Artificial intelligence has grown in popularity, though Tay may make companies nervous about getting involved with the technology. Interestingly, Microsoft is still going forward with other chatbots, including animations that will bring interactive experiences to Skype.

Pinterest adds to its Pin repertoire

Pinterest is the go-to platform for the craftiest consumers. Lowe’s even changed up its whole marketing strategy based on the popularity of Pinterest boards full of DIY projects.

The platform has beefed up its marketing capabilities recently, expanding its ad network and targeting possibilities. Its latest offering, how-to Pins, is another move in that direction. The image will contain a snapshot of the steps, which can be expanded with a click.

How-to pins rolled out earlier this week, starting with the web and Android devices. Early adopters include The Home Depot,, and Marie Claire.

Google overhauls AdWords for the first time since 2000

It’s been almost a year since Google adjusted its algorithm to be more mobile-focused. More recently, the algorithm was tweaked again to give even more priority to mobile-friendly sites. Along those lines, Google announced Monday that it will redesign the AdWords interface with mobile in mind.

Now that more people search from their smartphones, Google sees shorter and fewer searches per session. The AdWords redesign – the first major once since the platform launched 15 years ago – is focused on helping advertisers improve their campaigns with that mobile-first information by simplifying navigation and making data more readily available.

Related reading