Instagram Reels wouldn't have made it to India so soon if TikTok wasn't banned in the country. India's decision to ban TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps has opened up new opportunities in the country's growing online space. It didn't come as a surprise when Facebook's Instagram started rolling out its TikTok-like feature, Reels, in India. Facebook had been advertising Instagram on TikTok in India for a while now, and this seems like a perfect chance to bring more TikTok users onboard.
With Reels, Instagram is hoping to seize some, if not all, of TikTok's extensive user base of around 200 million users in India. But Instagram isn't alone, a large number of regional developers have smelled the opportunity, and are quickly cashing in on it. While local TikTok clones are simply trying to achieve bigger download numbers without focussing on content, Instagram roped in popular TikTok creators before rolling out Reels in India.
Late last year, Instagram started experimenting with its Reels feature in Brazil. Reels isn't a standalone app, but just a new feature that allows users to create quick 15-second videos within Instagram, available to users on both Android and iOS. In June this year, Instagram released its TikTok clone Reels feature in France and Germany. Over time Reels has received some updates on Instagram based on initial user feedback.
With all the sudden hype around Instagram's new Reels feature in India the obvious question amongst several key influencers (and other not-so-popular content creators) is — will Instagram Reels replace TikTok in India? Turns out, it's quite a complicated path ahead for Instagram.
Officially, Instagram's Reels feature is in an experimental stage. While that gives the company the freedom to experiment (and fail), it leaves content creators wondering if it's worth spending their time and energy on it. Facebook is known to kill products quickly, but if Reels gets enough users it might just become a major feature within Instagram.
For creators, the bigger question is whether they'll be able to monetize their content on Reels or not since Instagram can already make some good money out of it as Reels appear on the Explore tab and Stories (optional for users).
Let's take a look at what works for Instagram Reels and what doesn't. For starters, Reels is buried inside Instagram. Although the company has made several UI changes, it's slightly easier to discover Reels via the Explore tab and user profiles, it's a bit difficult to find out how you can create one. No wonder a lot of people have been wondering where to find the new Reels feature inside Instagram.
The user interface faintly reminds you of TikTok. You can select an audio track, speed up or slow down a video, add effects, and set up a timer to record a clip. As of now, users can only create 15-second clips on Instagram Reels. Once you're created a 'Reel' it is displayed in your regular Instagram feed, inside your profile, and if it's good enough Instagram will feature it in the Explore tab.
That sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Here's why it gets complicated. With Reels, there are now almost five different ways to create videos on Instagram. You can create a live video, a video within a story, a normal video on your Instagram feed, a long-form IGTV video, and now Reels. Leaving aside live videos, users will need to pick from the other four formats to create and share videos.
Of course, Reels will have its own set of fans and creators who want to make quick, fun-filled videos. But apart from a few things, there's nothing you couldn't already do on Instagram that stopped you from making such short videos. As of now, most TikTok influencers who've jumped ship have been seen posting their older TikTok videos on Instagram Reels.
Existing Instagram users with a large number of following will have an edge over, say users creating a fresh profile while coming over from TikTok, on Reels. While TikTok's algorithm was fine-tuned to resurface good content no matter how many followers a user has, there's no clear word on whether Instagram will follow a similar path. In this madness, fresh users' content may simply remain buried.
What Instagram really lacks, especially with Reels, is TikTok's powerful content creation tools and the simple idea of creating and consuming short videos in a loop. On Instagram, things are about to get a lot noisier unless Reels decides to become a standalone app in the near future.
Speaking of standalone apps, Reels wasn't probably a TikTok clone in Facebook's dictionary. The company's real TikTok clone was a standalone app called Lasso, which is sadly shutting down later this month.
TikTok was immensely popular in rural parts of India, giving rise to a whole new generation of content creators. According to Sensor Tower, TikTok has been downloaded around 2 billion times around the globe, with India accounting for over 600 million of those installations.
But TikTok hasn't been entirely in the clear either. The wildly popular short-form video platform has been accused of removing content that didn't align with the Chinese government's agenda, moderating posts by people who were ugly or poor, and at times even shadow-banning some users without notification.
For Instagram Reels or a random Indian TikTok clone to replace TikTok in India, it's going to be an uphill task. But it's not entirely impossible either. The longer TikTok stays offline in India, the better it is for the clones. As for now, grab some popcorn and watch the TikTok clones woo new audiences in India.
Why do Indians love Xiaomi TVs so much? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.