MENLO PARK -- Plunging further into the world of online video, Facebook on Thursday unveiled a new video feature for its Instagram photo-sharing service.
The new feature lets users share 15-second video clips, according to Instagram chief Kevin Systrom, who called the app "everything we know and love about Instagram, but it moves."
Facebook and Instagram have reportedly been working on developing a new video service for months, and the pressure to enter that market has increased since rival Twitter acquired the video-sharing app Vine last fall. Vine has caught on with many teens as well as celebrities who like the idea of creating short, often jokey, video clips and sharing them with friends.
Online video is also seen as a powerful new way to deliver advertising. While the Vine app is not believed to be a big moneymaker for Twitter, Google (GOOG) has shown that it can reap significant revenue from ads on its YouTube site. The research firm eMarketer recently projected that U.S. advertisers will spend $4 billion on digital video ads this year, doubling to $8 billion by 2016.
Systrom, however, told reporters that there are no immediate plans to offer advertising with the new video-sharing feature.
"Over time, we'll figure out how advertising ends up being OK on Instagram in a useful way," he said, but added that the service for now will simply let commercial brands create their own video clips and share them "organically" with their followers.
The Instagram cofounder also pledged that the service won't take its users' videos and incorporate them into future advertising. "Your photos and videos, very clearly they're your own," he said. "We have no plans to use (your) photos and videos in any kind of advertisements."
Systrom acknowledged the recent explosion of video-sharing apps, but denied that was the reason for Instagram adding video now. He said Instagram had originally thought about sharing photos and video when the service was developed three years ago, but technology at that time didn't allow fast and simple video-sharing.
"It wasn't that we felt we'd better do it now," he said, as much as the fact that editing and networking technology has advanced since then.
Instagram is offering the new video service for both iPhones and Android smart phones. Users will be able to choose from 13 optional "filters" that alter the appearance of their videos, in a manner similar to the filters that Instagram offers for still photos.
Systrom also showed off a feature called "Cinema" that uses the motion-sensing gyroscope in smartphones to automatically adjust and smooth out the wobbly effect that often plagues handheld videos.
Facebook's social network is already a popular place for sharing videos. ComScore reported that Facebook was the second-ranked online video site in the United States in May, with 60.4 million viewers watching 727.4 million videos. Top-ranked YouTube, however, had 154.5 million viewers watching almost 14 billion videos in May.
Analysts say it's important for Facebook to introduce new products in the face of competitive pressure from rival Internet services and social-networking startups, since younger users are often drawn to the latest new thing. Facebook claims more than 1.1 billion active users around the globe, but its once-phenomenal growth rate has slowed in the United States.
The Menlo Park company held three earlier high-profile events this year to unveil new features that CEO Mark Zuckerberg described as major advances for the social network. Those announcements involved a sophisticated search function called Graph Search, an overhaul of Facebook's News Feed and a new smartphone interface for Android devices.
Facebook's new Android phone interface, however, proved unpopular with many who tried it — although some heavy users of the social network liked it. The interface, dubbed Home, was designed to showcase Facebook updates on the phone's home screen, but critics complained that it made other apps less conveniently accessible.
Zuckerberg has downplayed the early reaction to Home and said Facebook will keep adding features and improving its mobile service.
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.