Smule Strum image

Social video has proven a tough nut to crack. Over the last year, few platforms have achieved viral growth and attracted tens of millions of registrations, but none have maintained ongoing engagement levels that would suggest the winner has been identified – or that the space will have a near term winner. The services are generally well designed and deliver on their promise of making it quick and easy to create, share, and browse user-generated videos. So what’s the underlying problem?

After talking to dozens of well placed investors and entrepreneurs on the matter, I have concluded that we as a society are still fundamentally uncomfortable creating and appearing in videos. With photography having been ubiquitous for something like two thirds of of a century, we’ve grown comfortable with creating and being captured by photographs. With video, most of us just haven’t gotten there yet. And because of this, apps that have made it easy to create video, but have not addressed our inherent insecurity with the medium, have not found mass market adoption.

There’s a new app launching today in the category that goes further than any before it in solving the “awkward” problem. Strum, the first new offering from interactive music technology company Smule following its recent merger with competitor Khush, is a social video creation app with a musical heart and soul. The app, which lets users create and share 15 to 30 second music videos in a variety of themes, is making the bet that audio is better with video, and video is better with audio.

It would be easy for the resulting “Strums” to come off lame, or contrived. But quite the opposite is true. Smule and Khush have years of combined deep technological innovation in artificial intelligence around music, which the companies put to full use in designing the new platform. Strum asks the user only to choose a theme, then intelligently creates a one-of-a-kind sound track based on the existing video soundtrack and visual map. Options range from subtle background melodies to outrageous remixing of both the native audio and video. The results are compelling and could go a long way toward turning a significant percentage of smartphone wielding society into avid video creators. Roughly a dozen themes will be free at launch with others, such as a Christmas theme, available by paid download.

The other quality that makes Strum more interesting than just another “Instagram for video,” is that the app is lightening quick. Smule has designed a buffered video processing allows users to preview their filtered creation almost instantaneously, rather than waiting dozens of seconds only to decide that it’s not what they were hoping for. Trivial as it may sound, little things like this can be the difference between social video creation becoming a once-in-a-blue-moon novelty or an everyday part of people’s lives. One need only look as far as the impact of Facebook’s recent mobile redesign for an example of the power of speed and usability upgrades to transform user reaction to a product.

Smule launches today for iOS only, and is optimized for all devices on the platform, including iPhone 5, iPad, and iPad mini. Khush founders Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia tell us that an Android version will be coming shortly. Adding to Strum’s probability of success, the app also launches into Smule’s captive network of more than 78 million global downloads of its existing apps. The in-app cross promotion should effectively solve the cold-start problem, and will likely give Strum a more viral launch than any app before it in the category.

For all of the above reasons, I’m betting that Strum does extremely well, despite launching into a category that many observers have declared dead, as a mere fad whose time has already passed. Social video seems inevitable, as the next natural step in the evolution of always-on, always-connected mobile device usage. The barriers of hardware power and mobile broadband strength have been rapidly falling. Now, with Strum, Smule has launched the most compelling answer to the “awkward” problem that the market has seen to date.