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Vine hands-on: Twitter's game-changing take on social video

Vine hands-on: Twitter's game-changing take on social video


It's fast, it's noisy, and it's going to be everywhere

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This morning, we finally got our hands on Vine, Twitter’s video-sharing app. It’s a lot of fun to play with, and helps users avoid many of the pitfalls of shooting amateur video. Most importantly, it’s easy to use and well-designed. We’ve seen a lot of social video apps make a splash in the past year, but never this fast or with this much clout behind them.

Vine helps users avoid many of the pitfalls of shooting amateur video

Video is notoriously difficult to make work in this context: it’s hard to shoot, and with audio, difficult to skim through as a feed. Like many other apps before it, Vine solves the problem by paring H.264 videos down into GIF-size snippets. Vines max out at six seconds, and most will be even shorter. They also play automatically, which makes them much easy to scan and snack on from a mobile device. It’s like a mashup of the best ideas from the past year of instagram-for-video startups. (Also, maybe Justin Timberlake.)

While Vine is developed and owned by Twitter-the-company, you wouldn’t know it to look at the app. It feels like a platform of its own, more like Instagram than Twitpic. It has its own comments, likes, and hashtags. It also connects to Facebook — notable given the struggles Twitter's had with that company in the past. The integration is limited, of course. On your Facebook page, a Vine will just show up as a picture and a title; you’ll have to click through the link to see it play.

Shooting is remarkably simple. You start from a standard camera view, and hold down your finger to shoot. By tapping and releasing, you can easily shoot a quick montage without having to edit. A gradually filling bar above the viewfinder shows you how much time you have left. (There were rumors of a slow-motion mode for the iPhone 5, but we weren’t able to duplicate it. As far as we’re concerned, they’re still rumors.) One quirk: Vine doesn't auto-rotate, so you have to shoot videos with your phone in portrait rather than landscape, or they come out sideways.

There are limitations to the app. You can't import video from your onboard camera reel — everything has to be shot with the Vine app — and within the app, the tap-to-shoot functionality quickly becomes awkward for longer shots. You also can’t edit Vines after the fact, or set them to play unlooped or in reverse. Filling the full six seconds with a single shot is physically uncomfortable, because you have to keep your finger pressed on the screen, so you'll naturally gravitate towards quicker cuts and shorter videos. But much of this is intentional. Short, quick-cut videos work better on a feed, giving Vine its own silent-movie-style aesthetic.

In the end, a Vine looks best in a Twitter Card

You'll mostly be seeing Vines in friends' Facebook and Twitter feeds, but the Vine app also comes with its own feed, which looks a lot like Instagram. The big difference between Vine's app and an app like Cinemagram (or a Vine embedded in a Twitter card) is that all the videos autoplay with sound, jumping to life as soon as you scroll past. Not all of the sound is intelligible, but it does a lot to place you in the moment. It will probably also be the noisiest app on your phone, something to think about if you’re browsing in public. Thankfully, the sound defaults to "off" on the web, so you don’t have to hunt through different browser tabs.

There’s no Android or Windows Phone support yet, but it’s probably something they’ll be talking about in the months to come. There’s also very little social network support outside of Facebook and Twitter. If you want to share a Vine on your Tumblr or cache one in Evernote, you may have a hard time doing it. In the end, a Vine looks best in a Twitter Card, which is no coincidence.

If you want to try out Vine for yourself, it’s currently available for free in the iTunes store.

Sam Sheffer also contributed to this report.