When Twitter botched its attempted acquisition of photo-sharing app Instagram, it learned a valuable lesson: when you see an app that works perfectly with tweets (short bursts of text), you better snatch it up fast. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was a huge fan of the service, and quickly curbed his Instagram photo tweets when Facebook acquired the company. Some time later, Twitter added filters to the photos section of its app, and nobody cared. Everyone knew video would be next, and there was no way Twitter was going to miss out.
Is Vine the perfect video application for tweets, and thus for Twitter? Yes
Twitter acquired video-sharing app Vine just weeks before it launched, spent a few months tweaking it, and finally debuted it to the world yesterday as a standalone app with Twitter integration. Vine produces six seconds of short-form video, looped endlessly like a GIF — one of the most popular ways to share short moving images online today. With Vine, Twitter is making a big bet on moving images as a new way to show others what you’re doing. So is Vine going to emerge as the Instagram for video? Maybe. Is it the perfect video application for tweets, and thus for Twitter? Yes.
Instagram’s success was never about filters. It was about making photo-sharing to your favorite social networks dead simple. The ability to add filters in Instagram or construct a quick story using Vine's simple editing feature is gravy on top. On mobile apps, one-tap simplicity is key, and Vine might be the first app to make sharing videos inherently as easy as sharing a photo. It’s worth recalling that part of the reason for Instagram’s success is that it enabled normal people to quickly tweet live photos of events. Vine offers a similar capacity, but with video. Six seconds might not be for everyone, but neither is 140 characters. The limitation gives the service the metabolism it needs to succeed.
For the past year dozens of apps argued over the holy grail of video sharing, and none of them won. Viddy and Socialcam took an early lead, but stopped growing — perhaps because winning the battle isn’t about "video," per se. It ends up that the recipe for addictive mobile video is not a simple one to concoct, since videos are inherently more complicated, have larger file sizes than photos, and generally longer. Let’s face it, a 35-second video of your mediocre skateboarding looks a lot less cool than an Instagram snapshot of riding with a rad filter.
Most of the apps that appeared over the last year dropped audio and compromised video quality with gimmicky “features” like low-res "photo bursts" in timeline form (Lightt), or options to loop video in reverse or slow motion (Cinemagram). One even used a thumbnail of a video inside a video to strange effect (GLMPS). None of these apps could agree on a medium, or even a way to distribute content, and none of them aside from Cinemagram mastered virality — the key to which seems in part depend on brevity and ease of consumption.
Vine’s only modification to the video medium is its constraints
Vine’s only modification to the video medium is its constraints. The clips are addictive, and are easy to flip through quickly. "Like Tweets, the brevity of videos on Vine (6 seconds or less) inspires creativity," the company said in a statement, and audio — the weakest and most obviously amateurish element of your recording — is optional. Vine’s medium is also consistent with the video you already shoot on your phone, in many cases: H.264 MP4 video, which any smartphone can play and save to its camera roll.
It also helps that Twitter shows you Vine clips embedded in tweets instead of bouncing you to a web page — one of the qualities that make GIFs so tweetable. Yes, most smartphones can play GIFs, but results are inconsistent and video quality is generally low. The quality of Vine clips is surprisingly high, having found a sweet spot between video resolution and bandwidth usage. So is six seconds the correct length of time to communicate a moving image moment, anyway? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that with Vine there’s nothing to learn — you just point, hold down your finger for six seconds, and share.
So why didn’t Twitter assimilate Vine’s technology and launch it as “Videos” inside the Twitter app? It’s because Vine invented a new medium, or “art form,” as Dorsey calls it. Twitter will likely keep its apps focused on posting text and photos, the staples of the service. Adding and removing features every time a new “medium” goes in or out of style would be a mess. Clearly video wasn’t a sure enough bet that the company committed to it until now, and neither are self-destructing messages like those found in Snapchat or Facebook Poke. Vine is an opportunity for Twitter to own the Instagram it never had — an isolated side project at the height of a trend.
Vine is an opportunity for Twitter to own the Instagram it never had — an isolated side project at the height of a trend
In that vein, I would expect Facebook to update its Facebook Camera app soon to include some form of video capture and sharing. Google in fact already made its play with YouTube Capture, which launched just two weeks ago, and was the first genuinely simple video sharing / hosting app I’ve ever used. What’s interesting is that Google “gets it” too — YouTube Mobile boss Andrey Doronichev once pointed out that Capture includes a ticking timer as you shoot to remind you how long it’s been and encourage shorter videos. If the surge of GIF popularity these past couple years has proven anything, it’s that short videos are incredibly viral and fun to watch. Cinemagram came closest to making short videos simple to produce for normal people, but it wasn’t as dead simple to use as Instagram and didn’t have audio. Making it possible to share real, smooth, video as simply as sharing a photo is the miracle of Vine. With Twitter behind it, as well as some bug fixes and the addition of a front-facing camera option, Vine's odds of success are high — or at least much higher than its competitors from the get-go.
The biggest challenge for Vine? Convincing users it's not just for shooting videos of coffee.