Vine was always supposed to be a Big Deal. Purchased by Twitter for a reported $30 million before it even launched, the short-form video-sharing platform was going to revolutionize social media. Its primary novel feature was a six-second limit on video uploads, which promised to utterly transform the rhythms of communication for young people. There was also a clean interface that made it easy to pause and resume recording, hashtag functionality for browsing by theme or popularity, and the ability to share content on other social media platforms. Vine was the next big thing—until, just shy of its fourth birthday, the service abruptly went belly up.
So what went wrong? Well, mostly the same old boring things: insufficient marketing efforts by Twitter, the failure to drum up a broad base of users, no way to effectively monetize it. But in its short life, Vine did many things right. The dynamics of its brilliant rise and fall can help point the way to the future of short-form video. Just because its corporate masters at Twitter weren’t able to capitalize on its brilliance doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t either.
In the nearly two years since Vine went away—or more accurately, was quietly folded into the Twitter ecosystem—the tone of the inevitable “Where are they now?” articles about Vine stars has shifted from alarmist to complacent. Sure, a lot of talented performers with moderate followings fell through the cracks, but the Vine superstars generally emerged unscathed. To overgeneralize a bit, the pretty ones migrated to Instagram and the beginnings of modeling careers, while the funny ones ended up on YouTube and getting into acting.
What does that tell us? A plausible takeaway is that short-form video isn’t the most stable storytelling format; it exists in a weird limbo between photography and long-form video and has a hard time establishing its own identity. But more to the point, Vine’s biggest beneficiaries didn’t actually need it in order to attract followers and make money. We don’t know whether they would have broken out without the novel platform, but once they were out, Vine no longer held the unique key to their success.
There is no shortage of takes on why Vine didn’t live up to expectations, and no shortage of speculations on what will rise to take its place. But it’s possible to examine all of these issues through the lens of an imbalance between content creators and consumers. Vine co-founder Rus Yusupov has identified “creating within constraints” as the key ingredient to the service’s temporary success, and something that he has carried over to other projects, such as HQ Trivia. It’s hard to disagree with that from a creative standpoint. Much as Twitter itself did, Vine inspired a cadre of comedians and artists who responded to the challenges of its limited space and pushed themselves to deliver messages with maximum efficiency.
But where was the audience? Ordinary people weren’t all that interested in the artistic challenges presented by Vine’s six-second limit; they wanted fun, bite-size content regardless of which platform offered it. Twitter offered the opportunity to follow breaking news up to the minute, to discuss esoteric topics with fellow devotees, and of course to yell at celebrities. All Vine really had to distinguish itself in the end was having really short videos. It didn’t matter whether Twitter was being smart or stupid about monetizing the platform, because the broad consumer base that could have sustained it never materialized.
The fact that Vine failed so dramatically should inspire soul searching in would-be social media stars and app developers, but for brands it’s possible to put aside its business model and look at what it taught us about delivering short-form video content. Vine’s approach has limitations for storytelling, and as a vehicle for talent it is simply one option among many. Yet it demonstrated to advertisers how quickly you can make one great joke or convey one indelible image. While as a culture we have moved away from the frenetic, fast-cut editing of the MTV era, Vine showed that it was possible to pack a compelling message into one controlled burst without alienating viewers.
It is hard to imagine the appearance of genuinely funny and effective micro ads on platforms like YouTube—think Geico’s brilliant “Unskippable” campaign—without Vine paving the way. Advertisers have tried fooling you into clicking on their ads. They’ve tried offering news and entertainment so good that you won’t mind that it’s branded. But what they’ve learned from Vine is how effective it can be to respect your time, to hit you with one bite-sized message and move on without overstaying their welcome. Brands should look at Vine less as a cautionary tale and more as a content laboratory. Vine’s loss isn’t our gain, but its existence, however brief, certainly is. And if advertising creatives are smart, they’ll keep combing like archaeologists through the crumbling ruins of the Vine archive, looking for blueprints for the future.