What Happened To Vine?
Remember that cool app with short videos in the 2010s? You’ve probably seen compilations of the better videos on YouTube. People from all walks of life made Vines, including celebrities like Bo Burnham.
Most of the content was funny and creative, as well as very short in form. It was easy to pop on and off the app because of how compact and simple the content was. Mostly younger people made these short videos, but if you ask almost anyone about Vine today, they’ll probably tell you they’ve at least heard of it. So, what happened to Vine?
Fertile Soil: The Conditions That Made Vine a Hit
Thanks largely to the release of the iPhone in 2007, our attention spans have been shrinking. “Smartphones” before then were only really capable of very restrictive internet browsing and email. The iPhone changed that. The entire world was now in people’s pockets.
There was only one problem: websites didn’t work that well on a touch screen the size of your palm. About a year after the first iPhone was released, Apple launched the App Store. Arguably, this software add-on changed the world as much as the iPhone did.
88 Apps Per Hour
Let’s go back to 2010 for a moment. Facebook and Twitter were becoming media giants, and Instagram had just launched. People are always looking for new sites to access entertainment news, world events, and connect with their family and friends. However, YouTube was really the only place to watch videos.
A precursor to Vine did exist, and it was created in 2005. It was a website called 5secondfilms.com. It had fantastic content and still exists to this day, but it never got nearly as much traction as Vine or YouTube. Their videos heavily focused on scripted comedy and didn’t expand much from the core concept of five-second clips.
By 2011, the Apple and Android app stores were flooded with tens of thousands of apps. The public gobbled them up. Apps were like these little digital toys for people to download in a few seconds and play around with.
Remember the days when turning your phone into a beer or lighter was cool? These app marketplaces were money-making machines and ripe with experimentation and competition. Apps that were popular one day quickly became obsolete the next.
Dating apps also saw major proliferation during this time. It’s not like online dating wasn’t a thing in the early 2010s, though. Sites like Match.com and eHarmoney.com were very popular, but the mobile dating scene exploded in 2010. Later on, that swiping feature became all the rave.
As all kinds of apps continued to explode, the way we consumed social media started to change, too. Twitter became mainstream in 2009-2010 with a concept called “microblogging.” Rather than reading long, detailed blog posts, people latched onto the idea of sending out statuses and short thoughts that were easy and fast to consume. The idea was simple and very effective.
A Novel Idea
In 2012, three work colleagues, Collin Kroll, Dom Hofmann, and Rus Yusupov, came up with a brilliant idea: an app that hosted six-second clips that you could endlessly swipe through. They called it Vine.
The idea was so good that Twitter acquired the company before the app was even launched. Twitter paid a whopping $30 million to bet on one app. Twitter was banking on the increasingly fickle and short-sighted nature of younger generations.
Quite a lot of psychological science was incorporated into the design of Vine. There was specific attention to detail on the user interface and the feeling of swiping through it. Tinder exploited the same concept with being able to swipe through hundreds of people in minutes.
On YouTube, you have to actually make choices on what to watch. After you’re done with a video, you have to scroll through thumbnails and eventually find something you might like. There are little pockets of time where you are not consuming content, and the creators of Vine recognized this problem.
Apps want to hold your attention for as long as possible, so Vine more or less took away user choice by just feeding the content in a constant stream. When you swiped, the app automatically fed you a six-second clip that would loop.
The looping of the clip was particularly smart. On other video platforms, nothing happened when a clip was done playing. You had to manually choose another video. These Vines just kept playing if you didn’t go anywhere, and it was a great strategy to keep people watching.
Another key ingredient: small file sizes. Posting a video on other platforms like YouTube at the time was kind of arduous and took quite a bit of time. Because of how short the clips were on Vine, it was easy for just about anyone with a phone to make a video and upload it.
Viral Cambrian Explosion
With the advertising power of Twitter and the ease of use of Vine, it was an instant success. There were other video-sharing apps at the time of Vine’s launch, but none of them had a user interface like Vine’s.
It was simple, intuitive, and engaging. The fact that it had its own video recording software made it even easier for people to create and upload content. The app only allowed for up to six-second clips, and you would think that restriction would kill its popularity, but it didn’t.
That restriction was what forced people to become more creative. With only six seconds, people had to shove as much humor, action, and engagement as possible in their clips. This software cocktail was a recipe for hyper-focused, quality videos that filtered the best stuff to the top.
Vine was swiftly a worldwide phenomenon and became THE platform for memes, comedy, and even celebrities like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Some people were even able to make entire careers out of their success on the platform. Think of stars like King Bach and Lilly Singh, or the so-called MAGCON boys, including Shawn Mendes. The Paul brothers, Logan and Jake, also first made a name for themselves on Vine. Actor Jimmy Tatro was huge on Vine, as was Zach King, who was known for his sleight-of-hand tricks.
When Vine Was Cut at the Root
Vine was a unique idea with its content creation and delivery style, but in an app store full of competition and innovation, it couldn’t keep up. In October of 2016, Twitter effectively shut Vine down. But why? How could one of the most popular apps with millions of users suddenly get shut down?
A Competitive Ecosystem
After Vine’s success, other companies and developers quickly took note of their features and concepts. Apps like Instagram introduced video sharing and allowed for longer videos. This was one of the first signs of trouble, and Vine didn’t have any kind of effective response.
At the time, Facebook and Instagram were very popular, and if people could stick to one source for content like this, why download yet another app? And it’s not like a company can patent short videos, so the concept was ripe for copying.
Twitter even incorporated video on their platform, and this showed a very clear lack of confidence in their own subsidiary. Internal problems reportedly plagued the Vine team, and leadership was constantly changing.
According to some employees, there was a creative disconnect between the Vine team and Twitter. The two offices being completely separate probably didn’t help. Twitter’s offices were located in San Francisco, and Vine’s were in New York City.
Despite modern technology, the two companies never had clear communication, and Vine did not have a clear market strategy. Vine had a very difficult time monetizing the app, and there was no real marketing infrastructure for the content creators. While many top Viners are famous today, including top actors, directors, hosts, and musicians, it’s largely because they pivoted into other fields. Vine itself may have gotten their names out there, but it didn’t actively make them money.
Alas, popular creators struggled to grow on Vine beyond just getting a lot of views. It’s not like all Viners had clear ways of monetizing their success on the platform. With more and more well-established apps integrating short video support, more Viners were branching out to different platforms.
Refusing To Evolve and Branch Out
Vine’s novel six-second format was interesting, but the internet is fickle. This artificial limitation that was once a strength had started to become Vine’s weakness. And because the company refused to evolve, it began to seriously struggle.
It doesn’t matter how good of a product or service a company provides. If that company does not adhere to market demand, it will fail. Twitter saw the writing on the wall: No monetization plans and lack of innovation.
Leadership struggles definitely played a role, but it’s not entirely clear how much. Co-founder of Vine, Rus Yusupov, wrote in a tweet, “Don’t sell your company!” Rus was laid off previously from the Twitter team in 2015.
This one tweet could have been a sign of either sour relations or trouble with leadership for the company in general. Just a few months before Vine was shut down, the platform started letting users upload 140-second clips.
This was too little too late. The top content producers were already leaving in droves for more lucrative platforms that had built-in marketing infrastructure and established users.
Vine: Lessons Learned
Vine was a truly fun era for content creation. It wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but it utilized a few really good ideas to make a very influential product. It’s not like other platforms would never have eventually gotten to implementing video into their services, but Vine certainly pushed them in that direction. In fact, Vine might be the reason that TikTok is such a giant today. Users were already conditioned to love consuming content in the form of short videos that play on endless loops.
There are those that say “Twitter killed Vine,” but it was a bit more complicated than that. Vine refused to change in a changing world, and they were getting left behind very quickly. Twitter simply ripped the band-aid off and made room for video content from other sources, like TikTok.