"Vine is the most exciting thing I've seen in a while," Dorsey, Twitter's co-founder (and also founder of Square), tweeted yesterday morning. "Not just because of the team, because it brings an entirely new art form to the world."
I have a huge amount of respect for Dorsey -- after all, this is a man who helped change the way the world communicates and then repeated that success by helping change the way the world pays for things. But I tend to tune out when an executive is so effusive in touting one of his or her company's own products. And that's what happened here: I automatically discounted Dorsey's praise and ignored the possibility that Vine could, in fact, offer the world a new art form.
It's also true that I didn't spend enough time with the app at first, and as a result I misunderstood what it was. I saw it as a simple six-second video that looped. Clearly, the digerati had anointed it the Thing of The Day, but I chalked that up to its being launched by Twitter. I thought it was derivative, and even a little annoying -- that looping thing could drive you crazy. I tweeted that if Vine had been entirely a stand-alone product, and not launched by Twitter, that few would care. Once the buzz died down, people would quickly tire of yet another video app, and within a week or two, Vine would fade away.
Fast forward a few hours, though, to an instant message conversation I had with my CNET colleague Jennifer Van Grove. She confided that she had been thinking more about Vine and that she'd come to "understand why this is interesting [and] why it could matter."
In a bit of stream of consciousness, Van Grove rattled off a few reasons why she thought Vine might actually have some value: It makes the mundane seem interesting without requiring much work by the user; With no play button, the app presented no barrier to entry; It felt like something Tumblr should have built; and it offered a lot of appeal to teens, along the lines of Snapchat. "As much as I wanted to stay this is stupid," Van Grove said, "when I used it, I had fun. I was surprised, and I will use it."
When I got home, I pulled out the app to show it to my wife, who hadn't seen it. As I did, I stumbled across some of the videos that had been selected as Editor's Picks. The first to catch my eye was one in which a banana at first appeared whole, and then frame by frame, disappeared a piece at a time, as if by magic. On a loop, it was particularly clever because as soon as the banana was gone, it would reappear, again and again.
Sadly, one current limitation of Vine is that there's no way to get an embeddable code for an individual post, unless you can find a tweet in which it was included. As a result, there's no easy way for me to show the banana video. Here, though is a Vine I shot myself, showcasing the ability to shoot several individual moments and splice them all together:
It's now clear to me that I radically misunderstood how Vine works. Sure, you can use it to shoot an uninterrupted video of up to six seconds, but how mundane is that? In fact, the tool's real value is that it lets you very easily craft a video comprising six seconds of individual moments cobbled together into a final product. That opens up a whole world of short story-telling possibilities. For example, a major book publisher posted a Vine today showcasing their upcoming releases. They could have just panned from one book to the next in an uninterrupted shot, but this was much more dramatic.
Sure enough, in the early going, almost all of the most interesting Vines make full use of the tool's stop-motion/extended GIF capability, including the very first one ever posted, by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, of someone cooking a special dish. A personal favorite of mine -- alas, another that I can't embed here, showed a line appearing on a piece of paper, and then morphing onto someone's hand, curving around, hitting their palm and turning into the word "fin," as in what you might see at the end of an art film.
By now, I was thinking again about Dorsey's tweet from the morning. Maybe he wasn't so far off. Vine has limitations, and it's too early to tell if it will have legs, but I'm coming to the conclusion that this is in fact an all-new art form. Put in the hands of clever, artistic types, there's very likely to be a never-ending supply of fun, interesting videos coming along -- accompanied, of course, by an infinite number of pointless ones.
It's not that Vine doesn't have some real problems. I'm still not convinced about the looping thing, and I wonder if over time, they'll provide a way to turn that off when viewing a Vine. At the same time, there doesn't appear to be a way to share others' videos -- you can't tweet someone else's Vine, in other words. And it's going to be hard for the service to grow all that fast without enabling that kind of sharing. But I imagine these are features that will emerge over time.
Either way, though, I expect a whole community of people to emerge who will coalesce around interesting, innovative Vines. Recall that that's exactly how Instagram took off -- by giving people attracted to artistic photography an easy to use tool and, even more importantly, an easy way to share their own and see others' creations. Boom! Ninety million active users.
Will Vine hit 90 million users? We're a long, long, long way from there. But with Twitter behind it and an enthusiastic community, I'm not willing to bet against it. At least not anymore.