London - Six months is a long time in internet years. With the surname Vine, I was probably more pleased than most when #Vine started trending across social media platforms in January – and tried not to take it personally when #RIPVine appeared in June.
In short – and this is a world where brevity counts – Vine is a smartphone app for “sharing short, looping videos”. It’s an app that makes Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame seem positively luxurious: six seconds is now all you need.
As Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann said when it launched in January, the idea behind the app was a belief that “constraint inspires creativity, whether it’s through a 140-character tweet or a six-second video”. There’s no editing in Vine, just a start and stop button until you hit the six-second mark.
Like Twitter’s 140-character limit, that six-second loop is key to what makes Vine work. But also like Twitter, it’s one of those things that sound fun until you watch a clip of your friends panning a phone around their living rooms or pouring a cup of coffee – and you think, well what is this actually for?
Watch a video of a cat crashing into a mirror on YouTube once, and it’s funny. That same cat, looped over and over on Vine? It’s closer to America’s Artiest Home Videos, the looping adding a mesmerising layer to the general Jackassery on display.
Launched in June last year, Vine was snapped up by Twitter four months later and heralded as the next big thing: “the Instagram of video”, hitting that sweet spot between making something that looks good enough to share, but not creating a file that’s so unwieldy it kills your battery and data allowance.
This was fine until Instagram decided that, actually, it would quite like to be the Instagram of video itself.
Its Vine killer? An update in June bringing video capabilities to the 130 million-odd users of the photo-sharing app. Cue a string of articles getting ready to file Vine alongside all the other video-sharing apps cluttering up your iPhone’s back pages.
Instagram’s version gives you 15 seconds to play with, the ability to delete a take while you’re filming, and the chance to enhance your mini film with one of 13 new filters – adding that distinctive washed-out faux-Polaroid look.
But it’s Vine where people are really finding their inner Scorseses. Some of the best Vines are incredibly elaborate, using multiple locations, cats changing into dogs, kids “teleporting” through an endless string of iPhone screens, featuring casts of hundreds, perfectly timed stunts pulled off in one take – and others are super-simple. A sight gag, a one-two delivered with panache, like a three-panel comic strip or a homemade gif with sound. Most are so short that it almost takes longer to describe what happens than it does to watch them.
There’s a Magic Marker that’s really magic – or how about Morgan Freeman Narrates Himself: Breakfast (“and that’s when he realised he was out of milk for his cereal…” booms an uncanny Freeman impression as someone opens a fridge)?
Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams (the sword-wielding Arya Stark) got a lot of press for her succinct Vine reaction to the infamous Red Wedding episode, but she’s still only on the 131 800-follower mark.
Adam Goldberg (162 000) adds a surreal, arty touch with his videos, but rapper Tyler the Creator is one of the few “non-native” Vine stars to break the one million mark (he’s on about 1.6 million.)
Nicholas Megalis has racked up two million followers with daft but perfectly looped songs such as Gummy Money (“Yo my name is Nicholas and this is ridiculous, got mad gummy money and it is deliciousness”) and Pretentious Guy on a Roof (“Pretentious guy on a roof, playing guitar while the sun is going down”).
Josh Peck has pulled in 2.2 million with songs such as Snap Chat Fail (“You just took a screenshot of my Snapchat? Oh Jesus! Please God – delete that”).
A recent Vine from Brittany Furlan (1.8 million), My Dog Gives No Shits Pt 2, features a dog who sleeps through the ignominy of being covered in slices of white bread and a banana.
Her series exploring “How to hit on guys the way guys hit on girls” is a sharp, light and funny comment on sexism, as she cruises around hitting on men from behind her steering wheel.
Furlan says: “There is something about six seconds that is perfect for comedy. You are only seeing the best part of a joke, not the work-up.
“And the fact that it loops just amplifies the funny. I just goofed around and people seemed to like it.”
Megalis agrees. “The appeal is the time limit,” he says. “You sit there for an hour writing things down that rhyme and you realise that those two extra words aren’t going to fit the loop. So you cut them out. You make decisions fast. You shed off the extra fat of the joke or the rhyme and you get something beautifully simple.”
“If I come up with a Vine idea, I commit to it and make it work,” adds Furlan. “I suppose the strangest thing that’s happened to me because of Vine would be the people wanting to get autographs and pictures. It’s bizarre.”
For Megalis, it’s Vine’s “simplicity and the limitations” that drew him in. “I liked that it was all within the iPhone, all in the app,” he says. “You have your phone and your hands and that’s it. It forces you to think creatively and make decisions. It’s instant magic. It’s an addictive magic. I love seeing everyone’s different personalities coming together on this big insane social network. It’s ridiculously cool.” – The Independent