Micro-blogging, meet micro-video sharing. Just as Twitter reduces anything of substance that you'd like to say down to a headline requiring a link to a blog or other web page for any kind of depth, the free Vine app, recently acquired by Twitter, curtails your videos to a mere 6 seconds. That's not necessarily bad: Who wants to watch minute after minute of boring video? In a world where most people still think of Twitter as just short text snippets, can micro-videos make an impact?
Let's be clear: This isn't a case of "video finally comes to Twitter." You've already been able to embed a YouTube or Vimeo video in a Twitter post forever, so this isn't the first time anyone's been able to add video to tweets. Vine is more of an attempt to co-opt the craze for animated GIFs, most prominently evidenced on image-heavy mini-blogging site Tumblr. You could also think of it as the latest entry in the "Instagram for video" app genre.
Vine caters for today's brief attentions spans, which cause people at a play or a concert to reach for their smartphones the moment the curtain falls at intermission, rather than trying to digest the performance. Vine movies may be limited in length, but like animated GIFs, they loop infinitely, which actually does the opposite of increasing their impact. Let's see how it stacks up against other "Instagram but for video" apps, such as Lightt and Cinemagram.
Signup and setup
As with so many new mobile apps, Apple's iPhone gets first dibs when it comes to Vine. I've contacted the company to ask when we might see apps for Android and Windows Phone, and will update this article if and when I hear back.
As with so many hot new apps these days, Vine wants to interrupt you with notifications and wants access to your location, both requiring message box OKs at installation. I didn't need another source of notifications, but I thought the location element might help for video posts.
As you'd expect with an app just acquired by Twitter, you can sign in with your Twitter account, or create a new Vine account using an email address. The typical social app would also let you sign up via Facebook, but that's not an option for obvious reasons. Conveniently, you don't need to actually provide your Twitter credentials, the app can take them from your iPhone's Settings. Despite Vine now being a part of Twitter, you're still prompted to agree to create a new Vine account, even if you sign up with your Twitter account.
After setup, my first impression was of an Instagram-like newsfeed of GIF-like videos from contacts I didn't know I had. Apparently, these were preselected Twitter employees. The well-designed and simple interface had but two buttons in the top corners above the feed – on the left Home, and on the right a movie camera. Pressing the home button offered three more options in addition to the home view I was already viewing: Explore, Activity, and Profile. These first two were encouraging, reminding me of the addictive similar pages of Flickr. More on these in a bit.
A banner ad across the top of the home screen encouraged me to get my own new Vine users to follow. I could find these by scanning my phone's local address book, Twitter (of course), or Facebook (surprise!). Though some reports claim that Facebook has blocked Vine from accessing it, and though I got to the Facebook permission button, an error appeared when I returned to the Vine app. Tit-for-tat for when Twitter blocked the Facebook-owned Instagram…
I could also simply search for Vine user names, or invite friends to the service using email or SMS. Each user, as with every self-respecting social network, has a profile page, and Vine's resembles Twitter’s, except it offers separate tabs for Posts and Likes. At the top is the user's photo, a text area for inspirational self-description, and a big Follow button.
The Explore page was a treat. Here I could view Editor's Picks, Popular Now, and All Posts (presumably ordered by how recent they are). Colourful Windows 8-like tiles in the bottom half of this page let me browse hashtags, such as #magic, #travel, and #sports. The first of these hints at the prominence of stop motion, and also features a lot of disappearing toddlers. Even the Popular Now videos weren't especially compelling, but it's early days, and no doubt there'll be plenty of awesome mini-vids in the offing.
There's no website where you can view all of your own and your contacts' Vine video clips, so you'll only be able to see them in the app or in your Twitter feed. The videos play on the Twitter website and in the Twitter iOS apps, and in each of those places you get a link to a barebones Vine-hosted web page for the video at hand.
Shooting with Vine
When you hit that movie camera icon atop your home screen, you don't get the standard iPhone camera app in movie mode. Instead, you get a completely plain square image of what's in front of your iPhone's lens – that's right, there's no way to switch to the backward-facing camera to shoot your mug. Nor is there even a shutter button: You shoot video by holding your finger on the screen.
Once you're done shooting, the Next button takes you to a page where you can add a caption for your tiny video compilation, choose a hashtag, and decide where to share it. Sharing target options are Vine, Twitter, and Facebook, and in this case, my test video did appear on my Facebook timeline, so there's no blocking in this direction.
You can also add a location at this point; the tool for this says "Powered by FourSquare" (of which I'm not a user), but it never worked for me in my testing. I'd think you'd be able to attach a location without having to be a member of yet another minor social network. And indeed a colleague was able to get location suggestions on her iPhone, even though she wasn't a FourSquare member either.
The final product
My gut tells me that Vine is not going to unseat YouTube or Vimeo anytime soon, or even Facebook video sharing. The videos it produces are usually jerky and somewhat unpleasant to view, and that effect is multiplied by their ceaseless repetition. Luckily, on Twitter the videos don't auto-repeat. The six second limit doesn't really give them a chance to have anything but a superficial impact. A lot of times, the best viral YouTube videos carry a visual punch line after a period of suspense. This isn’t possible with Vine.
I actually found Vine less interesting than the innovative Lightt app, which also limits shooting time, albeit with slightly more leeway at 10 seconds. Lightt also combines all your short videos into an endless timeline that you can fast forward or reverse through. Also, Vine fails to offer the clever effects which can be found in apps like Cinemagram or SocialCam. And unlike their verbal equivalent, the tweet, there's no link to the full version.
I'm all for innovative new ways to create and present video, and Twitter certainly needs to grow beyond being a place where you can receive the occasional 140 characters from the oracle known as Justin Bieber. I'm just not convinced that Twitter's enforced verbal pithiness translates well to a video equivalent. Should you download the app and give it a shot? By all means, go for it! It’s free, after all. But to paraphrase another tech writer, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a Vine video somehow manages to fall short of that word count.