Before There Was Tiktok, There Was The Weird World of Vine
Oh Vine, what happened? You were on top of the world, reinventing the way we enjoyed social media. A veritable Gatling gun of content, shooting quotes into our brain at the rate of 10 videos per minute. It’s time we reexamined you, Vine. Were you even that good or were we naive? Will looking back at Vines feel like a warm nostalgic embrace, or will it feel like logging onto the depressing iFunny for the first time in a decade? Why were you so short-lived, Vine? Who took you from us and what was the motive for the crime? Is TikTok just Vine reincarnate? What is Vine energy? Are we remembering all the bad Vines like people who talk about their favorite season of SNL? Are you as exhausted as we are by all these questions?
So grab your “Welcome To Chili’s” commemorative T-Shirt and don’t drop your croissant as we remember the best app ever created for people with ADHD (myself included).
Was Vine as Good as We Remember?
Some of us remember the Vine era as a time when millennial humor thrived. So yes, it’s hard not to look back at Vine through rose-colored glasses. The kind of glasses that have people titling Vine compilations things like “Vines that keep me from ending it all” and “Vines that make me choke on air”. But let’s not forget that this is the platform that built Jake and Logan Paul. It brought you David Dobrik’s posse and Lele Pons. Were we all too young and naive to see what the future would hold for them?
On the other hand, Vine gave us great comedic names like Drew Gooden, Danny Gonzales, Jay Versace, Christine Sydelko, and Gabriel Gundacker. While these creators were able to establish massive followings with their content, I think a large part of the appeal of Vine was that anyone could go viral at any moment with a video that required very minimal effort to produce. You didn’t need to know how to edit or color correct or tell a story. All you had to do was know how to work your phone. Hurricane Tortilla Kid, Adrian Michael, Kid Who Had His Ears Sticking Out Of His Hoodie While Whipping -- these creators were the true lifeblood of Vine. It was like having America’s Funniest Home Videos on your phone available at any time, and you didn’t have to listen to Bob Saget while watching. (I wrote this joke before he died. RIP.)
So yeah, it was pretty good. And occasionally great.
Vine worked so well in my objective opinion for one reason: Quotability. Six seconds only allows people to say or do so much, perfect for creating a memorable catchphrase. No one (to my knowledge) ever quotes Vines saying “did you see the guy who did the thing while he was doing the thing?” No, people say “ My favorite is the one where the guy says “hongee nana hingi nana humina hana squash banana” and falls out of a tree. Or maybe, “You know the one where she says ‘ackagahgahk lipstick in my Valentino white bag?’”
Vine brings back vivid memories of exchanging references with friends that would sound insane if you didn’t have the context… and still sound lame if you did know the context. Vine created this sense of belonging to a secret club. If you understood the references and could quote the same Vines as someone else, you had an easy way of connecting to them. With the move from broadcast/cable to streaming, it was impossible to bond with people over last night’s episode of I Love Lucy or SNL anymore. The modern version of that was Vine. It reminds me of going to high school parties and meeting new people. Someone would pepper in an “It’s Wednesday, my dudes” and suddenly you would know who was cool, and who spent less time on their phone. Vine was like verbal trading cards for its incredible four-year reign. You would trade some with your friends, and if you had one they’d never heard before, you’d show it to them and if they liked it they’d add it to their repertoire.
Is TikTok the New Vine?
Now TikTok is the new Vine. Right? YouTube features videos titled “TikToks that radiate Vine energy”, but what does that even mean? Vine energy is just code for quotable and short. Something I deal with as a Tiktok creator is people swiping away too quickly – a problem you didn't have with Vine. Most videos would get watched all the way through because they only lasted six seconds. With a nation riddled with ADHD, what better way to consume entertainment than in six-second bursts?
I think, for the most part, TikTok is like a newer improved version of Vine, especially for creators. TikTok features a much more robust editing system to aid in content creation. Filters, music cues, sound effects, dueting, replying to comments with more content – all of these things were unavailable to Viners. If you tried to create content on Vine like me, you’ll remember that all the app really allowed you to do was post a six-second clip. It took two years before Vine allowed you to choose the clip from your camera roll – prior to that, you had to film it in the app! I’m a video editor, I like set design, I like effects. This was hell for me. I still have no idea how Zach King was making his content.
But the most restrictive part of the app – that six-second time limit – was actually what made it stand out and become so popular. It’s like being given a prompt to write about vs. being told to write about anything. The limitations actually inspire creativity and guarantee attention. TikTok can now allow certain creators up to three minutes of video per post, which is great for certain things. In reality, though, it’s incredibly difficult to keep an audience engaged for 3 minutes. This isn’t 2006 YouTube, baby, this is 2022! For example, my most popular TikTok – sitting at 4.2 million views – has an average watch time of only 40% of the full video length. Vine didn’t have this problem, but it is something TikTok creators notice. The shareability of a video is often directly correlated to its length and how quickly you can get that first joke out before people swipe away.
If Vine Was So Great, Then What the Hell Happened?
Vine was founded by three men in NYC – Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll. Originally, the app was designed to appeal to one's immediate social circle like Instagram or Facebook. Very quickly, however, it turned into an entertainment platform. Because of this feature, Twitter invested $30 million in the company before the app even launched. This was before Twitter had a video component – Vine would be Twitter's de facto video arm. The investment looked smart – by 2013, Vine was number one on the Apple App Store. By the end of that summer, VIne had 40 million users. By 2014, the number more than doubled to 100 million.
Unlike Instagram or Facebook, Vine allowed you to find new creators and content very quickly. That made some of Vine's creators into stars, which was great as long as those stars continued to make new Vines. But much like TikTok, Vine was great at allowing creators to quickly build a following without rewarding them for their success. That's why popular creators were asking audiences to leave Vine and follow them on platforms like YouTube, which offered a more reliable audience experience and paid creators for their efforts. Twitter had no plans to monetize videos, which meant people were building audiences on Vine just to take them elsewhere. Companies couldn't easily advertise on Vine, and as much as we hate ads, they’ve become customary for a reason. By 2016, major advertisers like Coca-Cola and Nike gave up on Vine and moved on to apps like Snapchat and Instagram, along with a lot of Vine’s biggest creators. Not surprisingly, Twitter’s stock was plummeting, resulting in a layoff of more than 300 employees, including Vine founders Rus Yusupov.
Vine simply wasn’t making money, resulting in its eventual shutdown in January 2017.
And maybe that's why we still love Vine: A simple idea, remembered fondly, sneaking out the back door before we had time to hate it. As my anger and resentment for Snapchat and Facebook slowly grows with each passing year, I can rest easy knowing that at one time I was a part of a true social media experience. Nothing but Vine could give you that feeling that you were in on the world’s best inside jokes. So take the night off, have a shower, grab your whiskey, Adderall, and Diesel jeans, and enjoy a Vine compilation that will “keep you from ending it all.”
Top image: Vine