ine was an app founded by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll in June 2012. What made Vine different from other social medias was its comedic and creative culture. As a result, the app also became a home for black humor. The four feautres that led to Vine’s creative culture are the in-app filming, the six second video limit, loops, and the viral ability through likes and revines.
Users were able to record video up to six seconds long using the in-app camera. The camera would only record while the screen was being touched, enabling users to edit on the fly or create stop motion effects. The app began with the idea of cuts – the “atomic unit” of film, as Hofmann says – but grew into something bigger thanks to a single mantra: “Great apps are simple and complex.”1 Of course, creativity often happens when artists are given restraints. Haiku has only three lines, and it's been around for centuries.
The other main constraint was the fact that videos could only be up to six seconds long. On NPR's "All Things Considered" with Laura Sydell, creator Don Hofmann said "One day we did wake up and say, six seconds."2 Leading up to that decision, the team of creators tried various lengths ranging between five and ten seconds. Hofmann revealed that five seconds felt too short, but six seconds allowed for the aesthetic feel the creators wanted and preserved the quickness they wanted to promise users. On the other hand, Instagram allows users to film video for up to fifteen seconds, but the social media has not seen the same creative content that Vine fostered.
The Vine creators decided that something about the videos didn’t feel right after they ended, and solved that by adding Vine’s other key feature: the loop.
"The next thing that we noticed was that the videos start quickly but they also end very quickly and that felt anti-climactic." -Dom Hofmann.
This feature was inspired by Vine’s predecessor, the GIF. The article Never Gonna GIF You Up: Analyzing the Cultural Significance of the Animated GIF says “repetition as a rhetorical or communicative feature influences meaning and interpretation” (p. 4).3 Watching a GIF or Vine multiple times can increase the understanding, make the content funnier, or otherwise change the content in some way for the viewer. Repetition is an important part of comedy, and unsurprisingly plays a large role in a video's humor. As the article states in reference to GIFs, "repetition can make a joke go from being funny to worn-out to (with sufficient repetition) funny again. Repetition in the GIF allows a joke to sink in and for the viewer to realize the full details of the situation: set-up, punch line, and reaction" (p. 6). The difference between a GIF and Vine is that a GIF can be applied to multiple scenarios, while Vines are individual, specific videos funny within themselves. In this way, each Vine becomes a work of art, which is why creativity plays such a crucial role in the app. Speaking on the subject of Vine’s community of creativity, Dom Hofmann said, “It was surprising. Our original beta had something like 10 or 15 people on it, and even with that small group we started to see experimentation pretty early on."4
Likes & Revines
The creative culture of Vine and GIFs are similar in that they produce their own community of cultural knowledge references. This was fostered by the ability to like and revine videos, similar to Twitter’s likes and retweets. However, unlike viral Tweets which are typically popular for a few days and then get lost, viral Vines were still easily found, referenced, and likely to re-appear. Vines would frequently reference other vines. Even with the death of Vine, references are still made on Twitter and the only way to understand them are to have prior knowledge of the specific Vine.
black youth did more with six seconds than hollywood has done with six decades— sophia’s future ex-husband (@KasaiREX) October 28, 2016
s Andray Domise wrote in his article, Vine’s Fatal Lesson for the Tech World,
“Millennials of color are the ones who create and sustain culture on the Internet.”5
He attribute’s Vine’s success to its simplicity and cultural in-jokes. Because the videos did not require professional production, the Black household adage “do more with less” became a business plan. Domise’s article references Jay Versace and Greg Davis Jr. as examples of black youth who became popular without much more than creative ideas. Jay Versace is known for putting items like a cereal box or shirt on his head to differentiate between characters, and films mostly from his bedroom. Jazmine Hughes wrote in her article Vine Dries Up. Black Humor Loses a Home, “Versace’s Vines are a particular product of black culture — on the surface, they’re funny to anyone lucky enough to bear witness, but there’s a secondary layer that’s meant for black people, predicated on our shared culture, experiences and understandings.”6
Viners like Jay Versace who create videos about commonalities in black life have more of an effortlessly funny feel and are more casual. Vine provided a safe space for ‘regular’ people to share observations about black life. Some examples include mocking the format of BET movie introductions, excuses black people give for hanging up the phone, and parodying African parents.
It is no secret that racial stereotypes take up a large portion of Vine content. Some Vine users depend on it. There are two different forms: black people who play on black stereotypes and non- people of color who depend on black stereotypes. The latter is form of blackface. Below are a couple of examples of Viners who interrogate traditional black stereotypes, like rap music, black people as thugs, and the commodification of black bodies.
In The New Yorker article Hollywood and Vine, viner Jason Nash was quoted saying, “Most of what’s popular is how dumb girls are, or throwing fried chicken into a pool and the black guys want to dive in after it but they can’t, because black guys can’t swim.”7 Black Viner KingBach (Bach, née Andrew Bachelor) thought about this observation and decided to make this Vine as a way to take that stereotype to another level, playing on that stereotype that black people are obsessed with keeping their shoes safe and clean.
In the same article, Bach said “that Asians play the smart people, white people play the rich ones, blacks are the thugs—those Vines got the most likes. So it’s not Hollywood being racist—it’s Hollywood understanding what people want to see." The problem with this mentality is that it perpetuates racist ideology rather than changing culural and societal norms.
Albert Sergio Laguna, an Assistant Professor of Ethnicity, Race & Migration and American Studies at Yale University, wrote in his article The Comedy of Race on Vine:
A part of me wants to believe that these kinds of videos are examples of young people of color repackaging harmful stereotypes through the transformative power of comedy. But after watching hundreds of videos by the most popular Vine users, I am pessimistic. There is often little in the way of satire or at the very least, thoughtful representations of race in the most circulated videos.8
The vine Sergio Laguna was referencing specifically was Landon Moss’s video, “When black people smell chicken…” which Sergio Laguna said could have come straight out of a script for a blackface minstrel show. Two years after that Vine, Moss put up the Vine below which manages to include even more black stereotypes.
Many Vine artists relied on black stereotypes such as being loud or 'ghetto', aggressive, absent father, and food preferences, and often it was unclear whether Viners were challenging those commonly accepted stereotypes or using them because that was the type of content that gained likes. Even more problematic was non-black Viners who either collaborated with other black Viners and used stereotypes or non-black Viners who blatantly appropriated those stereotypes (see Brittany Furlan, Curtis Lepore, Dem White Boyz, and Zane & Heath). During a time where it is difficult for African Americans to be successful in Hollywood, it is disappointing to see black youth playing to these stereotypes when Vine provides the ability to create and say almost anything. By perpetuating these stereotypes, it changes the culture of Vine to make non-black people feel that it is acceptable to mock the stereotypes themselves.
Vine took the looping aspect of GIFs – and GIF’s precursors of phenakistoscopes (1832), zoetropes (1834), and praxinoscopes (1877)3 – but upped the game by also providing sound. While GIFs display a maximum of 256 colors, Vine’s video capability set no limit to the quality. In the article A Brief History of the GIF (so Far), Jason Eppink writes, “The [GIF] format’s lack of audio and playback control, frequently cited as shortcomings, enforce a silent and non-interactive form that doesn’t demand as much attention as a full-featured video player.”9 Vine maintains an interactive form, but also does not demand too much attention because of the six second limit. Historically, the purpose of a GIF was to be embedded directly in a webpage, but then evolved into a form of entertainment (i.e. reaction GIFs). But even from the beginning, Vine took a favored creativity.
As stated earlier, it was developed by Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll in June 2012. While the app was incredibly popular, there was a split between Vine’s popularity and its profits. The app’s downfall began when the creators sold it to Twitter in October 2012 for $30 million.
Don’t sell your company!— Rus (@rus) October 27, 2016
Twitter became involved when the creators decided to give users a social component, and decided to learn how to embed Vine clips inside Twitter’s Cards platform.1 They met with Twitter to learn the ropes, but the conversation turned towards acquisition. Twitter hoped Vine would be the video equavalent to their 140 character tweets. But instead of the Vine culture being an everyday video sharing tool like tweets, the app shifted toward a culture of creativity and experimentation.
Vine’s small, New York-based team struggled on the other side of the United States from Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. They were surprised by the turn Vine took, and struggled to grow its user base or make profits. The app was popular among youth, but did not catch on with an older user base, as the statistics below from December 2015 show.10
The Betamax of Internet Video
Vine never implemented an advertising model and could not keep up with Snapchat’s stories or Instagram’s 15 second videos. In 2016, Twitter was also struggling to be profitable and even had to let go 9% of its employees.11 This Vine calls the app “the Betamax of internet video."
The 1979 Betamax video cassette recorder by Sony was another example of a revolutionary piece of technology that failed, despite popularity. Bill Hammack, a professor of Chemical Engineering at University of Illinois at UC, gave the history of the Betamax for Illinois Public Media in his series, “Stories of Technological Failure.” The machine lost to The Japan Victor Company’s (JVC) VHS. The Betamax had better image quality and was mechanically built better, but the VHS was lighter than the Betamax and the earliest Betamax tapes played for one hour while VHS played for two hours.12 But the ultimate killer of the Betamax, similar to Vine, was its marketing strategy. The Betamax “focused its ads and energies on time shifting – their ads featured headlines like “Watch whatever, whenever."13 Meanwhile, JVC built relationships with developing video rental industry.
“Technical excellence in one area isn’t enough… all technical aspects matter.” –Bill Hammack
On December 6, 2017, Dom Hofmann announced that he was creating a Vine revival called “V2.”
After Twitter shut down Vine, the original creators made it clear that they regretted selling the app to a company that had no vision for it. V2’s twitter account, @Vine2Beta, tweeted out that they would not be connected to Twitter and would remain a separate company. If Vine 2’s team has learned anything about the app, it should be that in order to remain successful, they need an advertising plan this time. It will be interesting to see if the creative community will persist in this version, and if a marketing plan will affect the community’s content. Unlike Betamax, nothing has replaced Vine’s unique technological capabilities or the creative community it provided.
5. Domise, Andray. "Vine’s Fatal Lesson for the Tech World." Maclean's, vol. 129, no. 45, 14 Nov. 2016, p. 12.↩