Vine is the best we’ve seen in social video, but is it good enough?

If I’m being totally honest, I’d tell you I don’t like video. Sure, I’ll settle in to watch a movie at the theater, but when it comes to short clips posted on the web? I’ll pass. I’d much prefer to scan text than watch a video, and unless your clip is a few seconds long, I’m not going to wait for it to buffer. Got a transcript? Please post.
I probably have less tolerance for video than most people, but in looking through the number of social video products in just my first six months at GigaOM and watching companies struggle for traction, I was convinced video still has hurdles to overcome before it becomes a successful social product on mobile. Which is why Vine, Twitter’s new video-sharing service that debuted last week, has me somewhat intrigued. It’s not clear that Vine is the answer to the social video problem, but it does appear that the service has solved a number of obstacles inherent to video that have traditionally kept it from mainstream success. And despite myself, I had fun putting together my first Vine.
The benchmark for that success, of course, is Instagram. The company that became the poster child for social photo-sharing proved there’s money to be made in translating a new medium to the masses on mobile; at least for the entrepreneurs. Instagram’s success hinged on simple editing that made your photos look beautiful, a fast and reliable product experience, and a strong sense of user community. But when Om asked Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom last November at GigaOM’s Roadmap conference whether Instagram would ever tackle video, Systrom outlined his reservations about the medium:

“No one wants to sit outside at a ballpark waiting for a video to load while there are 100,000 people around you wandering and you’re trying to get network signal. It’s hard enough for us to push an image down to you, I can only imagine a moving image,” he said. “[Videos] are just innately harder to produce and consume.  In order to consume a video you don’t swing past it and then you’re done. You actually have to sit and engage with it and watch it the full length — I think that’s one of the harder parts of consuming. And producing, you’re sitting there trying to frame the shot and you’re trying to get the interesting part of the video in it, but it turns out that no one wants to sit there editing a video for four minutes on their small little device. So I think what we have to do is figure out the balance of production and consumption that makes it really interesting and fast to do.”

The genius with Vine is that you can upload only six seconds of footage. Six seconds is nothing — more like an animated GIF. And Vine’s editing process is stupidly simple. Our data networks might not be much faster than they were in November when Systrom expressed doubts, but uploading or downloading six seconds of video is going to be much easier than uploading or downloading a three minute video to YouTube. And the editing process is about as simple and intuitive as you could imagine — hold your finger down to capture video, lift it up to pause recording, and keep pausing and lifting until you hit six seconds of footage. Upload, share, and you’re done. I completely understood how it worked on my first try.
People are fascinated by Vine right now, as evidenced by VinePeek, the site that loops Vine videos as they’re uploaded. It’s mesmerizing in the way Chatroulette was — it gives you a peek into other people’s lives. The concern for Twitter is that Vine will go the way of Chatroulette, and people will quickly lose interest amid a sea of naked men. Some users already have their doubts — the footage is mundane, it’s completely new territory for Twitter to take on, and naked pics are already cropping up and causing issues.
But frankly, acquiring the three-man Vine team for a non-disclosed amount seems like a relatively small investment on Twitter’s part. Because there’s potential for a huge payoff for the company that finally gets social video right.