Vine gets better with age: How screens, speed and networks are changing the future of online video

Earlier this morning when sitting in the San Diego Airport while waiting for my flight, I did what most people do these days in those situations — I peered into my phone and cycled through my various social media applications. One of them is Vine — a short-from video sharing service that is (now) owned by Twitter and recently passed the 40 million users mark. And what I found was a much more enjoyable and fun service than other social media media platforms, one that has become a lot more creative and has developed distinct network rhythms than my usual social feeds..
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After my vine watching binge (the flight was late), I started to think about what I had missed when writing about the Vine app and its possibilities earlier. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square and a champion of Vine tried to convince me right after the launch in early 2013  that I need to give Vine a chance. But I was being close minded and remained somewhat ambivalent about the service. (You can hear an extended conversation between me and Dorsey at our RoadMap conference in November).
Well, shame on me forgetting that golden rule of social and media networks — that each they have their own behavior dynamics that are defined by the medium (in this case, the network.) I should have known this! For someone who has made a living by writing on the web for past 17 years, I have learned that writing for the web is different from magazines. Writing for blogs has a different set of rules, urgency and cadence compared to old-fashioned web sites. As a result writing for the web and on the blogs is different.
Just as movies were different from Broadway and television shows were different from feature films, every form of online media is also different. The difference in the “media” is defined by three vectors:

  1. How we visually consume media defines the media.
  2. How much time we have to consume that media.
  3. Connectivity (which essentially means the speed and consistency with which are connected to the network) and Connectedness ( which is the impact of that constant connection)

Big Screen, Big Content. Tiny Screen, Tiny Content.

As the screens (movie theater, television, personal computers, iPads and iPhones) change, we as media consumers adapt to content befitting the screen on which we interact with the content. The screens also define how much time we accord to the media format. Movies can range from 60 minutes to as much as four hours, while television has become a 27-to-60 minute phenomenon. YouTube, on the other hand, is perfectly made for the PC world — helping us get through dreary work days, post lunch boredom and general emptiness that follows when sleep doesn’t show up.


Talking about YouTube, one can’t ignore the role that connectivity and connectedness plays in shaping the mediums.
Movies — well, watching movies in theaters — is a completely disconnected experience made enjoyable by complete immersion and no distractions. Television was and is a medium defined by interruptions — ads need to be injected every few minutes to make the whole economic exercise work. Of course, television was commercialized in the time of network scarcity. The rise of cable put an end to that scarcity and since then television had to adapt to a different kind of connectedness — one that allowed you to keep switching channels and snacking on other content, in between shows.
A whole generation of us — thanks to the remote control — became expert snackers. It was a behavior defined by the distractions available on the cable networks (connectivity). YouTube came along a perfect time — lots of people had a computer, lots of people had broadband and a whole lot of people were looking for “snacking” style videos.
I have often joked that more bandwidth we have, the more ways we find to distract ourselves and that certainly is the case when it comes to video. It made perfect sense for us to adapt to those videos — music videos, cat videos and all sorts of others. The internet was and is a weapon of mass distraction and YouTube was built to exploit that almost perfectly.
The screens define time scale, which also helps define the linearity and the methodology of story telling. Movies versus television sitcoms versus dramas (such as The Sopranos) — are all told on a different time scale and perhaps that is why I hate TV versions of movies and books. (The exception was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the book by John LeCarre that turned into a wonderful movie but was also an exceptional (BBC) television series.)
In comparison to movies and television sitcoms (and dramas), YouTube exists on a different time scale. The scale of the time was 3 minutes or so, mostly because that was long enough to hold our attention.
Chromecast Google Play
The screen size correlates to duration (the smaller the screen, the briefer the experience). And as YouTube and Netflix have started providing feature-length and television content, they are experimenting with ways to let you enjoy that content on bigger screens through newer devices such as Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV, which plug into traditional television sets. Watching a three hour movie on your iPhone — that isn’t easy.

Time Scale & Vine

Vine too works on a different time scale — six seconds — and as a result has a different story telling dynamic where the loop is as important as the actual video itself. The screen (mobile) and connectivity (the wireless bandwidth) are also defining this video format.
It is no surprise, then that we are starting seeing the emergence of a whole different kind of Vine video stars.
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“Vine is the ultimate “lean” tool for entertainers and marketers,” wrote Julie Anderson, who believes it is “crack for drama kids.” Others feel it is the off-the-cuff nature of Vine that is what is keeping the app growing, both in terms of downloads and usage. Mat Honan, a writer for Wired who is a lot more enamored with Vine, noted in a recent piece, “They have something that trumps quality, which is authenticity. That authenticity is driving a distinct emerging culture.”
So what about Instagram Video? Given its 15-second length, I would argue that it is a whole different beast and will find a different dynamic. I have started experimenting with it — reluctantly — and am finding a different form of story telling that augments how I like to think and create. But it is still a work in progress. At the very least, Instagram Video could actually become a tool for capturing short news events — but again, the possibilities are limitless.
However, when it comes to Vine, I am ready to admit defeat when it comes to creating Vines — the six second video doesn’t mesh with how I see the world — though it goes without saying that Vine is my new addiction. Did you see that vine about a cat pushing another cat down the staircase? Genius.
Here’s a compilation video of some of the greatest vines of 2013.