At the end of last month, Twitter dropped a bombshell: it would be killing off Vine, the app for creating and posting six-second looping videos.
Vine was a big deal back in the days of 2012 and 2013 when short-form video on the internet wasn’t all that common. This was before Twitter introduced the ability to add 30-second video clips to your tweets, so Vine provided a way for people to share video content on Twitter for the first time. Snapchat and Instagram video also had yet to be introduced or catch on much by this point.
Vine came into its own mostly as a comedy platform and social media’s answer to ‘You’ve Been Framed’. But during its initial surge in popularity there was also – as there generally is with any new media fad – a raft of commentators waxing lyrical about its potential as a journalistic tool.
So what happened to that? Did Vine ever come close to living up to that potential?
Vine as a news tool
Journalists started talking about the potential for Vine to be used as a news tool in 2013, during its first year of life. Pando called Vine a “killer news tool“, citing its speed and ease of use and the ability to give audio and visual dimensions both to journalists and their stories. The short duration of Vine clips was also seen as an advantage in our world of short attention spans, as most believed that people would rather consume news in ‘bite-size chunks’ on the go rather than sit through a long video.
Francis Perraudin of the Guardian also pointed out that Vines could be uploaded using a relatively weak connection, which made it a huge advantage for journalists covering stories overseas in areas with poor internet. Some notable examples of this were the Vines shot by Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson whilst covering the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014.
Perraudin wrote that:
Thomson’s Vines from Sierra Leone caused a stir on Twitter. People weren’t used to seeing six-second snatches of video, usually reserved for comedy, being used to document such serious subject matter. But his use of Vines to record snapshots of the situation seemed to work – “Your coverage of the Ebola outbreak has been fantastic. I understand the situation much better because of it”, one Twitter user tweeted to Thomson.
Journalists saw Vines as the potential missing piece for text-based news online, contextualising and humanising the stories reported; or even as a new format for visual news coverage. And at a time when Twitter was developing its potential as a centre for breaking news, Vine took it the extra mile, giving consumers of news on Twitter a way to experience stories as they happened, with the sights and sounds of the event as it unfolded.
In October 2013, Twitter’s New York City office hosted the inaugural Vine Journalist Awards, honouring the best examples of six-second video journalism across four categories: Behind the Scenes, Sports, Breaking News and Inspirational. The categories encompassed the breadth of what journalists were using Vines to portray, and the winners included a breathtaking video of a paraglider taking off in Germany, an 18-year-old Polio survivor riding a bicycle in Moradabad, India after reconstructive surgery, and the moment that bombs exploded as runners crossed the line at the Boston marathon.
Yet the first year of the Awards was also its only year, as Twitter appears not to have hosted the Vine Journalist Awards in 2014 or any year afterwards.
So what changed?
I think it’s safe to say that few people have used Vine as a journalistic tool over the past couple of years. And while there are numerous reasons why Twitter is killing off (or possibly selling off) Vine as a service in general, here are the reasons why I believe its usage in journalism died out:
Twitter video. In 2015 Twitter introduced the ability to upload video clips of up to 30 seconds directly to Twitter, as well as to shoot and edit videos within its iOS and Android apps. While Vine’s punchy, short-form six second offerings were undeniably an advantage, 30 seconds is still short enough to hold the user’s attention with a good video, while leaving much more room to manoeuvre.
Journalists could still shoot videos of under 30 seconds if they wanted to, but they weren’t as restricted as they would have been with Vine, and there was no need to create and edit in a separate platfrom – giving all of the advantages of a Vine video with few of its disadvantages.
Instagram and Snapchat. In 2013 Instagram introduced its own video sharing feature which allowed users to upload videos of up to 15 seconds. In 2016 it then expanded that limit to 30 seconds. While Instagram is not a notorious platform for breaking news, news organisations such as NBC News and the Washington Post have still found it a strong platform for sharing short-form video and promoting brand awareness.
The size of Instagram’s userbase far outstripped that of Vine (with 500 million monthly active users in 2015 versus roughly 200 million on Vine), giving media organisations access to a much bigger potential audience on a platform where they could upload both photos and videos.
CBS News uses video thumbnails to great effect on Instagram ahead of the 2016 US Election
Or for truly ephemeral photo and video content, Snapchat’s rise to huge popularity since 2013 has offered an attractive alternative for journalists and media brands. Just like Vine, Snapchat promised an up-and-coming, trendy social platform for sharing news in real time, with a young and highly engaged userbase. Snapchat’s Stories make it easy for users to collect photos and videos about the same event in one place, and the Discover feature has given media brands a permanent home. (While they might not always know what to do with it, the same could arguably be said of Vine).
Periscope. Twitter’s own live video streaming service was launched in 2015 as a rival to the newly-popular Meerkat (which found itself out-competed and discontinued in 2016). Periscope also has the potential to immerse users in the sights and sounds of a breaking news story, but in complete real-time, interacting with and commenting on the live video stream. Periscope has so far been used to broadcast ongoing and behind-the-scenes coverage of events such as the UK General Election debates in 2015, a building collapse in New York’s East Side, and the Democrat House sit-in protest over gun control.
A building collapse is broadcast live on Periscope (via The Verge)
The future of Vine still isn’t certain, as Twitter is reportedly in talks to possibly sell the service, and is entertaining bids from five different companies (TechCrunch). But even if Vine survives as a comedy and entertainment platform, it’s pretty clear that the ‘journalism tool’ ship has sailed, with other video services – including those owned by Twitter itself – offering more flexibility and fewer constraints.
Vine was ahead of the pack in offering short-form video before most other platforms hopped on the bandwagon, and I think that it did live up to its potential as a tool for breaking news in its time. It would have been nice to see the Vine Journalist Awards recur for another year or two, but Twitter had obviously moved its focus onto other areas already by then. Maybe next year will see the debut of the Periscope Journalist Awards?