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Vine: Stupid, Simple, and Brilliant

by Ann Handley  |  
January 29, 2013

Last week, Twitter unveiled Vine, an app for iPhone and iPod Touch that lets anyone create and share 6-second looping videos. I checked it out. I made a few really bad 6-second videos. I watched a few other really bad videos—and a couple of really good videos.

Then I thought, "Wow." (Which is saying a lot. I’m not easily impressed.) Here’s the truth: I haven’t been this excited about a new social platform since I joined Instagram two years ago (and by “joined” I mean “became obsessed with.”)

First, a disclaimer: I am a sucker for content creation tools that are both intuitive and flexible. I especially love tools that are...

1. Stupid-simple in design.
2. Dumb-brilliant in their constraints.
3. Foolproof-flexible enough to have broad application.

More on that in a minute.

See Content Moments Everywhere

I try out a lot of new content creation tools. It’s my job, in part. But, more than that, it’s also part of my DNA.

I’m always looking for the tools that will delight me (as well as brands)—tools that will support and encourage the creation of really awesome stuff. The kind of tools that make us better at what we might do—to help hacks become craftsmen and craftsmen become artisans and artisans become masters.

Really good tools should help us see the elegance in the ordinary, to see potential where we used to see only the pedestrian.

The best tools allow us a kind of superpower to see content moments everywhere.

Of course, most tools don’t come close to doing that, and I shed them as predictably as a golden retriever sheds his winter coat.

Why? Because most content creation tools are invariably too difficult to use well. They require a geek gene (which I lack) or specialized knowledge (which I usually also lack).

Also, most tools don’t solve a real problem. They don’t provide utility. In other words, I’m not clear on what value they offer aside from a sometimes moment or two of fun. Most tools are inherently too constrained to use beyond a few one-off pieces of content.

It should be simple enough to devise a content creation platform or app that elegantly provides a canvas and a few well-chosen tools with an intuitive user interface, shouldn't it? Apparently not.

Instagram is a great example of a content creation app that meets all of my three-pronged sweet spots. (Wait—can a spot be pronged? Did I just horribly mangle a metaphor? Sorry.) And now, Vine does, too.

To whit...

Vine is stupid-simple in design.

Creating good video is hard. Editing good video is even harder. Just as Instagram put wizard wands into the hands of us Muggles, allowing us to create and share photos that were beautiful and expressive, so Vine allows us to elegantly create short, 6-second videos through an intuitive interface. Watch a 30-second tutorial that plays the first time you sign in and you’ve pretty much got all the information you need to hit the ground running.

Vine is dumb-brilliant in its constraints.

No, you can’t make more than a 6-second video on Vine. And you can’t edit in any kind of post-production. In fact, you can’t make these short videos in anything other than real-time chronology.

All those are clearly constraining challenges. Or are they really clear opportunities? Just like Instagram, which gave everyone the same interface and basic toolkit for photographs, Vine democratically gives me the same gear on Vine that JJ Abrams has.

(If JJ Abrams were on Vine.)

(Which he’s not.)

That 6-second thing also does two more things.

  1. It forces content creators to "Keep It Tight," as my friend Tim Washer and I espouse. Vine bans video bloat by not allowing longer videos a single gasp of oxygen beyond that 6-second clock.

  2. It trains you to distill the essence of your story into something that respects your audience’s time. How many videos have you watched and abandoned because the producer seemed to have been paid by the second? Most digital videos beg to be shorter, punchier, tighter. A key to all good content is this, people: Edit, edit, edit! (Then, once more, EDIT.) As Faulkner said (paraphrasing someone else): “Kill your darlings.

Vine is foolproof-flexible enough to have broad application. I think the best content creation platforms and tools are like Montessori schools: The truly talented content creators can leapfrog to the head of the class and wow us. All the while, the slow-blinking among us never feel too embarrassed.

In other words, it’s all creating content to tell a story.

Sharing history, in six seconds:

Showcasing hot new stock:

Telling your back story:

Delighting your fans:

Like giving a sneak peak:

People (and brands) who readily adapt to Vine will delight us with their fun and interesting and potentially beautiful uses of it. But the platform’s inherent flexibility means that people like you and me and anyone else with an iPhone can still go along for what promises to be a fun, fun ride.

* * *


Check out the keynote presentation at Digital Marketing World: Content Marketing with me, Nick Westergaard of Brand Driven Digital, and Ben & Jerry's Mike Hayes on social media's visual revolution. We'll be talking Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, and more about how to tell your story visually. Register here for the Feb. 8 event.

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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Ridiculously Good Content, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules. Ann co-founded, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs and @AnnHandley.

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  • by Ryan Tue Jan 29, 2013 via blog

    Ann -- this has been the best description of WHY Vine has the potential to be Instagram-big and Twitter-important to marketing. I started to get it after Shelly Kramer and I chatted, and this just basically brought it home with the chorus. I appreciate your explanation, and I equally appreciate how well this was written.


  • by Yukari Peerless Tue Jan 29, 2013 via blog

    I like Vine too. And I like what GAP did there - now Vine is a verb...

  • by Amber King Wed Jan 30, 2013 via blog

    I think Vine is brilliant and Twitter has made another innovation. From 140 character status to 6 second video, who would have thought of that.

  • by Julie Doyle Wed Jan 30, 2013 via blog

    6 seconds just isn't enough time to tell a story in my view - or even leave much of an impression -- leaves my brain addled. Will be interesting to see how this stacks up against Tout - which offers a 15-second format I think is more powerful.

  • by Dennis Brown Wed Jan 30, 2013 via blog

    I like your summation, but all the way through I was thinking "uhm, good point, but I still haven't seen any that were anything other than utter rubbish (with one exception, see end)".
    And then you finish off with some examples that showed it in a much better light - thank you - great post.
    PS Coincidentally, the only one I'd previously seen that I thought was any good was also by Gap.

  • by Lindsay Bell Wed Jan 30, 2013 via blog

    Good God you're funny Ann: "Vine democratically gives me the same gear on Vine that JJ Abrams has. (If JJ Abrams were on Vine.) (Which he’s not.)" - made me laugh out loud.

    As a former video producer of many, many years, I have to say I don't agree that 6 seconds forces people to distill an idea to its very core essence. Instead, I think it forces people to produce little snippets of "mean nothing" brain candy, which we are already bombarded with constantly because of this insanely fast paced, change on a dime world we now live in. And that's something I for one don't need more of.

    At least 140 character tweets allow you to craft and re-craft your thought - editing and honing and fine tuning what you want to say until it is in fact distilled into something short and sharp.

    None of the above videos told a story. And none of the above videos made me want to know more. If anything, the "history lesson" made me want to poke my eyeballs out with a dull stick.

    I dunno. Will 6 second snippets of life or marketing have legs? Maybe for the "fun factor" alone. But I can't imagine 6 seconds delivering anything of value.

  • by Nicole Smith Wed Jan 30, 2013 via blog

    Ann, I couldn't agree more with your spot-on summary above.
    This technology is SO MUCH FUN, easy (my 5 yr old has already mastered making Lego Vines), and enables storytelling on a whole other level for marketers with tight budgets. Win!

    I just hope they can deal with the porn problem quickly.

  • by Steve Byrne Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    What took the twitter machine so long ... dozens of bloggers have been predicting twitter would own/integrate a short form vid platform for years. It seemed obvious. Nice summary Ann.

  • by Steve Byrne Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    One such prediction:

    "Twitter Micro-vlogging Next?" ... on the MP site May 17, 2009. It would be interesting to know why twitter resisted this development path until now.

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate that.

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    Ha! Very true....!

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    Thanks, Julie. I disagree it's not long enough -- I think you can also tell a story with a still image.

    One factor I implied but didn't speak to specifically is the fact that Vine is a Twitter product, giving it a baked-in distribution/sharing network. Strikes me that Tout and others like it will need to seriously innovate if it's going to complete with Vine.

    Also, I think the looping thing adds a lot to the six-second limit.

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    Yes - I liked that one, too.

    This is a brand-new platform... so I think this early stuff is only a small sample of what it might ultimately be used to do. Fun how the LA Dodgers are using it here:

    And MLB here:

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    Thanks for chiming in here, Lindsay. And I agree with you on how you suggest you hone your Twitter posts -- I totally agree with you there.

    So why can't that same notion be applied to looping video? I can't say I agree with you that six seconds of video will produce only flotsam. I mean, I'm sure it will -- just as Twitter inspires its fair share of nothingness. But at the same time, I don't think that super short form = stupid, categorically.

    There's already been some evidence of some interesting stuff and there's been some experimentation (I showed a few links on the comment above this one), notwithstanding the hated history lesson.. LOL. It's important to remember here that the platform is not even a week old....

    p.s. You aren't the only [in your case, former] video person I've heard from who hates the platform. It reminds me of the way my photographer-artist son hates Instagram, and the way a lot of writers and journalists struggled with accepting blogging. Not saying that's your deal, exactly, because your evolution has been different. But I wonder if that's the root of it, for some others?

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    I loved that Lego Vine.

  • by Ann Handley Thu Jan 31, 2013 via blog

    I'm guessing they were more than a little dismayed to see Facebook buy Instagram.

  • by Steve Byrne Sun Feb 3, 2013 via blog

    You're right Ann, seems this would be a factor.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Wed Feb 6, 2013 via blog

    At this point, as much as I've had fun with Vine, I'm still a Vine skeptic.

    I've got two issues with it. The big one is sound. Montage works in movies because you can have a separate audio track that provides continuity. Since Vine doesn't allow you to separate sound from image, the soundtracks of Vine-ettes (as I call them) tend to be choppy and abstract. You can show a kind of story, but it's much harder to literally tell one.

    The sound is also a distraction. Whereas I can scroll through Instagram while waiting at the dentist's office without bugging people (or at home without bugging my wife), with Vine I either have to use earbuds or keep the sound off, which means missing what can be an important piece of the content (though, to my first point, often is not).

    The second issue is time. Unlike Instagram, it takes time to make Vine-ettes. This makes it "anti-mobile," in a way. Since Instagram allows me to pull in pictures from my photo library, I can snap pics on the fly and "Instagram" them whenever I want.

    With Vine, as simple as these things can be, sometimes it takes time to get them right and sometimes I will re-shoot a couple times and then just give up (ok - I'm a quitter!).

    There is also something to be said for the at-a-glance scrolling that both Twitter and Instagram provide for. With Vine, I have to stop and watch.

    I'm not saying that Vine couldn't fix these issues-by allowing for separate sound recording, for example- but, frankly, if they added more features it would simply make the process more involved and time-consuming. Once that happens, this will become what I think it is destined to be: a novel social tool/network/phenomenon whose widespread adoption will stall.

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