Last week Twitter announced it will be shutting down Vine, the company’s 6-second video looping service. Conversation around the announcement has been a mix of genuine nostalgia and, “Well, that makes sense.”
Vine’s problems were definitely visible: Its engagement numbers were in public decline, and the platform became an afterthought during Twitter investor calls. But what brought Vine to this point—and what can other platforms do to avoid a similar fate?
The Magic of Vine
Vine’s debut changed the way most online video was made by capitalizing on users’ collective short attention span for digital content. A look at your current Facebook video metrics will show you that most user drop off begins immediately, often as quickly as three seconds in. Looping the clips made for new opportunities to mesmerize viewers.
The six-second limit was also appealing for content producers as it it lowered the bar for required video skills. Users weren’t able to upload premade clips, nor edit heavily. Like Twitter’s 140-character limit, the length restriction forced every second to be considered thoroughly.
The service generated scores of “Vine Stars” that were able to rack up thousands of loops. Dance crazes and memes began on the platform, while musicians like Bobby Shmurda and Shawn Mendes were able to secure record deals based on their Vine success. Vine was an accessible platform that incubated culture for many users, who tellingly filled other social feeds with their favorite Vine clips in the wake of Twitter’s announcement.
Though Vine may have initially had a hold on low-production video, it soon faced competition by Snapchat and Instagram. The first blow came in June 2013, when Instagram introduced video capabilities. With an Instagram’s 15-second limit, the content was still kept brief, but with enough time for a more complete story. Professionally edited clips could be created and uploaded, making it ideal for brand posting—a feature Vine later ended up adding, too. But it was too late: By late 2015 Instagram had grabbed eight percent of branded video—double what was posted to Vine.
At the same time, Snapchat began eating into Vine with its Stories feature. Snapchat posts had a limit of ten seconds, but they could be strung together in a Story for a stronger narrative. The platform gained a perceived sense of authenticity due to it’s lack of editing tools and an explicit separation of sideloaded content. Adding users/followers and the limited 24-hour window for content added a layer of exclusivity.
Snapchat came to dominate low-production authentic video, while Instagram became a place where brands felt comfortable telling highly produced stories. This left Vine in an awkward spot.
With competition on all sides, Vine faced enormous challenges to retain its top creators and influencers. Twitter’s biggest move to monetize and secure influencer relationships came with its 2015 acquisition of Niche, a startup that links influencers with brands to create native ads. It seemed like a perfect fit, but the program suffered from Vine’s declining engagement.
As engagement declined, there was little reason to keep content exclusive to Vine, as many preferred viewing it on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Links to the original content were rarely provided, leading some Viners to add watermarks or drop the platform entirely.
To stem losses to other platforms, a summit of sorts was held to address these issues with top creators. The Vine stars were seeing engagement decline compared to their content on other platforms. They were appalled by the lack of moderation over abusive speech on Vine, an issue that has plagued Twitter for some time with no successful solution. (Vine eventually added comment filters, but not quickly enough to keep its top influencers from leaving.) And they saw better treatment from Instagram and YouTube, the later of which would give money for upgrading camera equipment to its influencers and studio time to its buzzing channels.
From a platform perspective, Vine isn’t properly integrated within Twitter, which currently has four separate video platforms: natively uploaded video Vine, native livestreaming of some sports and political events, and Periscope, its consumer livestreaming app. Each has its own product vision. Vines behave differently than native video and Periscope content in feed, while still not including Vine’s iconography, engagement buttons, or loop counters. This keeps engagement from coming to Vine, while failing to differentiate what a Vine is compared to the other video products.
Twitter and Vine’s business relationship sheds light on this disparate strategy. According to Vanity Fair, the issues stemmed from both sides. Vine’s leadership was separate from its parent company, but Twitter needed to weigh in on product changes and feature development. Many requests by Vine leaders to evolve their product were met with rejection from Twitter, which seemed to not know what it wanted to do with the platform. Twitter employees complained that Vine’s founders wished to have Twitter’s resources without the company taking control of culture and product. The strained and confusing relationship explains a stagnant product that didn’t line up coherently with Twitter.
Adapt or Die
Despite its role in the changing online video landscape, Vine’s death isn’t shocking. Vine’s struggle to define itself and maintain users was in clear public view. Its fractured relationship with Twitter resulted in an inability to pivot and evolve the platform at pace with the competition—causing a gradual hemorrhage of its users along the way.
Perhaps Vine’s looming fate was best articulated by the late comedian Harris Wittels back in 2013: