In June 2012, a new kind of social media network broke out into the scene. Allowing users to create looping 6-second video clips, Vine exploded into popularity. It drew hundreds of millions of users, many of whom remained active until early 2016, who could both browse and create content. Many artists found a niche in Vine, a place where singers could be discovered, where short films could be created, and where comedic value was doubled if it could be condensed into a matter of seconds.
However, Twitter—who purchased Vine at its start—has been recently experiencing a decline in sales that has pushed it to take steps slimming down and cutting jobs. An article in the New York Times cited that “Twitter said it planned to cut 350 jobs, or roughly 9 percent of its global workforce, as it tries to revamp the company and become profitable.”
Unfortunately, these cuts mean bad news for Vine users, as Twitter announced on October 27 that it will be shutting down the video-sharing app. All existing Vines will still be available for playback, but no new Vines can be created.
“Twitter’s purchase of Vine seemed oddly short-sighted,” says Dr. Matt Sienkiewicz, an Assistant Professor in Boston College’s Communications Department. “Vine attracted a small, passionate audience, not a broad audience. It’s like the avant-garde theatre of Internet comedy, which is cool, but that’s not really what Twitter wants or what’s best for its interests.”
Many Vine users took to the app as an online career springboard, whether their expertise was in digital design, music, short film-making, or otherwise. However, those who struck it big, like pop singer Shawn Mendes whose fan base originated from Vine, often moved to bigger and better platforms, like Facebook or YouTube, in order to further grow their success.
“Twitter and Vine are based on this idea that that there is beauty and creative possibility in limitation,” says Sienkiewicz. “Vine is successful because it’s an art form, but is the social media industry really about artistry? It’s not, and so in Twitter’s case, that’s not where the money is.”
Although logical for the growth of Twitter as a company, the news of Vine’s closure still doesn’t soften the blow for its millions of dedicated users. Motherboard called it “a [potentially] devastating blow to the meme economy.”
Vine’s 6-second limitation only proved to further new means of creative exploration. Although much of this was artistic in a more direct sense, there was a lot of meme-y nonsense, too—and an innumerable amount of contributions to the world of millennial Internet humor.
Tracy Clayton, co-host of BuzzFeed’s podcast “Another Round,” went on a tweeting spree about the importance of Vine to minority groups, in particular. It had given youth of color a platform on which to express themselves as well as to talk about issues that are often excluded from other conventional media platforms.
“People love black culture, but they don’t like to pay black people for it. (Hi, appropriation). Vine wasn’t perfect, but it was a way to try and get around it,” Clayton tweeted.
Vine, for example, was a critically important tool in covering the Ferguson, MO protests of 2014 that followed the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown by local police officers. It preceded platforms like Periscope and Facebook Live, so Vine was a chief instrument used by activists to broadcast the realities of the Ferguson protests to the rest of the world.
“At this point, people are shifting more towards unlimited video platforms, like Periscope and Facebook Live, where they aren’t limited by six seconds or 140 characters” echoes Sienkiewicz. “From Twitter’s perspective, it’s imperative for them to realize that their brand of brevity is, in fact, not really where people want to be.”
Sienkiewicz goes on to explain that, interestingly enough, Twitter is the most popular in Japan—a country whose native language of Japanese allows it to squeeze the most out of the 140-character limit, as each Japanese character is a word in and of itself. The acknowledgement of this is quite telling as to the public’s interests and how the company needs to reevaluate its brand.
However, it’s not all hopeless for Twitter. “The one thing that Twitter does better than anyone else is its tie-in to live TV, and that’s really important,” Sienkiewicz adds. The live-streaming of ESPN and the US presidential debates has been critical for keeping Twitter in the sphere of media relevancy.
That said, if Twitter wants to adapt to the public’s desires, Sienkiewicz says that “it must slowly expand without losing its brand”—even if this means the withering of our beloved Vine.