28 Jan 2013
But so far there’s been little analysis. I thought it would be interesting to unpack Vine’s success so far, and secondarily have a look at the macro-level strategic concerns.1
First, it’s worth taking a little detour through Instagram’s popularity, because in my opinion much of what Vine does right for video is what Instagram did right for Photos.
What did Instagram get right?
People love taking photos. And as anyone who spent time on Flickr in the mid 2000’s will tell you, people are really obsessive about photography. But these two motivating factors are constrained by our desire to present the best version of ourselves to the world.2
Which means that people aren’t comfortable sharing crappy photos. In fact Instagram was born of Kevin Systrom’s girlfriend complaining that she couldn’t take good photos on her iPhone. Inspired by his experiences shooting with square-format analogue Holga cameras - famous for introducing random effects through light leaks and low quality film - Systrom set out to recreate the simple beauty of Holga photos on iOS. His genius was to make ‘Holgafying’ photos so simple for the user. Take photo -> Edit -> Share. Three steps. Contrast that with the confusing skeumorphic interface of the pre-eminent photo editing app at the time, Hipstamatic, which had a convoluted creation flow and confusing interface.
Instagram made editing photos simple.
Constraints breed creativity. Photo editing had previously been about sliders and graphs and complicated, arcane tools with infinite possibilities (Photoshop anyone?). Instagram constrained the user to a square image and a few preset filters, and implicitly to the iPhone camera. Instagram makes everyone ‘creative’.
Constraints in a social and competitive setting also serve to level the playing field. A lack of constraints can distract and upset people. By giving everyone the same set of tools to choose from, Instagram prevented the kind of crowding-out effect that tool inequality can create.
Instagram has two separate components: content creation and content sharing. An in-app interest graph is useful because it leads to vertical graphs around specific interests or topics (fashion, porn, rap, football). Much of Instagram’s early growth was fuelled by that interest-graph-in-the-sky, Twitter (which is interesting because Twitter didn’t buy Instagram, Facebook did).
Vine has all of the above characteristics. But other companies have tried to build ’Instagram for video’. So what makes Vine different? As amateur video editors know, the problem with video is the vast amount of footage one must condense in order to create a compelling clip. Shooting ratios with digital video can approach 100:1. This problem has kept video sharing from becoming a mainstream activity.
Everyone shoots video (and I don’t mean your early-adopter friends - just look around at any event to see phones in the air recording). But that video then sits uselessly on your hard drive precisely because editing the video down - in order to present the best version of yourself - has hereto been so complex and time consuming. Interestingly as well, we now use video as a more personal memento. At a concert for a band I love, I shoot video of my favourite bits so I can watch it later and remember. But I’m also careful to take photos because I know they will act as the public record of my attendance to this event.
Vine’s key insight, therefore, is that creating great videos is about chronological rather than visual editing, and the difficulty of such editing is what prevents us sharing video. Vine solves for this editing problem in the most intuitive way possible.
The interface combines content capture and editing together, condensing the flow to 2 steps and elegantly solving the problem. As with Instagram, expect to see every subsequent video app ‘borrow’ Vine’s interface.
I’m convinced Vine will become as mainstream as Instagram. People love video, and create tons and tons of it. But thus far emulating the bar set by pop-culture has been far too involved a process for the mainstream to feel comfortable sharing it and saying ‘this is my life’. Vine changes that.
Vine (and Twitter) basically needs to beat Facebook to owning video-sharing.
As the Poke debacle showed, Facebook is terrified of the next Instagram. They thought that was SnapChat, and so they cloned it in short order. But the soothsayers drawing conclusions from what their teenage sisters spend time on are, in my opinion, fundamentally missing a crucial point: the world is not made up of teenage girls. In 5 years SnapChat will simply be a footnote. It is too complicated, too personal, too closed. It’s a gimmick.
In this reading Facebook got it wrong and believed the hype, showing their hand in the process. Bad poker-face, Zuck (it’s telling that Zuck himself was on the Poke team, actually writing code and voicing sound effects). Strategically this is relevant for Vine, because Facebook will likely now clone Vine because they are scared of it.
Enter our silent guest; Twitter. Twitter acquired Vine pre-launch, which suggests that they share the above view. I think Twitter sees a chance to make good the mistake of not buying Instagram before Facebook (after all, both companies are productising an interest graph, versus Facebook’s social graph). Unlike Facebook, there’s little hint of a fast-moving and risky hacker culture coming out of Twitter. Their product iteration has historically been glacial. I think they see Vine as their chance to take a big bet.
What does this all mean? That question is for people with more high-level understanding of the dynamics of Silicon Valley to opine on. What I do know is that it makes the game far more interesting. Twitter and Vine against Facebook and Instagram. And that’s not mentioning the other player here, Google, whose own social efforts have basically bombed.
Who would you bet on?
Especially given Facebook’s clumsy strategic response to SnapChat and Twitter’s acquisition of Vine, and the various little jabs the two social behemoths have been making.↩
The image we present to the world through social media is the ‘best version’ of ourselves, which is itself informed by the cultural role models we most identify with, who are increasingly found in pop culture. Shareability is about emulating the bar set by pop-culture.↩