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    The Best of Vine, Twitter's 'Video Instagram,' May Give You a Seizure

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    Adam Clark Estes

    Video is hard. It always has been, especially back in the day when it was actually film that needed to be processed and physically cut in order to edit it. VHS and eventually digital video made shooting easier, but as any who's ever seen YouTube knows, it's also pretty easy to make your masterpiece look overwhelmingly amateurish. Plus the files are huge and streaming online still doesn't work perfectly and editing is time-consuming. But even with all of these challenges, media soothsayers have been crowing for years about how video is the future. I never really bought that baloney until I played with Vine, Twitter's new mobile video service.

    Purchased by Twitter for an undisclosed sum last year, Vine is like Instagram, except the images move. Each clip is technically a video with sound and everything, but since it's only six-seconds-long and automatically loops, the final product looks more like an animated GIF. It's a little jarring at first, to be perfectly honest. When you download the app (for free) from the Apple app store — and only the Apple app store, for now — it comes prepopulated with some staff-made videos. The clips start playing as soon as you scroll down to them, and, well, there's a lot going on. The videos aren't edited — there's not even an editing function — but rather selectively shot. To record a video, you just point your phone at some action, touch the screen and hold it until you want to stop recording. To record the next shot, you do the same thing. And so forth, until you've reached the six-second limit.

    Many of the video's I've seen so far are unafraid of jamming a lot of different shots into the tiny format, creating an almost zoetropic effect. While the sound defaults off for Vine videos on the web, resolving the threat of a rogue video playing loudly in one of your 40,000 browser tabs, it defaults on in the app, which can make it sound schizophrenic. The effect of the video is something else. Vine included some runway footage in its official introduction blog post, for instance, that's so glitchy and colorful, it's nothing short of psychadelic. That said, if you suffer from a form of epilepsy, Vine is probably not the app for you.

    If you're like me, this all sounds pretty confusing and borderline useless at first. But that's what people said about Twitter for years, and look at it now. Twitter has practicaly created an entirely new genre of communications, a 140-character format that's become a standard for news consumption, a paradise for comedy writing and a odd new avenue for short form literature. Could Vine do the same with video? Time will tell, of course, but a lot of the same raw materials that set Twitter apart also exist in Vine. It's shortform — again, six seconds max. It's social in the simplest of ways — you can follow and be followed. It's mobile — and only mobile, except for the simple landing page that's created with each video you create. It's also begging for creative uses — because what else would you use such a strange, new thing for?

    Vine tries to provide some guidance by including a few sample videos from staff and friends in the app. They're not very interesting videos, but then again, the first few tweets weren't very interesting either. Twitter chief executive Dick Costello wins the prize for having uploaded the first Vine video, a sort of gross series of clips show how to make steak tartare. Then there's a video of some hot air baloons floating in the air. And then, once you follow a few people, there will probably be about a bajillion videos of people who've just download the app and are filming their desk because they can't think of anything else to do with it. This is the Vine equivalent of tweeting about your lunch.

    And then I found a couple of intriguing uses of Vine. One comes from Twitter employee James Buckhouse who posted a video of two kids (presumably his) riding some sort of vehicle through a park while holding hands. It's cute. In a way, it feels like a photograph in three parts: a shot of the hands, a shot of the boy's face watching the scenery go by and a shot of the girl's face doing the same. It wouldn't really work as a single still frame, because you couldn't get the closeup of the hand holding and the kids' faces at the same time. It also wouldn't be very interesting as one continues clip, because single continuous clips of not much happening aren't very interesting. Vine's unique edit-as-you-go approach opens up some cool new possibilities. It also helps that Buckhouse used to make movies from Dreamworks.

    The other video that caught my eye comes from self-described "Art-er," David Grayson Kenyon who posted a simple but seductive animation. Think about the flipbooks you used to make in math class, only digital. It's simple because, well, how much can you do in six seconds, but it's seductive becuase it really gets you thinking: how much could you do in six seconds if you treat Vine like an animation machine. Just as comedians flocked to Twitter to try out jokes on their followers, visual artists are going to have a ball with this new toy. I'll send three copies of VICE and a gold star to the first animator to make a choose-your-own-adventure cartoon using a series of Vine posts that are linked together.

    So against all odds--and despite some privacy bugs today--Twitter looks like it has finally come up with an interesting new way to do video online. Vine's not the first, as startups like Tout and Viddy also offer the ability to do shortform video, but it's the best I've seen. The close integration with Twitter will also help the hivemind think through the service and come up with cool uses. Ads could be coming too: Twitter, still trying to figure out how to monetize itself, certainly wants a bit of that YouTube pie. Some 86 percent of the Web audience in the United States viewed online video last October, reports ComScore, and a large portion of that viewing included ads.

    The only thing that's missing is a name for each individual Vine post, the way Twitter has tweet. On Vine, maybe it should be a grape. Get it? Or I guess it could also be a leaf, since there are leaves on vines, too... Then again, maybe the point of all of this is, we're beyond words. 

    Okay, I'll show myself out now.

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