Six Seconds Is the New 140 Characters: Measuring Up Twitter's New Vine App

The Atlantic Wire

With its new video sharing app, Vine, Twitter has once again dictated the length of our online expression, allotting a maximum six seconds for its new embeddable clips. Vine, as Twitter explains in an introductory blog post on Thursday, is "a mobile service that lets you capture and share short looping videos." Emphasis on the short, of course, but it's kind of like a GIF with sound, as you can see below. (Click the megaphone icon to turn on the volume — and thank Twitter for making "mute" the default option.)

mixing gnarly basslines today vine.co/v/b55LOA1dgJU

— The Glitch Mob (@theglitchmob) January 23, 2013

With "Vines," Twitter has turned itself into a video-creation platform. The only catch is that like tweets, Twitter wants these clips short and sweet at that six-second max. And if six seconds is the new 140 characters, is that such a good thing? 

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Six Seconds Is Too Short

Like 140 characters, the six-second limit has the potential to stymie our creativity. For years, people have called for Twitter to expand its character limit, the origins of which date back to the 160-character max on text massages, even though are fancy smartphones don't always work like that anymore.

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For user-generated video, none of the old rules of cellphones matter, and they never did — the YouTube empire was built on backyard filmmakers with camcorders, and today's smartphone video-makers still tend to upload clips upward of a minute. (The average YouTube video runs 4 minutes and 12 seconds.) So the six-second rule feels kind of arbitrary — and even Twitter hasn't offered much clarity on why they chose that limit for Vine. "The team tested various video lengths, ranging from about 4 seconds to 10 seconds, as they were building Vine. They found that six seconds was the ideal length, from both the production and consumption side," a Twitter spokesperson told The Atlantic Wire. 

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So Vines will keep things the stream moving. Brevity has been at the heart of Twitter's unflinching identity over its nearly seven-year microblogging lifespan, and the company doesn't want to ruin that. But, if you try it out, the brevity of Vine makes some of the videos look kind of rushed and, well, vomit-y. Take, for instance, this steak tartare video that CEO Dick Costolo tweeted yesterday:

Steak tartare in six seconds. vine.co/v/bOIqn6rLeIDvia @dhof

— dick costolo (@dickc) January 23, 2013

It feels like the video version of leaving vowels out of tweets. But that effect might also have something to do with the way Vine videos are put together. The app encourages jumping from one scene to the next. Making your Vine requires tapping a phone screen for as long as you'd like to film a scene, then letting go and tapping again for another scene that all ends up in the same finished product. That's where the choppiness comes in, but choppiness, apparently, is part of the whole point.

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Six Seconds Is Too Long

The animated GIF has enjoyed a resurgence over the past year largely because of its length. But some have suggested that because GIFs have exhausted their potential, this Vine thing will provide a much needed evolution in media sharing. Certainly other short-video apps, like Viddy, Ptch and several others, thought they could succeed where Twitter and Instagram have fallen short on moving pictures. If we are, indeed, moving beyond the GIF, six seconds is a long time to watch a meme develop on a GIF-y video. Our resident GIF expert Elspeth Reeve tells me that "shorter is usually better." These kids are cute, but this Vine montage through the park is just too much — because we get the picture after just a few seconds:

Holding hands at Tilden park vine.co/v/biTaEEwdq2n?1

— James Buckhouse (@buckhouse) January 24, 2013

The Vine app does allow for shorter clips, but editing them down takes conscious effort, and it's a lot easier to reach the max. 

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Six Seconds Is Just Right

Patience, even online, remains a virtue. The medium will evolve within the constraints. People will master the Vine. The clips will get less choppy; the rhythm will improve. People will create videos that make sense. And, just like the 140-character limit, soon enough, nobody will call Vine's rules a limitation. Or, alternatively, beyond today, nobody will use Vine ever again, and it won't matter. Give it a shot for yourself in the iTunes store now, and on Google Play soon.

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