Appitude: The newest Twitter trend—sharing six-second videos on Vine—is surprisingly retro

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

By Virginia Heffernan

If you believe a nubile new video app called Vine is sweeping the nation because Vine is a masterpiece or at least a better mousetrap, think again. Vine—which hit the Web last week and lets you share looping, six-second videos on Twitter—is just fine and plenty fun, but Vine is not suddenly everywhere on the Internet because it’s extra-special. It’s not even everywhere because someone used it to tweet porn early in the game, and Vine accidentally endorsed a XXX vid. No. Vine is everywhere because it belongs to Twitter.

In other words, she’s pretty cool and she’s the boss’s daughter. No wonder she’s the debutante of the season.

The Twitter story reverses the “Field of Dreams” vision of “if you build it, he will come.” Instead, with Twitter, we showed up—some 300 million Twitter users now—for what was initially a fairly thin set of text communications protocols. But we stayed on Twitter because other people did, and then they came because we were all there, learning in unison to compose epigrams with #hashtags and @replies and links.

Simultaneously, Twitter built itself in response to our presence and our activities.  Having begun in 2006 as a place to circulate verbal chips and salsa, it didn’t become the so-called New Twitter until 2010, when it started letting users see photos and videos without leaving Twitter.

For years, third-party developers turned out Twitter add-ons like TweetDeck and Twistori. But now Twitter has decided to take charge of developing its own Internet real estate. This is like the oil companies getting friendly with the railroads in the 19th century. Ultimately, people in oil and gas like to be in real estate, too. Similarly, people in social networking get into app development. Synergies are discovered; profits are made; markets are happy, then not; oligopolies are busted up. And repeat. It’s the American way.

So what is Vine, besides Twitter’s first foray into owning not just the rails but the stuff that rides the rails? In short, Vine is a way to rediscover, and pleasingly exploit, the magic of animation. (If you’re not on Twitter or Vine, here’s a good place to watch some Vine videos.)

I’ve made a few Vine videos, or “Vines” (I guess that's what they’re called?), and I enjoyed it. Remember the time you and your brother hauled out your dad’s brandless movie camera, set up Chewbacca and Princess Leia, and prepared thumb and forefinger for a brutal 40-hour marathon of “stop-action animation”? It’s like that. Neato.

I mean, I realize that childhoods are different, and a few did not take place in the 1970s, in the Dawn of Industrial Light and Magic. But, whether you were born in 1940 or 1990, there’s gotta be a moment when someone showed you how animation works, with a flip-book or maybe a Muybridge zoopraxiscope, if you happen to be 100.

Let that dawning dawn again. To make a Vine video, you open the app on your phone/movie camera and hold a button down. When you let go, the camera stops rolling. You can then point it elsewhere, or move around what you’re shooting, and start it up again. In this way, you can do rad jumpcuts or just start-and-stop-and-move-and-start-again with the wonderful, tedious patience of a Claymation animator.

I went for jump cuts first and enjoyed catching a panorama with significant missing parts. My video looked hectic and urban and even disturbing with all its motion and gaps, especially when I shot from inside a Manhattan taxi. I then started to try animation, and started to make a glass of water that looked like it was magically emptying. But I was too lazy even to return the glass to the right spot. So it just looked like a glass jumping around on a table. You couldn’t even really tell that the water level was going down.

Vine videos play on an endless loop so they have a kind of glitchy, broken-record look that is maybe retro. I’m not sure I like it, especially after one by Tyra Banks, lost under a bunch of Chrome windows on my desktop, wouldn’t stop repeating its goofy dialogue.

But I do like the wicked-easy sharing and the intuitive controls. I also like the curation: There’s a lot of Exploring and Discovering and Editor’s Picks. For a week-old app, Vine—boosted by Twitter’s marketing and integrating—already seems flush with users and content. Every new Vine video attracts comments, and you’d think users were commenting on some century-old craft, like needlework, as they get into the nitty-gritty of “How did you do that?!”

Everybody just saw this app a few days ago, guys. We’re all just figuring it out. Some, I guess, are figuring faster than others. The height of achievement on Vine—aside from the promotion of Vine itself, which is Vine’s actual proudest achievement—is a Legos fantasia, as of this writing. Someone named Hunter Harrison put Legos Batman and Legos Robin on a gray Legos surface and had the caped crusaders scope out and destroy their enemies.

“How did you do this without your hand getting in the way?” one commenter, awestruck, asked. Ah. The magic of stop-motion. It never gets old, even when everything else is new.

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