Vine, both as a concept and as a product, bothers me.
It's not that the app doesn't have its charm. In fact, I think it's rather well-considered, whimsical, and conducive to the "fun" Twitter is attempting to instill into its users.
It's also not that server overload seemed to negatively impact the app's launch. Such issues frequently plague a huge number of digital launches and typically have little long-term significance for the health of a service.
The real problem is that Vine is transparently an ill-considered response to Facebook's acquisition of Instagram. And it's a really rather embarrassing response at that.
The purchase and re-packaging of Vine serves as an apt summary of the newfound corporate identity at Twitter. Burned by the abrupt Facebook acquisition of Instagram earlier in 2012, a maturing Twitter platform was utterly bereft of any plucky startup momentum.
Although many are quick to criticize Facebook, it had a remarkably positive 2012. The company built some fantastic apps, revitalized others, made some smart acquisitions, and, above all else, recovered from a troublesome IPO. Amidst all of this, Instagram was brought into the Facebook fold, which has already proven to be an extremely forward-thinking move by the Facebook founder.
Facebook has managed to establish itself as an improving business, whilst also sustaining the deep-seated "hacker mentality" the company has always prided itself upon.
Meanwhile, at Twitter, the company has only recently settled upon a true monetization model. And even that remains clouded with doubt and hesitance.
It's obvious that the executive team at Twitter is attempting to solidify a business model and IPO. The company has been around for a long time and the primary stakeholders clearly would like to profit and move away.
The trouble is that the scramble toward this goal has been anything but controlled and dignified. 2012 was riddled with outcry over Twitter's aggressive third-party policies, the sudden decision that it's now a media company, and the obvious influx of MBA-esque attitudes and business jargon.
Although AllThingsD reported that Twitter's Vine acquisition was due to a decision made by Jack Dorsey, I cannot help but feel that the decision was informed by some stereotypical MBA analysts.
Looking at the Instagram acquisition, the most common response from the analysis community was, unsurprisingly, thoughts about how such success could be replicated. And, because people are predictable and boring, the notion was that, rather than photography, the next $1 billion app would have to be video.
Ta-dah! By the logic of things, that's like a $2 billion app or something, right?
The thought process is woefully uninspired and is most certainly not conducive to success. Instagram has an intangible quality of familial community and fun, and it's an app that can be enjoyed in a vast variety of non-intrusive ways. Instagram's design-driven benefits are numerous and obvious, rendering it an obviously positive product to usher into the Facebook ecosystem.
Aesthetically, Vine borrows heavily from Instagram. And, although many elements of the UI are bafflingly hidden away, that's largely an achievement. The trouble is that auto-playing, audio-enabled videos do not capture any of the feelings of involvement and artistry that are encouraged by Instagram. I'm sure there's some well-done videos being produced somewhere, but the over-arching feeling is of an impersonal, uninvolved, and fleetingly enjoyable experience.
The app may look the same, but it most certainly lacks any semblance of the thoughtful consideration that's made Instagram such a success.
The reason Snapchat has been successful is because people can send meaningful interpersonal videos and photographs. These messages are targeted to specific people and can be enjoyed by specific people. Vine, on the other hand, allows you to broadcast inane videos to a broad swath of uncaring people.
Even if you use Instagram to predominantly take photographs of friends, it's easy to do so regardless of your surroundings. Meanwhile, with Vine, any videos capturing friends or moments at bars will be utterly lost amidst dark rooms, loud noises, and so on.
In other words, the use-case scenario for a good Vine moment is exponentially more selective than the moment for a good Instagram moment, regardless of your chosen audience.
Although I certainly recognize the potential for artistry in these videos, I suspect the vast majority of content will be unwaveringly mundane. Supporting this, as Matt Buchanan highlighted, the end-product of Vine is ostensibly the evolution of the animated GIF, which is hardly the most sophisticated medium for people to share between each other.
Buchanan is, however, relatively confident about, and complimentary of, Vine. He goes as far as to suggest that it's the best take on video sharing for mobile that we've seen so far. And I'd certainly agree that Vine is, indeed, a great take on mobile video sharing.
The problem, however, is that I can't think of anyone that's really been asking for a great video sharing app.
I understand that there's a lot of people who spend their days watching videos on YouTube and the like, but I'm skeptical as to whether anyone actually wants a mobile video sharing platform. Vine's looping six second videos are novel and have potential, but how much can really be done? How many people are going to pass away a quiet moment in the office, elevator, or classroom with an app that auto-plays videos loudly of some looping, pointless shots?
Perhaps I'll be proven wrong. And that's fine. But, for now, all we have is a new standalone app from Twitter that's unsuccessfully trying to be an Instagram for video. In my eyes, that's a borderline embarrassing state of affairs.
(Let's not even begin to discuss the introduction of filtered photography into the official Twitter app. It's like the company is reveling in a "Me too" existence, rather than genuinely attempting to do something beneficial and new.)
Twitter's trying to show that it's still hip and youthful, but all it's doing is providing resounding evidence of a company that's forsaken its historical character for an out-of-touch suit and tie.
A video sharing app built to look staggeringly similar to Instagram? Acquired mere months after Instagram was bought by Twitter's most staunch competitor? A company mired with the negative aspects of transition and monetization that has turned to the corporate world for help and inspiration?
The situation couldn't be more transparent.
For what it's worth, I'm rooting for Twitter. The service is clearly not going away and is going through a turbulent period of transition. Perhaps that could've been managed slightly better, but, in my eyes, it's most certainly not the end of the world.
I'm hopeful that once Twitter finds its feet, it can begin to re-explore its roots. Rather than offering jargon and badges, I feel confident that a stable Twitter could be one of the most exciting entities in the technology business.
For now, though, as is evidenced by Vine and photography filters, the company is desperately grasping for an identity that's not its own. And that's an awful shame.