The Attention Span Arms Race

This post was going to be a reflection on the TED Talk assigned for class, about how web video powers innovation. Then I got distracted. But you should watch it; it was insightful and wonderful.

Twitter has come out with a service to record and host 6-second videos to your twitter account. It is called Vine, although I do not understand why. The introduction of this service raised a couple questions for me:

  1. Why six seconds?
  2. Is this a natural evolution of, or a copycat of, the recent resurgence in GIFs?

And looks like this:

While I appreciate the challenge in creating a story in 6 seconds, this seems like a challenge that never needed to be addressed. The 30-second “elevator pitch” is reductive enough. Can we, as a society, no longer commit to paying attention for more than 6 seconds? Is it that our will power has eroded, or that cat videos are simply that cute and that there are so many more to watch.

As a dedicated blogger, I decided to investigate this new service using VinePeek which serves up new vines as they come. No filter, so keep that in mind if you decide to visit. Also, please let me know if you figure out how to mute just the site.

And, as a favor to you, dear reader, this is what I saw in a minute:

  • Anime collection
  • Line at fast food restaurant
  • Tour of apartment kitchen
  • A tongue, I think?
  • Car stereo
  • Dog
  • Dog
  • Cat
  • Driving a car in the Wegmans parking lot
  • A really, really, really terrible bowler

The upside is that, if Vine takes hold, a lot more people will have their 6 seconds of fame.


(Via Tumblr)


  1. When Vine was getting a lot of press last week, I was also wondering about the 6 second limit. Did they do some extensive research and figure out 6 seconds was short enough to be in line with the Twitter mantra, but long enough to display some act of expression? It seems like it would be tough to produce anything of substance in that timeframe, but it also forces people to be creative and value every moment. I’m sure people thought 140 characters was way too short when Twitter first came out, but that seems to have worked out. I bet the same thing will happen with Vine. If it gains traction, people will begin to tailor their thought-process for the platform. Similar to people seeing or hearing something and feeling compelled to tweet about it, anytime there is a quick moment caught on camera or that can be reproduced on camera, the first thought will be – “Gotta get that on Vine.” I also like the GIF comparison. I’ve had a few good laughs in my day over some funny GIFs. If anything, I hope people utilize Vine for comedic purposes.

  2. Great story to bring up. I agree that the 6 second limit may seem too reductive, but in today’s society that’s about what I would expect. I do not think it is the fact that people cannot pay attention for more than 6 seconds, I think it’s just a matter of how much people feel inconvenienced and wanting new material. If we think about how some people get extremely hassled by even 30 second ads on Hulu, I am not surprised to see this move. Furthermore, if people consider the popularity of Pinterest and/or memes, these typically engage you for similar amounts of time before moving on to new material. I believe that this move will not only shorten people’s attention spans further, it will make the viral rise of fame even more exiguous. I particularly enjoy your last picture that plays upon the song Call Me Maybe. I think this meme if you will, will be the short way of describing what it is Vine will have to offer to its viewers and creators.

  3. I think your point on attention span is spot on. This is a common theme I’ve seen throughout the blog posts: how has social media altered our ability to socialize and retain meaningful relationships. To your point, it’s very hard to. How can we retain meaningful relationships when a video can only hold our attention for 6 seconds? With all these new apps and websites constantly being introduced, it’s hard for anything to hold our attention for more than a few minutes. This phenomenon speaks to how I thinks social media cultivates our instant gratification need. We have information available at our fingertips, and that allows us to multitask. That being said, how do our interactions over social media transfer over to reality? Can we only hold a 6 second conversation?

    1. The challenge for me is that there are definitely 6 second conversations. But they are inherently transactional in purpose. “Lunch?” “Sure” “Good talk.” Although increasingly common, this is probably not sufficient, as you’ve pointed out, to retain meaningful relationships.

      Where I think Kevin C ( made an interesting point is when we use transactional “conversations” to gloss over deeper challenges.

      Is there a point where the choice of medium inappropriately impacts the content of conversation?

  4. I’ve tried out vine and I think twitter got this one right. I think a 6 second looping video clip integrates perfectly with the succinctness of twitter. People just want a ‘snapshot’ of what’s going on, and want to be left to fill in the details in their imagination. If I’m scrolling through my twitter feed, I dont want to a minute by minute account of your life, I just want a glimpse into it.

    In my opinion, in terms of storytelling, vine is not reductive. Exceptional storytellers will find a way to craft engaging and rich stories even in the 6 second time limit. Hemingway allegedly wrote a short story in 6 words: “Baby shoes for sales, never worn”. I think that is sort of the beauty of vine, it just gives you a taste and lets you fill the big picture.

    If vine catches on I think there will be opportunities for companies to do really great creative work using the medium. It seems to be just enough information to make you want more information, and I think it could prove to be a really engaging way to reach out to consumers.

%d bloggers like this: