The thought of a social network shutting down entirely is every millennial’s worst fear, myself included. What would we do between classes, while procrastinating studying, and even immediately upon waking up in the morning if we couldn’t scroll through Insta, catch up on the latest news on Twitter, or check out what our distant relatives are up to on Facebook? Luckily, despite financial and organizational troubles for some of them, these heavy hitters of social media don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, however, for Vine, a micro-video sharing service and formerly dominant social network, this horrible fear became reality last week, with the announcement that its app would be discontinued. Twitter, who owns Vine, said in a blog post that while Vine’s website will remain up, Vine’s app will be winding down slowly but surely.
In order to figure out what the discontinuation of Vine means, it’s worth examining this from the perspective of three stakeholders: Vine users, Vine stars, and the world of social media in general. To Vine users, nothing is happening just yet. Vine’s app and website will not be affected immediately, and users will be notified before they are. While they wait for the inevitable changes, users can still access and download their Vines. However, once the app is discontinued, users will only be able to access existing Vines via the website vine.co, and they will no longer be able to create new Vines. That’s right – if there’s something you’ve always had a burning desire to record in a six-second clip and post on a social network, now’s the time.
With most major social networks, there the vast majority of users join for casual enjoyment and connection, and then there are the select few who either (purposely or accidentally) go viral and become famous through the platform. Vine is no different, and has produced some of the biggest social media celebrities. For example, there’s Cameron Dallas, a teen who started out posting funny clips on the site, some of which have garnered over 20 million views. He is now a bonafide celebrity with almost 10 million Twitter followers who presented on stage at Madison Square Garden’s Jingle Ball. Perhaps Vine’s biggest success story is Shawn Mendes, a popular singer who used the platform to cultivate a following before being signed to a major label. He now is a radio regular, with hits like “Stitches” and “Treat You Better.” Now that the app will be discontinued, Vine stars will have to use other video channels like Snapchat or YouTube to post content. However, more traditional forms of social media like Twitter and Instagram can undoubtedly allow these stars to maintain and continue to grow their fanbases, even without Vine.
Lastly, the discontinuation of Vine has implications on the world of social media as a whole. For one thing, it demonstrates the power of imitation. At the time of its debut in 2013, there was no other social network or mobile app that made the process of uploading videos easier than Vine. The app certainly enjoyed first-mover advantage in the video-sharing on social media space. Unfortunately, however, this uniqueness didn’t last long. Though I’m not sure if they were direct attempts to imitate Vine, with Instagram’s addition of video posting capability, Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope, and the rapid rise of Snapchat, Vine soon lost its’ differentiation value in the eyes of social media users. While Vine has retained several hundred million active users over the past two years, it has effectively stopped being a popular and valuable social channel for brands, celebrities, and average users who just want to connect. The death of Vine illustrates that competitive advantage is not sustainable for long when a product is easily imitable.
Perhaps more important than the death of Vine itself is the resulting death of what it brought to the world of social media: silliness. As described by Brian Feldman in the New York Magazine article “The Death of Vine Makes the Internet a Worse Place,” the point of Vine was to have “dumb, stupid free play on an internet increasingly hostile to that kind of freedom.” Vine is free from the hostile debate that often plagues Twitter and Facebook, and the overt superficiality of Instagram. Its lightning fast video length limit is almost a challenge to its users; they have to communicate entire messages or storylines in six seconds. The combination of these factors has allowed Vine to become the internet’s biggest breeding ground for memes; have you ever heard of iconic phrases like “on fleek” and “what are those?” If so, you can thank Vine. Now that the app will be discontinued, there will be a social media void that was once full of experimental, crazy, and for the most part, good-natured adolescent fun. I support Feldman’s argument that the internet in 2016, which is too often filled with vitriolic, angry, politics-fueled content, will be a worse place without Vine.
Note: I tried to embed Vines in this post, but it kept saying the “file type is not supported” :(