Twitter announced that it would be phasing out Vine, the popular short-form video App that it purchased in 2012. The move fits into a broader series of cutbacks and reorganization of the popular media giant, who saw a disappointing 2nd quarter of profits. At first glance, this cancelation is slightly surprising. Vine seemed like a cultural mainstay, a platform perfectly poised to capture the short attention span of today’s Internet users. It didn’t appear to be a losing endeavor for the Twitter gian, who could have made many other changes based on public opinion.
On second glance, though, phasing out Vine reflects an inevitable fact of today’s fast-paced tech world, in which apps that were once groundbreaking are quickly integrated into the broader platforms of their much larger competitors. While Vine’s short-form video was once a niche in the market able to capitalize on the popularity of quick video humor, corporations like Instagram and Snapchat were able to take this winning formula, apply it within the context of their own programs, and render the original innovators obsolete on the market. So while the services that Vine initially provided are still considered successful on the Internet, the original platform is essentially obsolete.
Vine began in 2013 and quickly gained a large amount of downloads as an app and hits as a website. This contributed to and in turn benefitted from the various celebrities that used Vine to jumpstart or showcase Internet fame. Notable names include Nash Grier and Logan Paul. Moreover, the site became popular due to its cross-platform sharing capabilities. It was one of the pioneer modern social media sites to have nearly automatic embedding capabilities in other networks, so users who may not necessarily be in the Vine network would still get exposure to it. It was a winning business model that taught the technology industry an important lesson about what many users want out of social media: a platform capable of hosting and viral-izing short-form humor and affective user-generated content.
Though Vine became very successful at a niche yet popular function on the Internet, it was this characteristic as a sort of “one-trick pony” that eventually led to its recent demise. While it may have had a legal claim to 6-second videos and their aesthetic hosting platform, the company had no legitimate claim to all short-form videos that users could generate on other sites. Thus, larger sites began restructuring their platform to include similar content sharing capabilities. Consider Snapchat stories, which although they seem now to be a defining feature of the app were actually not added until 3 years after Snapchat gained popularity. Instagram stories followed shortly after, providing another platform for short video sharing. Similarly, Facebook’s live-video option, video profile pictures, and auto-play of videos on Newsfeed virtually replaced Vine entirely. The giants of online networking capitalized on the un-patentable, yet clearly savvy, idea of short videos once pioneered by Vine.
This raises some interesting questions about the nature of intellectual commons in regards to the Internet. Often, internet technologies and innovative platforms in the online sphere can be less tangible and make it harder for companies to claim ownership over an idea. At the very least, they make the process by which business models travel amongst corporations and become heavily integrated with one another much easier. This is why it is increasingly easy for larger corporations with greater stakes in the social media field, to borrow ideas from smaller companies like Vine, without outwardly committing intellectual property or copyright infringement.
This is a burgeoning problem with emerging technologies; there are fewer laws entrenched in society to protect against potential violations, as the industry is changing too rapidly for a legal precedent to be in place. Vine is perhaps an early example of future instances for this phenomenon. It will be an upcoming challenge within corporate law spheres to sort out the legality of the sort of practices that led to Vine’s decline in the eyes of its parent company, Twitter.
Moreover, this also raises concerns regarding media power within the Internet. The mere fact that companies can gain such a monopoly on social media use, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have, begs the question of whether or not this is a healthy practice for free business enterprises. Once again, this poses an interesting dilemma in which legal precedent regarding anti-monopoly practices for Internet technologies has caught up with corporate reality.
Though Twitter’s shutdown of Vine may seem like an intriguing yet inconsequential turn of events, it may be more than that—it both indicates and reproduces some worrying trends in regards to emerging technologies.
Hsu, H., Fry, N., Allen, E., Baker, P.C., Wiener, A., Stokes, C., Remnick, D., Davidson, A., Lind, S., Friend, T. and Surowiecki, J. (2016) Hua Hsu. Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/vine-and-the-new-gatekeepers-of-self-expression (Accessed: 27 November 2016).
Moreau, E. (2016) Calling all short video moguls: Exploring vine. Available at: https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-vine-3486082 (Accessed: 27 November 2016).