Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I have come not to bury Vine but to praise it. When it was announced on Oct. 27 that the short video hosting service was being shut down, tastemakers and bloggers around the web eulogized the platform by reposting and reminiscing about their favorite Vines. What’s particularly striking about Vine’s shutdown is that it is the first bastion of internet culture in recent memory to fall without a replacement: Facebook supplanted MySpace as the major social networking site, but nothing will quite replace Vine.
Not to say that it had no competition. In fact, Vine, which launched as mobile-only in late 2013, carved a niche for itself in spite of its competition. Instagram added the ability to post videos up to 15 seconds long in June of the same year. Snapchat, having launched in 2011, gradually added the video sharing services it is now known for over the course of mid-to-late 2013. And this is to say nothing of the juggernauts of Facebook and YouTube.
But Vine’s six-second constraint set it apart and set it up for success. While Snapchat and Instagram became means for users to (passively) share and glamorize aspects of their lives with each other, Vines required effort. Only given six looping seconds to set up and deliver a joke, users mastered making use of all aspects of their medium. Some simply nailed the execution of a short joke. Other used the loop itself as a punchline. Others crammed as much absurdity into the video as possible. All elevated what could have ended up as a cheap fad to a fine craft.
Of course, much of this is (embellished) old news. However, Vine’s less recognized role as a social network is what should be praised most of all. YouTube’s promotional algorithm rewards frequent uploads, and users reward high production value videos: Put the two together, and being ‘YouTube famous’ requires the time and money to shoot and edit professional level content continually. Vine, which didn’t even have a web platform till 2014, just required an app-enabled phone and some comedy chops.
As a result, the barriers to entry for many people of color were dropped, rooting the service in the same (pre-)teen community that underlies ‘black Twitter’ and ‘black Tumblr’. And just as pop culture incorporates many aspects of black culture, the Vine-memes that have made their way into pop internet culture leave a clear paper trail: on fleek, “Why you always lying,” even the app’s own slogan. At the core of this community—and thus Vine at large—was an almost wholesome sense of joy that gave members the opportunity to freely enjoy their black experience as a place of comfort and celebration. There will be no similar place for that community to go.
At the risk of dabbling in armchair economics, Vine’s fall hints at a potential future for pop culture: The business models that have linked cultural and financial value are beginning to lose their effectiveness. Hopefully, we’ll find ways to support the myriad sources of cultural value; otherwise, who knows what pop culture will have preemptively lost.
—Staff writer Hansy D. Piou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.