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Twitter Plants A Tangled Vine

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By Noah Nelson

There's no other app worth talking about this week than Vine, the short form video sharing service that was released on an unsuspecting world by Twitter this past Thursday. It's already stirred up all kinds of attention and controversy.

There's a lot of potential here, but before we get into what's great and ghastly about this new "Instagram for video" I should probably tell you what it is.

Vine is an iOS only (at present) app that creates six second videos users can share within the social network. There are also options to post the videos to Twitter and Facebook.

The big innovation of Vine isn't the length of the videos, but the way that they are made. Vine requires users to touch the screen as they are recording. Take your finger off the image and it pauses. Reframe. Then touch again.

What you wind up with is something between a video and an animated gif. Lots of people just shoot a continuous stream, despite the app's initial tutorial which explains the format.

There's no way to edit the finished video. Nor is there a way- at present- to upload a video from the camera roll. What you made is what you made. Creating a really captivating Vine takes either luck or a heck of a lot of patience.

As a service fresh out of beta, a lot of issues remain.

The Big Questions

Storytelling: Wendig's question is important. The six second limitation seems like a straight-jacket for meaning. So too, however, did 140 characters. Yet do we really need to go farther down the road of soundbite culture than we already are?

The Ephemeral Nature: at present there is not easy way to share a Vine discovered within the app. You can post your own to social media, and then spread from there, but even if you find a really killer video within the service there is no route out.

Getting the URL of a Vine requires tracking down the creator's Twitter account. There are echoes of Snapchat in this design decision, a desire perhaps to return some of the anonymous and ephemeral character to the Internet. However it's a pain in the butt when you're trying to make the case that the service is actually really compelling.

A Distraction for Twitter: That's what Etsy design lead and former Amazon UX designer Cap Watkins says in this blog post. He declares that Twitter's acquisition and release of Vine (it started its life out as an outside product) as a kind of mission creep for Twitter.

The Porn Problem: Apple yanked Vine's "Editor's Choice" status in the App Store after a weekend micro-scandal involving some porn making its way to Vine's own "Editor's Choice" section. The big problem there: the Vine app pushes the "Editor's Choice" content to everyone, and lots of kids saw or nearly saw, what the internet is really all about.

Some Possible Answers

The storytelling issue is being addressed far faster than I would have imagined. Now that the Internet is used to picking up a new media creation tool and kicking the tires on it, the time between release of a new product and novel uses for it is approaching zero.

Flipbooks and papercraft vines are already cropping up, and many of them are quite good. (I'd share but there's that whole crappy discovery problem.) There's also aggregator sites that have popped up overnight.

Vinepeek is an unfiltered feed of the latest Vine to pop up. Just Vined takes the same core idea: the most recent posts-- and puts them out as a video wall ala The Matrix. (If you haven't been paying attention: those links might just be NSFW.)

Josh Topoloskwy of The Verge pointed out that porn isn't a problem for Vine so much as it's a problem for Apple. Easy access to pornography has gone hand and hand with technological innovations online. Pretty much anything involving user generated content is going to have this dimension to it.

That someone over at Vine was dumb enough to promote some porn to the entire user base is a failure somewhere within their command chain, but in the long run it is Apple that is going to have to start dealing with the fact that you can't create a family friendly designed experience with anything that interacts with the whole internet.

Watkin's assertion that Vine is a distraction has to be the most serious of all the cases against the service to me. Resources spent on anything other than the core product are by definition a distraction for a software company.

But is Twitter a software company or is it a media company?

At present the killer app in the Twitter experience isn't link sharing, it is the real time reaction to live events. Often in the form of commentary on TV broadcasts.

Does Twitter want to be a company that serves as an adjunct to other forms of media, or does it want to become a company that creates media? It's easy to look at, say, Google and see that the "adjunct" strategy works pretty well. Until you notice that not only has Google acquired YouTube (easily dismissed as part of their quest to catalog everything) they've also made heavy investments into the YouTube partner program.

The contest here isn't just to create the best interfaces for user experiences, it's to be the source of the experiences themselves. To be the content.

With the release of Vine, the executives at Twitter have shown which battle they believe they are fighting.

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