The Di-Vine Life Of Nemo: Watching The World Learn To Socialize in 6 Seconds

Most social media sites begin in relative obscurity, hoping that a small number of dedicated, evangelical users will take them from mini to mass. They begin as one thing, then gradually evolve as their number and types of users begin to grow.

Twitter's video-sharing app Vine got to skip all that.

Thanks to Twitter's enormous reach, instead of building an audience from the ground up, Vine, which lets users share and upload six-second videos, got to pitch its service directly from the top to an audience of 500 million registered users. Now pair that with major weather event to fuel photo and video sharing, and you've got a killer combination most app creators could only dream of.

There's nothing like intense fog/snow/sunsets/rain to get people's iPhone cameras clicking -- Instagram saw 10 photos per second uploaded during Hurricane Sandy -- and Vine got an added boost over the weekend as "Nemo" descended on the Northeast. Twitter, which declined to share data regarding Vine usage on Friday, got to observe people playing with its newest toy. And the world in turn got to watch a critical mass of people learning to use a social network all at once.

Sites like RebelMouse and aggregated incoming "vines" capturing the fallout from Nemo, and the results ranged from mini-movies to the highly mundane. Beautiful, sepia-tinted photos they certainly were not, and the stop-and-start nature of the vines made many some seem like less-ghoulish versions of Clockwork Orange's Ludovico technique.

Some social start-ups, when they're just starting out, will seed their service with a specific group of users they hope will instill certain norms and practices in the community as it grows. Through their model participation, early adopters will teach other newcomers how to behave. Facebook, for example, benefited from having thousands of partying, flirtatious college students show that it as perfectly acceptable to share photos, send messages, poke people and post on friends' walls. And Instagram's loyal following of photographers and design buffs early on no doubt boosted its reputation as a repository for aesthetically pleasing and beautiful images.

But Vine has opened to everyone with an iPhone, all at once, and the result is some social soul searching and experimentation by a large group of people who aren't too sure what they're supposed to do with the video app, besides use it.

Twitter for its part seemed to consciously avoid giving people a clear guide for how to use the service. Twitter's blog post introducing its redesigned iPad app clocked in at 249 words. Its blog post introducing an entirely new way of sharing video totaled just 110.

"Rather than tell you more about the app, we thought we'd just show you some of our favorite videos," Twitter wrote in a (very brief) blog post introducing Vine. What followed were three clips: one of kids at a park; another that cut between three views of a recording studio; and an animated flipbook. They couldn't have been more different.

So what did Nemo tell us about how people use Vine? Judging from the uploads during and following the storm, Vine could very well be the Instagram for feet:

The looping photo album -- stop-and-start cuts between more-or-less static images -- is a favorite for vines, along with the slow pan:

There seems to be some confusion about when to take a video, and when to upload a photo:

And, in typical internet fashion, dogs and kids playing around in the snow pretty much steal the show:

While Twitter doesn't necessarily need to lay out any formal rules for the right and wrong way to use Vine, its unorthodox (for social networks) start raises the question of how much guidance users care for as they test out a new way of sharing. A certain amount of structure may not stifle users, but actually provide some inspiration that makes them likely to share more (Instagram's rules of engagement couldn't be clearer: See something neat, take a picture of it, post it). Twitter has always had a sizable population of users who aren't quite sure what to say on the service. Vine may not give them any additional clues.