What's a Vine? It's a six-second video that lives mostly in the world of mobile devices like iPhones. Download and open the free app, touch the screen to start recording a video -- a cat stretching in a sunbeam, a friend dunking a basketball, a stupendous steel drummer -- then publish with a push of a button.
Digital video has been around for a while, but seamlessly making tiny movies then posting them to Facebook and Twitter from a phone is something else. And the adoption rate for something this new is astonishing. Despite being invented only a year ago and premiering publicly on Jan. 24, 2013, Vines were being posted to Twitter at the rate of nine per second by June, nearly double the rate of five per second in April. Vine recruited 13 million users in its first five months.
Why is Vine so popular? It's a mix of likable features that live right in the smartphone. But more importantly, the timing and the tech are right. The photo-sharing service Instagram paved the way for this notion of easily sharing pictures online; Facebook supports photo uploads. Users are primed for sharing images to networks.
Crucially, Vines are very easy to make. They can be posted to Twitter or Facebook to give friends an animated view into your life. (Twitter clearly saw the value, as it purchased the company.)
And Vines move. There's something fundamentally impressive about moving pictures, on any screen. In the late 1880s, early wizards of the technology amazed audiences with the power of moving pictures, and quickly learned to stop and start the camera to create the illusion of impossible events.
A Trip to the Moon (1902) showed viewers the moon with a rocket stuck in its eye. By Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), filmmakers had graduated to using stop-motion animation to transform Lon Chaney Jr. from man into howling beast in a heart-stopping sequence that still amazes.
So what kinds of cool stuff are Madisonians filming in six-second spurts? Vine mines the same stop-start conceptual turf as Wolf Man sequences but has updated the short film for the digital and mobile-based era with a built-in loop function, so that Vines loop continuously, aesthetically mimicking those .gif animations associated with Internet message boards. @WisconsinUnion worked that stop-motion angle with a 360 stop-motion panorama of the Memorial Terrace. @aertime favors jittery quick-cut clips of music studio work.
@BadgerFootball posts action shots from scrimmages, describing the players and the play in captions, and will broadcast during the upcoming football season. @DJWikiBen regularly makes mini-movies around town of customized portable record players, farmers' markets and busking musicians. When @Popwilleatme posted a Vine of his son riding a bike for the first time with the caption "He's doing it! He's doing it!" the emotion burst right out of my iPhone and into the room.
Madison area cut-up @thestorfer was hitting early and hard with a Vine series where he roams the city playing the then-brand new "Get Lucky" and hollering things like "how could you bike at a time like this, the new Daft Punk single is out!" at passersby.
"The best part of Vine is that you can come up with an idea, film it, and it's online in like a minute," he says.
@TotesChris has also been posting short gag reels on Vine: a hand approaching a ceiling fan seems to get caught in it, profanity is uttered in hushed tones in a museum, a deranged version of the Rascals' "It's a Beautiful Morning" loops and disturbs. Something of an artist, he enjoys respect for his originality and execution from Madison Viners.
"I dig the format," he says. "Short little bursts of disposable content. You get your laugh and move on."
I want to Vine my taco-making process. How do I do it?
Download the app from the App Store if you use an iPhone or Google Play if you use an Android-based device. Then have some fun. Animate a rotating bagel, say. After a cool Vine or three, explore what others are doing. Search by user name, like the ones referenced in this article with an @ prefix, or a hashtag like #WisconsinBadgers.
If we are used to the power of movies on the big screen, motion is yet magical in the context of a phone. Not for long, though -- Instagram, now owned by Facebook, has released its video-oriented competitor to Vine, and usage is exploding.