How Vine Works

Just like the rest of the Internet, Vine has plenty of cats.
Just like the rest of the Internet, Vine has plenty of cats.
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks staff

In this age of instant over-sharing, it's not at all surprising that teensy, short-form videos are going viral. And as so often happens, it wasn't an established technology company that started the trend -- instead, it was a startup called Vine.

Vine is an app for mobile devices that lets you capture video in six-second bursts. Then, you can immediately share your creation with the entire Vine network. In short, Vine is like the video version of its terse, text-driven cousin Twitter. Appropriately, Twitter bought Vine in late 2012.


The brainchild of Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, Vine debuted in 2012 as an app for iOS devices. By June 2013, it was available for Android, too. The backing of Twitter caused an explosion in Vine's popularity -- it soon became the most popular video-sharing app and a mainstay in lists of top 10 free apps. By the middle of 2013, in fact, more than 40 million people had signed up for free Vine accounts [source: Rodriguez].

The multitudes didn't mess around. They immediately began recording six-second video clips at a mind-reeling rate. By some estimates, around five new Vines were being tweeted every second of the day [source: MediaBistro].

So what exactly are people sharing via Vine, anyway? Well, because of the short duration of the videos, Vine creators have to get their concepts across immediately. To that end, Vines tend to be fast-paced and mostly comedic (and more often, pointless and boring). As with all new communications channels, though, some marketing teams are producing slick ads hoping that they'll go viral via Vine.

But understand that in general, people aren't out to make art or ads via Vine -- they want to make you giggle. In a lot of cases, they succeed. Perform an Internet search for a Vine compilation and you'll find numerous, minutes-long collections of Vine clips all strung together. The end result is often hilarious and so fast-paced that your eyes hurt afterward.

Vines are pretty much what you'd expect. They include cute babies, silly pets and even sillier people. There are scripted fight scenes, car crashes, songs, pornography, art projects and of course, cats.

For the moment, Vine is spreading like an invasive weed across every fencepost of the Internet. Keep reading to see how to grow your own collection of Vines.


Grow Your Own Vines

Vine's explore option sorts content for you by category. If nature's your thing, select that option to watch all available nature Vines.
Vine's explore option sorts content for you by category. If nature's your thing, select that option to watch all available nature Vines.
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks staff

To get started with Vine, you simply need to install the app. It's available at the iTunes store for Apple devices; if you own an Android device, you'll grab Vine from the Google Play archive.

Right away, you can start watching videos made by other people. As with Twitter, you can choose to follow specific Vine creators, and when you do so, their videos will appear in your Vine feed. Scroll through the feed and those clips automatically begin playing. They continue looping, constantly playing, until you move on to the next video, or until you tap the screen to pause them.


Below each video clip, you'll see options that let you view and post comments. You can also like a video clip or share clips with your friends by "revining," which is just like retweeting in Twitter. If it becomes necessary, you can also block specific users from interacting with you.

Press "Explore" to browse through various sections, such as comedy, sports, pets and a whole lot more. Be forewarned that Vine is rife with what the site refers to as "sensitive" posts, which often contain either violence or pornography. You can filter these out to some degree by disabling sensitive posts, but this system isn't perfect, so take care as to where you watch randomly selected Vines.


Leggo of My Ego

Watching Vine videos can be a mesmerizing experience, as your eyes lock onto a clip that loops over and over again. This repetition is a big part of Vine's addictive nature. But viewing is only half of the fun. Making your own Vines is entertainment in and of itself.

Load the video camera feature of Vine, touch the screen and your device immediately begins recording both video and audio. But there's a funky catch to Vine. Lift your finger from the screen and recording halts. You can stop and start the clip repeatedly, and once you've reached the six-second maximum, the software combines all of the clips into one seamless video.


This capability means that a clever director can cut between scenes, create a time-lapse style recording or basically blend several clips into a single video. Depending on the skill of the creator, this effect can be jarring ... or magical.

It didn't take long for some inspired users to use their six seconds of fame to become Vine superstars. Photographer and filmmaker Meagan Cignoli has parlayed the success of her Vines into a career that's drawn corporate clients such as Nike, GE, BMW, Lowes and many others.

There are other big names of Vine, such as Riff Raff, Brandon Calvillo, Jerome Jarre, Brittany Furlan and Andy Milonakis, among many others. And while they may have started shooting Vines just to entertain themselves or their friends, it didn't take long for ad agencies to start courting them, hoping to tap into their street cred to hawk wares of all kinds.

But there are a whole lot of people making quirky, fun Vines not for the sponsorship or advertising dollars, but just because it's fun. Vine is a cheap, easy way to kill time, to be weirdly creative and make your friends laugh. The quality doesn't necessarily matter; the ideas always do.


Six Seconds to Glory

Once you've recorded your vine, you can review and approve it before posting.
Once you've recorded your vine, you can review and approve it before posting.
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks staff

You may wonder how Vine's founders came up with the six-second time constraint. The answer is that it took some experimentation. They wanted a short and sweet video app, and they initially attempted to make Vine work at lengths of five, nine and 10 seconds, but none of those seemed just right.

Five seconds wasn't quite long enough for average users to convey an idea without it being anticlimactic. But six seconds, or more precisely, six and a half seconds (the exact length of a Vine) provided just enough punch to make Vine potent [source: NPR].


After you finish shooting that six-second epic, there's still the matter of what to do with it, exactly.

Finish your recording and then add a caption describing your video. Wrap things up by including hashtags (just like Twitter) so that people can search and sort videos by topics.

Hashtags, of course, are those funny-looking addendums on so much content that appears on the Web these days. They're denoted by the pound sign preceding them. For instance, if your video is about dogs, you could add hashtags such as #dogs, #puppies, or #puppiesrock or any other word combinations you can dream up.

Then you can post your video to Vine and your followers will see a notification that you've released a new work of art, such as a clip of your dog puking up fresh, green grass.

The latest version of Vine lets you protect posts, which means that only your followers can see your clips. You must approve a user's request to follow your posts. This gives you some semblance of control over how widely your clips will be seen ... but fair warning, this is the Internet, where no content is ever totally private.


Making Vine Viral

Ready to upload your six-second work of art? Just add your caption and any additional information you want included, and Internet fame is surely right around the corner!
Ready to upload your six-second work of art? Just add your caption and any additional information you want included, and Internet fame is surely right around the corner!
Screen shot by HowStuffWorks staff

Once your video is uploaded, you can share your Vine on Twitter, Facebook or just about any social networking app you choose. Sharing, of course, is the whole point of Vine. Unlike some social networking apps, though, there's no way to keep your Vines private. Sure, you have to approve your followers but it's best to assume that everything is public. Keep that in mind to avoid sharing parts of your life (or your person) that you'd rather keep private.

You can delete Vine posts, but sometimes it takes a few minutes for the post to disappear. The video will still be saved on your mobile device, though, in the .MOV file format so you can still share it later from your media archive or camera roll if you want to.


From a technical standpoint, it's possible to import videos from other sources into Vine and then post them. That means you could potentially create videos with special effects and pro-style post-production and then upload them to Vine. But this takes a bit of technical savvy and for average users, there's no real point in going to the hassle of doing so. The best way to get the most out of Vine is to simply use it as intended -- to shoot and share roughly made videos.

Of course, the simplicity part isn't always as simple as it should be. There are some common user complaints about Vine. One is that the app sometimes fails to properly save clips with multiple cuts, which is a huge disappointment if you've gone to the trouble of shooting in different locations or creating elaborate setups.

And as you scroll through your Vine feed, the automatically playing videos might be handy, but sometimes they're slow, too. These loading issues can be due to a device's hardware or connection speed, though, and aren't always due to the Vine system itself.


Dead on the Vine?

Vine is hardly the only video-sharing app on the market. Instagram made a name for itself by letting people share artsy still photos of their lives, but now offers video clips, too. Not only are the clips longer (at 15 seconds), but users can add all sorts of special effects to jazz up their recordings.

There are plenty of other options for the video crazed, including Keek and Mixbit, as well as Viddy, Socialcam, Snapchat and other similar apps. Each service offers slightly different video clip options and features, and depending on your needs and wants, one may better suit your lifestyle when compared with Vine.


Vine has some pretty strong selling points that may help it endure the competition. For one, Vine is purposely simplistic in its lack of advanced features. It's meant to let you create videos quickly and easily without the need to fuss over filters or advanced effects. And its stop-and-go cutting capability puts a premium on imagination and wittiness instead of artificial post-production.

Although Instagram has a bigger base of registered users, Vine's video features are actually more popular. That's because one of Vine's key strengths is its sense of community and its edginess factor. In place of the refined sheen of Instagram's altered reality, Vine serves up a grittier sense of realism, which engages its audience in a wholly different manner.

It's the bouncy, blurry home video look that gives Vine much of its distinctive look. In an age when slick production blurs the line between real life and the online highlight reel in so many ways, Vine is just a simple slice of life. It's only six seconds, but it's just enough time to serve up something simple or simply silly.


Lots More Information

Author's Note: How Vine Works

As I researched this article it was hard not to scroll through the comment sections of the articles I read. Almost without fail, there were some people who spewed foul words about Vine, about the overuse of social networking and about our ever-shortening attention spans. But Vine and its popularity are both signs of the age. More and more types of media vie for our eyes and ears and we have only so much time to spare for any of them. For better or for worse, in a few years, six seconds might seem like an eternity.

Related Articles

  • Bea, Francis. "Are Vine Celebs the Next Generation of YouTube Stars? Digital Trends. Aug. 12, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Bennett, Shea. "Visualizing Vine – Key Stats, Facts & Figures for Twitter's Video App." Mediabistro. July 30, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Constine, Josh. "How Long Till Facebook Clones Vine? No, Facebook Should Have Invented Vine." Techcrunch. Jan. 25, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Eddy, Max. "6 Easy Steps to Better Vine Videos." Pcmag. June 21, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013),2817,2420819,00.asp
  • Estes, Adam Clark. "Vine Has a Porn Problem Because of Course It Does." Atlantic Wire. Jan. 27, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Feinberg, Ashley. "I Never Want to Stop Watching this Incredible Vine Compilation Video." Gizmodo. Aug. 9, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Fingas, Jon. "Vine More than Triples its User Base to 40 Million, Shrugs off Instagram Competition." Engadget. Aug. 20, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Gupta, Prachi. "'Vine Star' Agency Promise 6 Seconds of Fame." Salon. June. 20, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
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  • Leswing, Kif. "Hack Vine to Upload Videos Shot Outside the App." Wired. Aug. 13, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Pathak, Shareen. "These Vine Celebs Made $10,000 in Six Seconds on their Mobile Phones." Ad Age. Aug. 26, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Raymond, Adam K. "How Vine is Making Interesting Music Six Seconds at a Time." Spin. Aug. 15, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Rodriguez, Salvador. "Vine Hits Impressive 40 Million Users. The Key? Comedy." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 21, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013),0,7354833.story
  • Rosmarin, Rachel. "Six Seconds to Glory: How to Make a Great Vine Video." Popular Mechanics. March 25, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Sydell, Laura. "How Vine Settled on 6 Seconds." NPR. Aug. 20, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Vaknin, Sharon. "Five Things to Know as You Get Started with Vine." Cnet. Jan. 24, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Van Grove, Jennifer. "Vine Famous: Twitter's Quirky App Unleashes a New Wave of Video Stars." Cnet. Aug. 18, 2013. (Aug. 29, 2013)
  • Warzel, Charlie. "Is This the End of the Vine Experiment?" BuzzFeed. July 1, 2013. 29, 2013).