Last summer, during a particularly tough stretch at work, I found an unlikely source of relief in Vine. Every night before bed, in lieu of turning on Netflix or reading a book, I would pull out my phone, open the app, and spend the next 15, 30, or 45 minutes watching six-second Vine videos. This routine became a soothing narcotic that would help me wind down and, eventually, fall asleep. Sometimes, I went on binges, consuming hundreds of Vines at a time. I’d explore the network of weird artists and conceptual filmmakers who constituted “deep Vine.” Other times, I would skim the trending tab, find a Vine that made me cackle, and text it to everyone I knew.
In the smartphone era, no single app has given me as much joy as Vine. It was never the one I used most—unlike Facebook or Twitter or Slack, there was nothing essential about it—but it was the only app that consistently left me happier after I used it. Vine was a light, low-lift counterbalance to the horror show of Twitter and the numbing banality of Facebook. Firing up the app felt like being let in on a secret, like cracking open the door of the lab where cooler and funnier people created things you and your lame friends would be talking about in 6 months. It was a wellspring of youth culture, and its products–the phrase “on fleek,” for one, popularized by a woman named Peaches Monroe in an iconic 2014 Vine—became part of our vernacular.
And now, Vine is dead—euthanized by Twitter, its parent company, which is in asset-shedding mode as it attempts a fight for its life. Its death comes as no surprise—Vine was always a runt, by social network standards, and when Instagram (a much bigger platform, with Facebook’s billions behind it) launched video for its users, the die was cast. Facebook and YouTube quickly made a play for Vine’s top stars, and offered them more than Vine ever could—longer videos, more earning potential, and a bigger network of potential fans. When Vine’s audience followed them, the platform shriveled. An analysis of the 10,000 most followed Vine users conducted by an ad agency earlier this year found that the majority hadn’t posted since 2015.
In its heyday, though, Vine’s community was singular. There were pockets of badness—in particular, the racial and gender humor of some of the most popular teenage Viners stooped to early-Foxworthy levels of unfunny stereotyping—but the platform was never overrun with trolls or neo-Nazis like its parent company, in large part due to its design. Vine’s six-second limit made it inhospitable to overly political or opinionated content, and the lack of threading or replies to individual Vines made it difficult for trolls to latch on. Instead, what worked and got millions of views were simpler, more anodyne videos—bite-size gags, stunts, musical snippets, and visual illusions.
The limitations of a Vine video—square frame, six seconds, infinite loop, opt-in sound—also made it a challenging canvas for A-list celebrities, who saw little value in making video snippets the length of a sneeze that couldn’t be monetized. But to a group of incredible amateurs, Vine’s constraints inspired creativity and allowed them to flourish.
There were the big-name Vine stars, of course—King Bach, Jay Versace, Jerry Purpdrank, Logan Paul, Nash Grier—all of whom moved onto more lucrative media-making endeavors. But the teen heartthrobs never did it for me. Instead, I cherished the Vines by random people that were clearly never meant to blow up. These seemed to make it to the “Popular Now” tab by sheer force of hilarity, reminding me of an older, more democratic internet where the best things always rose to the top.
There are too many great Vines to list (although we tried), but I will share with you just one dearly beloved Vine, a video of a screaming goat that has 6.2 million views, of which at least 100,000 are mine.
What most adults misunderstood about Vine was that it wasn’t just TV for teens. It was a new form of entertainment, much more akin to a Vaudeville variety show—one where every musician, dancer, artist, and comedian had exactly six seconds to show you their stuff. As a creative platform, Vine was every bit as democratic as Twitter or Facebook—you didn’t need fancy cameras or mics to make a video—but it was a little tricky to use, and really tricky to use well. That barrier to entry meant that it never got flooded with baby videos, rambling political monologues, or screamy gamers. It was there for people who wanted to make stuff, not compulsive over-sharers.
Vine was also a rare place where entertainers deemed too young, too inexperienced, or too non-white for Hollywood gatekeepers could connect directly with their fans. That access fostered a vibrant community of popular artists and entertainers of color, many of whom got their starts on Vine. Last year, my TV show profiled King Keraun and Simone Shepherd, two young black entertainers who made names for themselves on Vine before parlaying their internet fame into TV show and movie roles. Keraun, especially, was an inspirational Vine story. He’d been in prison, started making funny Vines upon his release, and accumulated millions of followers in short order. Ultimately, he was scouted by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital, and has seen some crossover success in TV and movie projects.
I’m sad to see Vine go not because I actually liked making Vines (I was never very good at it). And it’s not like there is a shortage of enjoyable, shortform video on the internet (there’s plenty). I’ll miss Vine because it was a genuinely interesting digital space—a sandbox for a group of young, diverse, hyper-creative weirdos, built with a window to allow the rest of us too look in and marvel.