Variety’s 2014 Breakthrough in Technology Winner: Vine

Twitter-owned smartphone app changes video landscape

Variety Breakthrough Awards Vine

The Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards, which recognizes a select group of rising stars in entertainment and technology, will be held Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

It’s often been said that limitations can spur creativity, and the adage applies to Vine, the not-quite year-old smartphone app that allows users to produce and post six-second video clips.

The time constraint, combined with the app’s looping playback, gives Vine videos a surreal, hypnotic quality and puts a quirky, artsy spin on even the most mundane subjects, from dorky dancers to cute kittens.

But when they were developing the app, Vine co-creators Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll agonized over the limit. “We knew that shorter was better, both from a production and consumption side,” says Kroll, who earlier worked with Hofmann and Yusupov on the Gilt Groupe’s JetSetter travel site and mobile app. “We tried five (seconds), and that felt too short, and then 10, and that felt way too long. With six, it feels right when you’re watching it and it doesn’t feel like too much of a burden when you’re shooting it.”

The public appears to agree. Vine was purchased by Twitter in October 2012. Three months later, it debuted as a free iOS app on iPhone and iPad Touch, and it followed with Android and Windows Phone 8 versions in June and July, respectively. By late August, it boasted more than 40 million registered users.

While there are a wealth of video-sharing apps on the market, from Instagram to good old-fashioned YouTube, Vine appears to be dominating the cultural conversation at the moment.

“I think there are really two things that make it different,” says Kroll. “We’ve created a platform that makes it very simple to shoot and share video with your friends, and it allows people to discover a myriad of content.”

Kroll says they anticipated the app would be a platform for video mash-ups and for citizen journalism — such as the clip documenting the aftermath of the February suicide bombing outside the U.S. embassy in Turkey posted by a local journalist. But the sheer breadth of uses for the six-second format, from apartment ads to album release announcements to stop-motion animation, continues to surprise him.

“We’re constantly amazed by the creativity of the community that’s sprouted up around it,” Kroll says. “I’m a fan of the way people put camera attachments on their phones — fish-eye lenses, sophisticated rigs — simply to produce Vines.”

Since Vine’s launch, numerous features have been added to the app, including front-facing camera support (for “selfie” videos) to the ability to “re-Vine” other people’s videos with followers. It also added channels with different video genres, including comedy, family, health and fitness, and, of course, cats.

“We focus a lot on making it easier for people to discover,” says Kroll, “because there are so many great videos on the platform and it’s a challenge to continually make them more and more accessible to users.”