Gretchen Lohse was just about to share her latest project with the world yesterday when her phone buzzed with some bad news. Vine, Twitter’s social video app, was marked for death. For most denizens of today’s social internet—addicted as they are to apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook—the impending closure of Vine wasn’t that big of a deal. But to people like Lohse, who serves as one half of the musical duo Carol Cleveland Sings, it marks the end of an era. Her band, which boasts more than 143,000 followers on Vine, has used the platform to post six-second clips of music videos created by her and coconspirator Thomas Hughes. Well, until now.
Carol Cleveland Sings’ Vine account is by no means one of the most popular ones. The stories of artists and teen heartthrobs with followers in the millions have been well-worn, as have accounts of people who have used Vine to launch careers in television, movies, and other creative industries. But still, Lohse and Hughes represent a unique coterie of middle-class creatives who took to the service to express themselves in a way that only Vine allowed–in thoughtfully crafted and endlessly looping six-second clips served up to an audience bigger than they’ve garnered on any other social media outlet. And soon, that audience will vanish into thin air.
“Vine was its own art form,” says Lohse. “It was really refreshing and different than the other apps that are out there. It opened up this whole new world of art for us.”
Since its launch, Vine’s minuscule time restriction struck many as silly. What could you possibly meaningfully express in a mere six seconds? A lot, as it turned out. It might be little more than a joke, a visual gag, or a snippet of a song, but the service quickly gave rise to a new kind of social media star, some of whom suddenly found themselves within striking distance of actual stardom. For Lohse, Hughes, and many artists like them, the time constraint presented a unique creative opportunity. And they used it, packing catchy melodies and slivers of bold, colorful imagery into these tiny videos and crafting them so that they would loop at just the perfect millisecond, delighting their followers and ensuring the each video’s loop count—an engagement metric unique to Vine—kept climbing north. Since starting their account earlier this year, the band’s endlessly entertaining Vines have helped them pile up new followers by the thousands.
“We’re almost at 150,000, which is insane,” says Lohse, who has played in several bands and performed as a solo artist in Philadelphia for more than a decade. “I never thought that 150,000 people would look at anything I did.”
With Vine disappearing, artists like Lohse and Hughes have no shortage of other social platforms to choose from. But today, still somewhat shocked by the news of Vine’s demise, they remain uncertain of where to focus they’re energy next. They’re already active in obvious places like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. But so far, no social network has offered the same creative experience as Vine—nor anything close to its massive audience.
While surprising to most of its users, Vine’s death doesn’t come completely out of the blue. The post-launch buzz had long faded as the hordes of users who rushed over to try out the latest hot social app had largely already trickled away toward services like Instagram, Snapchat, and–especially for the younger demographic that Vine still clung to–newer music-focused social video apps like Musical.ly. Twitter, eager to cut costs and sharpen its focus at it navigates a less-than-straightforward path toward a sustainable future, likely took one look at Vine’s downward-sloping numbers and said something roughly to the effect of “ah, fuck it” and pulled the plug.
But just because Vine’s user base wasn’t huge doesn’t mean the passion of those that remained is easily dismissed. Vine refugees will undoubtedly find their way to new creative homes online. Instagram, with the Vine-like video-shooting feature it just so happened to have launched shortly after Vine’s arrival, is probably the next best option (and Instagram would be wise to court Vine’s bummed-out expats and beef up its own video features). But while looping videos and social features are easily replicated, Vine offered one thing that’s harder to replace: a community. As a company, Vine actively nurtured its relationships with creators on the platform and supported their efforts. As a community, Vine users often exhibited a unique camaraderie that took various forms, from digital reverence such as likes, re-shares, and comments to real-life friendships.
“When it first came out, it felt like the thing that I had always wanted from the internet–this weird, raw community of different people from all over the world,” says Albert Birney, a filmmaker whose fictional gorilla alter ego Sylvio has more than half a million followers on Vine. “It really was a social thing. You met people, developed friendships. All of the sudden these introverted, quiet people were making friends and getting out there in the world.”
Thanks to his Vine success and the support of his followers, Birney was able to make a full-length film featuring Sylvio, a project that is just now being wrapped up.
“I don’t know why the community was so special to Vine,” says Birney, although he admits that it lost some of its “weird, funky charm” when it became dominated by fresh-faced teenagers seeking social media stardom. Even so, “it felt like a special, safe place to make things,” he says.
Although he knew that Vine wasn’t seeing anything close to the overall usage it once did, Birney was still shocked by the news that it would be closing down. As many other Vine devotees pointed out online, Birney thinks the company could have found a way to fold Vine into Twitter itself, rather than shutting it down entirely.
“I always felt like I’d be able to quit Vine, not that Vine would be able to quit me,” Birney says. “In the end, an app is a business and it’s there to make its overlords money or whatever.”
Like Carol Cleveland Sings and countless other creatives both big and small, Birney has no choice but to move on and find new online outlets for his work and hope that the audience will follow. As for whether or not his Sylvio character will live on via another social app, he isn’t quite sure. For now, he’s focused on putting the finishing touches on the film that Vine helped him jump-start. After that, he plans to get to work promoting it however he can.
“It’s a bummer because I was getting some Vine ideas,” says Birney. “It’s going to be weird to all of the sudden not have that option.”