Inaugurating a very black moment, Vine began much like any other social network, and not until its demise was it realized what would be missed. Founded in 2012 by a trio of entrepreneurs—a word often, as also here, applied to men with some coding knowledge and access to obscene amounts of money—Vine initiated the bite-size video format, a home for looping uploads each six seconds, max. To the extent that Facebook altered our relation to friendship and Twitter, to sustained thought, Vine changed online video, hitting the viral sweet spot. Twitter, incidentally, acquired the platform shortly before it launched in 2013 and shut it down three years later when Vine proved unable to turn itself into a money tree. In those three years, millions of users making millions of videos looped millions of times took Vine’s limitations in their teeth and named themselves artisans of a new form. Vine became a “unique incubator,” as The Fader’s Jordan Darville put it, its influences felt across the web. “Watching the community and the tool push on each other was exciting and unreal, and almost immediately it became clear that Vine’s culture was going to shift towards creativity and experimentation,” Dom Hofmann, one of its founders, told The Verge.
Apps often come and go in a poof of VC lack of interest, but Vine felt different. Vine was mourned. More visibly than anywhere else, Vine rewarded the often comedic storytelling of its popular black users. As “both its own ecosystem of cultural production and an engine that powers cross-platform social media trends,” wrote Hannah Giorgis in the Guardian, Vine both came into its own through black comedy and also needed black comedy to make itself bigger than a mobile app, which for a time was the only way into Vineworld.
And the demise of the app wasn’t inevitable. In 2015, over a dozen of Vine’s most popular creators met with executives from Vine and Twitter to propose what would have been a mutually beneficial solution to the app’s financial concerns. “If Vine would pay all 18 of them $1.2 million each, roll out several product changes and open up a more direct line of communication,” Taylor Lorenz reported, “everyone in the room would agree to produce 12 pieces of monthly original content for the app, or three vines per week.” If Vine declined to pay these creators for further works put on the app, the group would walk off the app entirely. One of their requests in the way of product changes included effective guards against harassment. “Several viners said the community had taken a negative turn and their comments had turned into buckets of abuse,” wrote Lorenz. Most of the Viners who came to the table were not black, but the meeting’s outcome would say much about this tech company’s felt responsibility to compensate a group of people bringing life to its platform(s). The success of these Viners’ rescue attempt had implications for the many more mid- to upper-tier Viners—many of them black—who introduced so much of America, so much of the world, to their homegrown brand of tomfoolery.
The meeting’s outcome is obvious: Vine is gone. “This was a rare case when creative internet labor was organized enough and held enough leverage to negotiate collectively,” writes author Malcolm Harris, “but the important lesson from the story is that platforms would rather disappear entirely than start collective bargaining with talent.”
Vines went extinct, yet the ghost of internet cool still haunts us. Someone might still prompt their friend, “Watch this vine,” even if the video is 10 seconds or two minutes long. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram remain rife with compilations of creative content made for Vine for free by artists, comedians, and other storytellers. New slogans sprang into common speech, here forever. In one, looped millions of times, an adorable child breaks into dance after being urged for the third time to “do it for the vine.” It inspired a slew of remakes long before Damn, Daniel hit the scene. In what must be the most influential Vine of all time, Peaches Monroee, a.k.a Kayla Newman, admires her brows in the front-facing camera, declaring them “on fleek.”