Vine, the short-form video app that launched 9 years ago this week, has now been dead longer than it was alive. There has been a lot said about why Vine died, but what about how its content lives on? Vines have been memorialized in internet culture through YouTube compilations, TikTok trends, and its numerous creators—ensuring that, while Vine is long gone, its legacy persists.
Despite the platform’s brief life, iconic vines have stayed culturally relevant for years. We continually go back to them as a sort of comfort watch and reference them as inside jokes. At the beginning of the pandemic, compilations of “vines for quarantine times” garnered millions of views, bringing joy during a time when it was so desperately needed. Even on TikTok, former viners and videos with “Vine energy” are popular, indicating a lasting love for the defunct website. Vines harken back to a simpler time online, before the creator economy really boomed and people had to creatively work around minimalist platforms.
It is because of—or perhaps, in spite of—these limitations that people were able to innovate, creating some of the most memorable pieces of internet humor we have today. Vine wasn’t an especially complex platform, and for most of its life, it stuck with its six-second time limit. With only six seconds, creators had to come up with the most efficient ways of keeping our attention. As a result, vines have a way of sticking in our heads, so much so that even eight or nine years after their peak, we can still quote them today.
In this era of the internet, when there is so much content all the time, it’s hard to create something singular that stands out. Sam Ayele, a cognitive scientist and internet meme researcher, is interested in the way vines “cling to our minds very easily.”
“Every time I look at a road work sign, my brain just says, ‘I sure hope it does,’“ Ayele tells the Daily Dot, referencing a popular Drew Gooden vine.
Ayele has some theories as to why vines like Gooden’s continue to be memorable. One reason, she says, is that they’re short and funny. Another is that we constantly “relive” Vine via YouTube, and repeated viewings allow these short videos to embed themselves in our brains.
The style of an iconic vine is hard to define but remains recognizable today. Even on TikTok, there are videos that people identify as having “Vine energy.”
“At first, I feel like most people thought [TikTok] was a reincarnation of Vine. But now, it’s like its own different thing,” she says. “But when you still see those very short, very fast types of humor, you just feel like it’s a vine.”
Last July, Ayele stitched a TikTok that viewers said was vine-like and posed a question to her TikTok followers: What is Vine energy?
Some answers include: “short, chaotic, meta”; “The joke lands in the very last second of the video and cuts off early, leaving you feeling shocked but then you get the joke and you feel satisfied”; and “Short. Unexpected one liner, may or may not have slapstick. Know it when you see it.”
Indeed, you do know Vine energy when you see it. A lot of it has to do with editing. Much of internet humor, including that from Vine, is facilitated by the way videos are edited. Many of the most well-known vines have similar editing devices in them, including, as Vulture staffers wrote last year, cutting to black, zoom-ins for emphasis, implementation of reaction clips, multi-character edits, and freeze frames. Ayele adds that these videos can have a sort of catchphrase or quotable moment.
In an interview with NBC, Gooden called vines “the video equivalent of a tweet.” There’s just enough time for one impactful joke. Vines, with their short run times, may have hit a sort of cognitive sweet spot that helps viewers remember them. Our brains, Ayele says, can register text memes nearly instantaneously, while minute-long TikToks take a bit longer for us to understand. However, one can be too short, making it forgettable, while the other can be too long, losing our attention. So, the six seconds in a vine may be the optimal amount of time for the brain to process a piece of content.
“It takes a little bit of work, but it’s not so much that your brains like, ‘All right, I got to keep paying attention,’ Ayele says.
The uber-short video format is also less common nowadays as platforms incentivize longer watchtimes. TikToks are short, but not as short as vines, so extremely quick videos with “Vine energy” are popular because they are nostalgic to us.
“It’s nostalgic to that era of memes. And I think because we are now getting longer and longer forms of TikToks, it’s very rare to see these five to six second shorts,” Ayele says. “I think that’s the appeal [of Vine energy], because it’s pretty rare, and it’s reminiscent. … Plus, it has to be funny. So with all of these things combined, I think there’s a sort of affinity towards nostalgic Vine energy things, rather than the pictorial meme or a longer TikTok.”
Nostalgia has a huge influence on how we remember Vine. While it can take us back to a simpler online experience, it wasn’t necessarily this beloved at the time. It certainly had a lot of issues, both for creators and users. Ayele remembers scrolling through Vine as a teenager and being unimpressed—I concurred.
Ayele thinks Vine hit its prime posthumously, through YouTube collections that preserved the very best of the app. Today, she says our perception of Vine is impacted by survivorship bias, meaning we remember only the good vines because they are archived. The rest—the bad or forgettable—are essentially lost, which skews our view of the platform itself.
“We don’t even remember what it was like to scroll through Vine,” she says. “I think TikTok has a way better system than Vine ever had. But because we have this sort of shrine to the best vines on TikTok and we seek to find new ones that we haven’t seen—like the rare vines and whatever—then I think it also influences the way we think about vines today.”
The nostalgic love for Vine wasn’t enough to fuel its successor Byte (now Clash), at least not yet. But its impact is undeniable, both in general internet humor and in the creator space. Vine gave some of today’s most popular creators their first six seconds of fame, but it couldn’t keep up with them. So, they took their creativity elsewhere, growing content empires on Instagram, YouTube, and now TikTok. Today’s platforms have a better understanding of the lucrative potential of the creator economy and have implemented monetization options to keep creators—and thus viewers—on their sites.
So perhaps, in spite of our love for it, Vine is more useful in death than in life. Its folding taught us a lot about the importance of supporting and maintaining content creators. And through today’s nostalgia-driven Vine shrines, it is remembered for its best features—which cannot be guaranteed if it were still around.