Every few months, there is a new “latest and greatest” in digital marketing. Lately, you might be hearing lots of buzz around Vine, the six-second video platform acquired by Twitter. Some of you snarkier readers might ask yourself what kind of breakthrough this is. After all, what is so revolutionary about limiting videos to six seconds? If six-second videos work so well, why don’t we just post six-second videos to YouTube? There is nothing forcing you to post longer videos on YouTube if six seconds really works. I think those questions miss the point.
The real point of Vine is not that it allows a marketer to post a six-second video. The point is that it promises the viewer that nothing will be longer than six seconds.
Compare this to Twitter. It’s the same point, actually. Is there something magical about 140 characters that makes it the right format? No, it’s just short. There was no reason that you couldn’t have limited your blog posts to 140 characters, if that short form just plain works better. If that sounds silly to you, try to remember that Twitter was originally referred to as a microblogging venue.
The breakthrough that became Twitter is that it was promising people that nothing would be longer than 140 characters, so people could indulge their ever-shortening attention spans to their hearts’ content. No worry that something long and boring would intrude. (It might still be boring, but at least it is mercifully short.)
Vines is the same idea, which is why it makes so much sense that Twitter bought it. Now, I am not sure if six seconds is long enough to do an effective video. We don’t have any evidence for it yet. But we had no evidence for 140 characters prior to Twitter–sometimes you need to take a stab at something. If there is a need, then people adjust and suddenly it seems like a rule of the universe that 140 characters just feels right.
Personally, I would have been more sure of a 15-second format, the way Tout has done it. We have a long history of 15-second TV commercials being successful, so we know something good can be done in 15 seconds. But you haven’t heard of Tout, have you? It could be that we’ll figure out how to be effective in six seconds, too. Maybe commercials have gotten down to 10 seconds, so it seems like the magic number is somewhere between six and 15 seconds.
Once you start getting below six seconds, you start turning it into a static image rather than a video, but maybe that is the ultimate short video–just an image! But we don’t have evidence that works better. YouTube has always been more popular than Flickr. In June, Vine passed Instagram in total Twitter shares. In response to Vine, Instagram (which is now owned by Facebook) added sharing of videos that same month, recognizing that there is something valuable about short videos that can’t be reduced to images.
Now, Vine is useful for a lot more kinds of communication than commercials, but I am trying to make the point that, while six seconds is arbitrary, we have lots of evidence that attention spans are growing ever shorter. The idea of Vine with the backing of Twitter might be something worth looking into.