The girls are fighting!
“The girls” meaning “the exploding field of short video social media platforms,” and “fighting” meaning “monetizing.” ... And “are” meaning “is.”
On Friday, Vine, fallen hero of the online 2010s, reincarnated as Byte. Both platforms were founded by Dom Hoffman, feature six-second looping videos, and serve as vessels of good (a currently popular Byte video imagines a sub-staircase Harry Potter episode of MTV’s Cribs) and evil (content by brothers Jake and Logan Paul, skate park versions of the Winklevoss twins).
The saga of the genesis of online short video is fit for a Broadway adaptation. In 2012, Twitter bought Vine before its release, expecting it to serve as a video version of the super-short tweet format, in which users could capture short, normal moments of their normal, respectable lives to share with their cool, well-adjusted friends. Instead, Vine quickly exploded into an internet Woodstock of surreal and self-referential humor in which lawn mowers fly, children summon “the power of God and anime,” and Tre has a basketball game tomorrow.
Compilations of Vines uploaded to YouTube—the most popular installations of which have names like “vines that just butter my eggroll” and “vines that keep me from ending it all”—have become the Gen Z Yule Log: rolling, comforting footage to keep on background for hours and in which one can find comfort, humor, solidarity, beauty. Also, Logan Paul doing fuck shit.
Despite being a tentpole of online humor in the 2010s—it ultimately reached over 200 million active users—and the intertextual masterpiece of the 21st century, Vine struggled to make money, in part because it didn’t take cuts of creators’ deals with advertisers (proletariat hero). That prompted popular creators like Amanda Cerny and the Paul brothers to take their audiences to platforms like YouTube, which is more conducive towards monetizing content, or Instagram, whose video feature accommodates longer clips. Talk about biting the hand that lets you hit its Juul, Jake and Logan.
In 2017, Twitter shuttered Vine.
After a grieving period, tweens and clout gods stood up, brushed off their high-waisted Brandy Melville jeans and found a new home: Tik Tok, whose maximum video length is a comparatively Odyssean 60 seconds and was the fourth most-downloaded non-game app in 2018, shortly after apps like Facebook. Tik Tok, too, is the best and worst of times, with teens dancing along to explanations of European colonialism on one hand and “Tik Tok nurses” (21st-century plague doctors?) bullying their patients on the other.
Now, Hoffman has returned with Byte to avenge Vine and challenge Tik Tok’s recent hegemony. The app has much in common with its predecessor and competitor, with a deliciously neon interface that features individualized and trending feeds, as well as categories like comedy and fashion.
Where Byte crucially differs is in its monetization: Hoffman took notes last time, and has vowed to implement a payment system for popular Byte creators, though he hasn’t yet specified exactly how. It remains to be seen whether moving to pay creators will incentivize creativity or fund the modification of the Paul brothers’ vape rigs.
Regardless, the move seems in part to stem from Hoffman’s desire to turn his oddball apps into communities of creators. During Vine’s demise, he told The Verge:
The most important of part of Vine has always been the people that are on it. It’s also the only part that can’t be replicated. So I’m going to miss them. Even though I can and do follow some people from Vine on Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or wherever they’ve decided to go, it just doesn’t feel the same. It’s like the band is breaking up and everyone’s going solo.
The beta version of Byte has been out since April 2019, so such a community has already established itself on the platform. They bear a resemblance to the Vine community: young, goofy, irreverent, self-referential.
One such creator (username yos69), characteristically sums up the launch in a Byte titled “How the creators of byte made this app”:
“We’re gonna make an app. Something that will change humanity.”
“What is it?”
You can check out Byte below.