Kids, before there was TikTok, there was a little old app called Vine—which, come to think of it, was kind of the same thing. But, in many important ways, not really.
Vine was popular for its six-second-long videos. The videos would loop, or rewind themselves and play again, like a GIF with audio. This format proved to be fertile grounds for some of the most creative, hilarious, and now iconic content.
It was on Vine—founded in 2012, folded in 2017, now only existing partially in an archival state—that the likes of Shawn Mendes, Lele Pons, King Bach, and the Logan Brothers got their literal first few seconds of fame. But arguably some of the best things that came from the app are the comedy videos that nostalgic internet users claim kept them alive, changed the world, and will educate future generations.
Vine demonstrated the power of video in a social media space that at the time was saturated with text and photos, said Kokil Jaidka, an assistant professor of communications and new media at the National University of Singapore. “It created a new genre of fast comedy content that is still nostalgically referred to as ‘vine energy,’” she said.
I see little purpose now in trying to understand why Vine died. I’d rather just remember the good times, and be grateful it lived, however shortly.
To do that, I sometimes take to YouTube. There, godsends have compiled some of the most popular vines into videos that range from 10 to 30 minutes long. Many of these compilations now have anywhere from one to upwards of 50 million views, and feature vines that are imprinted on my mind to this day.
Who could forget, for example, the vine of Daniel, who came “back at it again with the white Vans.” Or the vine of a lady walking on the street while on the phone saying, “and they were roommates,” before the man recording the video mockingly repeated, “oh, they were roommates.” Or the one with the person struggling to pronounce a sign that read “FR E SH A VOCA DO” without bursting out in laughter. I could go on forever, but you get the point. And we haven’t even mentioned the dances.
The prevalence of these vine compilations tells me I’m not alone in my nostalgia. Former Vine makers and watchers alike still remember the app fondly, and even think it’s influenced today’s humor.
“When I was on Vine, it was epic. The humor was fresh and top-tier,” said Cole Hersch, who regularly posted on Vine, riding trends like the Harlem Shake and the Ice Bucket Challenge.
“Vine had such a lively, light feel to it at the start. The creative limitations bonded people and changed the way people communicate as a community. [On the year of its launch,] it was a breath of fresh air from the then video-less Instagram,” said Gregor Reynolds, a former viner—the one who sneezed on the beet (and the beet got sicker).
Some YouTube users point to how the content on the app shaped their humor. “Because of being raised by vines, my humor is laughing at random things that are just chaos or make no sense,” wrote one, just five months ago, in the comments section of a compilation of iconic vines posted on YouTube.
“I most definitely think Vine shaped the humor of the generation that used it,” said Reynolds. “Equally, I think Vine has shaped a lot of the humor that we see today. I think the quick jokes, dry humor, and less-is-more comedy—for lack of a better term—that we see today is directly attributed to what Vine produced.”
There is a sort of magic to watching these gems again, years after they were created. It feels like they set the tone for what people find funny or otherwise entertaining now—unexpected combinations of original visuals and popular songs, random user-generated sound bites, and replicable dance moves.
“The fact that it’s been almost five years since Vine died and I still watch and quote these little videos on nearly a daily basis blows my mind,” reads another YouTube comment on yet another compilation of vines.
Today’s kids have in TikTok something very similar to what the Vine generation had in Vine—a stream of short-form, often funny, and sometimes ridiculous videos. TikTok launched in 2016, so it can’t exactly be the reason Vine died. Vine’s time in the youth’s attention span was already approaching its end as TikTok’s was just about to start.
TikTok, with its rapid rise and undeniable cultural impact, is now enjoying its time as one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. There are, however, other short-form video apps—like one called Clash—that are keeping the tradition of Vine alive. But in some ways, TikTok in particular is helping keep Vine alive today.
Accounts like Vines on TikTok, Good ol’ Vines, and Vineflashback repost the now-defunct app’s content on the now-thriving app. The accounts mentioned, as well as others like them, have hundreds of thousands, if not as much as 1.5 million followers, and get millions of views and likes.
“Even though there have been, and are other short video platforms, Vine’s stellar rise to popularity made it obvious that ‘performative short-video entertainment’ was an untapped market,” said Jaidka, the communications professor. But the fact that Vine was and TikTok is based on short-form videos is perhaps one of the only similarities, she added.
“In terms of innovation, user support, and creator support, TikTok seems to have learned from the mistakes of Vine and has been flexible and responsive to its community,” said Jaidka, pointing to TikTok’s filters, augmented reality features, and options for combining, editing, or remixing other users’ content—none of which were priorities for Vine.
And then, of course, there’s the For You page, which lets TikTok users discover endlessly more videos, even from creators they don’t follow, instead of looping the same one. This is a stark contrast from Vine’s following-centric feed, which kept you, so to speak, stuck in a loop.
“The reason TikTok is better is because, on Vine, you told them what you wanted to see, whereas, on TikTok, they know what you want to see,” said former viner Reynolds.
There are other reasons TikTok is flying after Vine crawled. The pandemic, Jaidka said, meant that a lot of people were spending more time on their phones, so TikTok saw a huge growth in userbase.
But I think we should stop comparing the two. I’m just happy these vines are still around, even if Vine itself is not anymore. Lots of the time, I remember the vines I now watch on YouTube and TikTok. Seeing them again adds a warm nostalgia to the already comforting feeling of humor. The loop goes on.
Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.