Ever wanted to watch someone get a face full of pie over and over again with audio and from multiple angles? Thanks to Vine, it’s possible.

The unofficial NICAR13 “pie-ing” event above was part of a Kickstarter reward for a project to create data journalism educational materials. For the $150 reward level, someone could “smash a pie in Ken Schwencke’s face at NICAR.” Lam Thuy Vo, Sisi Wei, Dave Stanton, Lauren Rabain, and Katie Zhu captured the moment on Vine.

Vine is a mobile app for iOS that allows users to create and share 6-second videos. Acquired by Twitter in October and launched at the end of January, Vine is the newest tool in mobile video.

Vine is like a mixture of Twitter, Instagram, and animated GIFs. Like Twitter, it limits length by design — Vine limits video length to three to six seconds. Like Instagram, it allows users to easily and quickly create visuals and upload them to social networks. And like animated GIFs, Vines continuously loop in the iOS app and web interface and have high spreadability potential.

Journalists have found ways to utilize social networks like Instagram and Twitter, and have somewhat grown to rely on these tools. Since Vine’s launch, journalists have been struggling to figure out the best way to use it. Some news organizations have been using it to preview print editions, share visually appealing elements of a story, or create dynamic infographics from static graphs.

It’s still early days for Vine — its creators still haven’t developed an Android app or built a web interface to create or upload Vines, although they have mentioned in interviews that those are in the works. Vine discovery also isn’t easy yet — because of platform constraints, most people find and share Vines through Twitter.

Why Vine is hard

  1. Context: You thought providing context was hard? Try doing it in 6 seconds or less.
  2. Click happy: You can’t be click happy. The Vine app records whenever the user touches the screen, which means that if you want to piece together several different scenes into one Vine, you have to make sure you don’t touch your screen between setting up scenes. Otherwise, you might have lots of footage of your feet. Good luck if you have a trigger finger.
  3. Six seconds: You can only shoot three to six seconds. This makes shooting spontaneous events difficult because you never know how long your clip is going to last. In an interview, you might have to try a few times to get your subject to spit out what he or she has to say in less than six seconds. Getting full sentences if you’re Vine-ing a press conference is also pretty hard.
  4. Editing: You can’t. Once you shoot, you can’t go back and edit.
  5. Infinite looping: Videos loop forever in the app and in the web interface, so you can get choppy starts and ends. Also, if it’s boring the first time, no one wants to watch it again… and again … and again …

Why Vine is still worth trying

Despite its current limitations and the constraints of the platform, Vine is pretty unique and worth a try. Vine is easy to use, its upload process is quick, and it’s tied to Twitter so you don’t have to build up a new following to share Vines. An article in PandoDaily also points out that Vines can be good for creating audio snippets and that more people will commit to watching a video if it is only six seconds long. Here are a few examples of ways Vine adds positive value to a story:

  1. Getting lots of angles of one event (see NICAR pie-ing above): Using Vine as a crowdsourcing tool is great — each video is short, and it’s easy to put together multiple Vines to add perspective.
  2. Setting context: Vines make it easy to splice together several short scenes. Vines can be great intros to written articles to set context.
  3. How-to’s and (short) explainers: Because Vine make it easy for people to piece together short scenes, it’s great for short step-by-step explainers. Unlike animated GIFs, Vines also have audio (although videos are muted by default in the web interface), which allows for another dimension of information.
  4. Sports replays: Sports replays play perfectly into one of the unique characteristics of Vine — infinite looping!

Tools for using Vine

  1. VineToolkit — For my senior project at MIT, I’m working on a toolkit that makes it easier to tell and share stories with Vine.
  2. vine.jsJeremy Singer-Vine created this javascript library for fetching Vines. You can fork it on Github.
  3. Vinepeek — Vinepeek shows newly posted Vines in real time.
  4. Channel 6# — Channel 6 allows users to create their channel of Vines based on one or more search queries.
  5. iExplorer (tutorial) — Upload custom Vines using iExplorer.

Tools we all wish we had (or at least their names)*

  1. Vineyard: a collection of Vines
  2. Vineline: a timeline of Vines
  3. Trellis: a sequence of Vines
  4. Finite Vine: Vines that don’t loop forever
  5. Cask: an archive of Vines
  6. Prune/Graft: a tool that lets you cut your Vines into pieces
  7. Tangle: Vine remix mashup tool
  8. Grapevine: a Vine verification service (because, of course, “you heard it through the grapevine.”)
  9. Plastic Vine: fake Vines
  10. Vine-vertising: Vine banner ads

*Some of these tools will be created and be in the VineToolk.it. Also, credit to J. Nathan Matias (@natematias) for coming up with many of these.

Joanna Kao is a senior at MIT in computer science with a minor in writing. She started the online media department at MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech, where she worked on interactive graphics, news applications, social media, and video. Joanna has interned as a developer at the Labs groups at the Washington Post and Boston Globe and was a collegiate correspondent for USA TODAY. She is interested in creating innovative tools, visualizations, and interactives developed for news, multimedia, and social networking platforms.