The Future Of The Animated GIF
A consequence of becoming a media company, like Twitter, is that occasionally you get to invent new media, or at least reinvent old media.
Twitter started a native photo service in 2011, for a lot of different reasons, like not wanting a third-party service to host (and therefore control) photos of landmark moments like the Hudson River plane crash. Twitter doesn’t have a video service yet, but as you might suspect, it’s been in the cards. It bought one earlier this year that never launched, called Vine.
It’s a looping six-second video, which doesn’t seem at all remarkable: But consider that you didn’t press play on anything. I didn’t do anything special, either. I just copied and pasted a couple of lines of code. And Dom Hofmann just snapped a quick video, which Costolo easily posted on Twitter. It’s a video, in other words, that feels like a tweet. It’s as simple as an animated GIF. And it can live anywhere a tweet can, through Twitter embeds.
The GIF feels, to many, like an exhausted medium. And while the question of “What’s after Instagram?” has been asked at a sharper pitch and with a higher frequency because venture capitalists and entrepreneurs think the answer is worth a lot of money, the question “What’s next?” feels as relevant to one image-based medium as the other. There’s been no Instagram of video (Snapchat is the closest thing, I’d argue, largely because it inverts most of Instagram’s most important qualities, but that’s another piece). And there’s been no immediately obvious successor to the animated GIF.
These clips add to the form of the GIF without taking anything away: They’re short, infinite loops, but with higher fidelity and optional sound. They’re more portable, in a way, because they don’t require uploading to display on a site — just pop in Twitter’s code. And they remove the interface from video: The clip just plays.
As Peter Kafka reported last night, Vine is initially launching as a separate app in the App Store for sharing six-second video clips, either composed of a single take or a lot of little clips, like Costolo’s video. The way it integrates with Twitter is where much of its power lies: Twitter’s new embeds allow these bite-sized video loops to live anywhere an embedded tweet can, which is all over the web. (The process of embedding a tweet needs to be easier for people than it is, though.) You can bet that Vine’s features, or something like them, will be a part of the core Twitter app eventually, much like photos are now. Which leads to another nontrivial point: Easy-to-use software baked into Twitter would make the production of these clips even more accessible than the production of animated GIFs, which now require either special software or knowledge and a way to upload them. Anyone can make these. This took two (well, six) seconds:
And unlike photos, where Twitter was super late to the party, nobody’s done anything like this for shareable video. If it works, and these clips do (re)define how we share video on mobile and on social networks, this could very well be something new — if not a new form of media, a reinvention of one. And while there are worse ways to become a media company, there probably isn’t a better one.