Six seconds isn't a lot of time. If you were to read this sentence out loud, by the time you finished, six seconds would be up. But the brevity of Vine, the app that lets users make and share six-second video clips, has attracted 40 million registered users since its January 2013 launch.
When popular photo-sharing app Instagram added video to its capabilities this summer, time was part of its distinction. Instagram allows users to take 15 seconds of video; Vine limits you to six.
And something about that limit is appealing. I asked Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann if one day he had a revelation that six seconds was just right.
"One day we did wake up and say, six seconds," Hofmann joked. Well, one day after many days of experimentation.
He and the other co-founders tried various lengths — 10 seconds, nine, five. And five seconds wasn't long enough.
"It was actually too short," he says. Six seconds allowed for the aesthetic feel the creators wanted but preserved the quickness they wanted to promise users. The limit allowed the average person to easily share and make a video on his smartphone.
But once they settled on six seconds, something was still off.
"The next thing that we noticed was that the videos start quickly but they also end very quickly and that felt anti-climactic," said Hoffmann. "It didn't feel right."
That's when the founders added a loop. On the Vine app, videos play over and over, and that loop has allowed for creative artists to play with "infinite" video action, and babies on Vine to take their first steps ... over and over.
"You don't just skip a six-second video, so you watch it. And when you like it ... you appear to watch it three, four, five, six times in a row," said Pierre Laromiguiere, president of Armstrong, a marketing company that uses Vine.
While Instagram can boast of bigger numbers, Vine's brand identity has become synonymous with artists, comedians and filmmakers who use the constraints of time — and the looping — for creativity.
Of course, creativity often happens when artists are given restraints. Haiku has only three lines, and it's been around for centuries.
Actor Adam Goldberg says, "Six seconds is the new black." Goldberg's put up more than 169,000 followers on Vine.
"The combination of the motion and the sound just kind of lent itself to something kind of eerie," he says, making it the perfect creative outlet for him. "Then you ... combine that with a tortured manic mind and, well ... you've got yourself a good time."
There's also a genre of animated Vines. Katy Lipscomb, a 19-year-old art student living in Georgia, says Vine makes the process of animation easy. "You just tap the screen ... you've got a frame and then you can keep on going," Lipscomb says.
Among her animations is a six-second video of a unicorn. The horn grows out of its head and the body fills in with colors until it looks as if it will jump out of the screen.
But Vine's six-second limit has its detractors.
"I just think that as we continue to dwindle down our attention span, eventually it's going to be about zero point five seconds and that'll be praised as the next big thing," says the blogger Carlos, who writes for the sports and pop culture blog Grantland.
Below, one of our favorite Vines of all time:
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Six seconds isn't a lot of time. In fact, by the time I finish saying this sentence, six seconds will be up. Yet, for some reason, Vine, an app that lets users make and share six-second video clips, has garnered more than 40 million registered users. NPR's Laura Sydell looks at what makes six seconds so interesting.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: I asked Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann if six seconds was something he just thought up one day.
DOM HOFMANN: Actually, one day we did wake up and say, six seconds.
SYDELL: Well, one day after many days of experimentation. He and his two co-founders tried various lengths, 10 seconds, nine, seven, five.
HOFMANN: Five was actually too short. It was actually too short.
SYDELL: Hofmann says the three founders of Vine were looking for a way to create an app that would allow the average person to easily share and make videos on a cell phone.
HOFMANN: We knew that we wanted them to be really quick to make, quick to upload, simple to upload, quick to download and view.
SYDELL: Even when they settled on a time limit, Hofmann says it didn't quite work.
HOFMANN: The next thing that we noticed was that the videos start quickly but they also end very quickly and that felt anti-climactic. It didn't feel right.
SYDELL: So they added a loop. It plays over and over. Hofmann figured that would make Vine perfect for sharing family moments.
HOFMANN: You know, there's a baby and he or she's on her highchair and you're feeding the baby and the baby spits it out. That's something that you can tell in a short amount of time.
SYDELL: And there are lots of baby videos on vine that loop over and over and over.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, can I eat that?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yuck.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, can I eat that?
SYDELL: Twitter, seeing its broad appeal, quickly bought Vine. For now, it's free of Twitter-promoted ads and that six seconds of endless looping has also had an enormous appeal to artists.
ADAM GOLDBERG: Six seconds, man. Six seconds. I'm telling you. Six seconds is the new black.
SYDELL: That's Adam Goldberg, an actor who's been featured in films directed by Steven Spielberg. He's more than 169,000 followers on Vine. Goldberg says he also likes how Vine lets you start and stop filming as many times as you want during that six seconds.
GOLDBERG: So the combination of the motion and the sounds just seem to lend itself to something kind of eerie. And then, you know, combine that with a tortured manic mind and, well, you've got yourself a good time.
SYDELL: In this six-second video, there's a film of a woman in different color wigs flashing on a screen in the background. A man in a black tie and suit speaks. We briefly see the film projector, hear its sound and then see Goldberg's bearded face.
GOLDBERG: This is my first film. This is my first film.
SYDELL: I have no idea what it means, but it is creepy. There's a whole genre of blood and gore and horror on Vine. There's also a genre of animated Vines. Katy Lipscomb, a 19-year-old art student living in Georgia, says Vine makes the process of animation, taking one picture then another and streaming them together, easy.
KATY LIPSCOMB: You just tap the screen, you've got a frame and then you can keep on going.
SYDELL: Among her animations is a six-second video of a unicorn. As you watch the horn grow out of the unicorn's head, the body fills in with colors and starts to looks as if it's going to jump out of the screen. This spring, the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival gave out awards for the best Vines. The Cannes Film Festival paid to bring Adam Goldberg there to make short promotions for the festival using Vine.
Pierre Laromiguiere is president of Armstrong, the marketing company that hired Goldberg. He says six seconds of video is a great way to promote ideas and products because people will watch the whole thing.
PIERRE LAROMIGUIERE: You don't just skip a six-second video, so you watch it. And when you like it or there's anything in it that appeals to you, you appear to watch it like three, four, five, six times in a row.
SYDELL: These attributes make Vine the perfect marketing tool, but the app has its detractors. A blogger who calls himself Carlos, writes for the sports and pop culture blog Grantland.
CARLOS: I just think that as we continue to dwindle down our attention span, eventually it's going to be about zero point five seconds and that'll be praised as the next big thing.
SYDELL: Of course, creativity often happens when artists are given restraints. Haiku has only three lines and it's been around for centuries, though, so far it hasn't become a popular tool for marketers. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.