Short Messages About Breakfast Can Change the World

My first Tweet was a lot like yours: lame. At the time I wasn’t sure what to expect from a service that shared short 140 character bursts about nothing. It seemed mostly like an echo chamber – where you test what might happen if you respond into the void and hear an echo. And for a long time it was an echo.

And then a strange thing happened. As I got into the habit of sharing information in the form of links or ideas that I found interesting, I met people who were like-minded. I found people I had never met before who read my blog posts. And I started searching on Twitter to see what I could find.

I found short messages and pictures of people’s breakfast, of course. I found memes and bots and messages that didn’t really make sense. And then I found real time news, ideas and amazing stories. There were first-person stories about earthquakes. There were impassioned pleas for attention to far flung corners of the world. There were news stories before they were reported on the news. And there were news stories never reported on the news.

The point is that Twitter felt like a new thing – a combination of CB Radio, Community Bulletin Board, conversation and chaos all at the same time. It was a new form of (relatively) unmediated conversation and opened up the world in a way that other walled garden networks (AOL, Facebook, Google) hadn’t done. Twitter’s become a little more grown up in the last year or two and feels more like a media network than it did a few years ago, but it’s still really interesting because you can use its filters to create your own channels for news.

It’s a challenge for a network built on decentralized messages to stay relevant to a large number of customers and to expand its purview beyond individual conversations. Twitter feels like it might get there. I still love seeing pictures of people’s daily experiences published to the web in real time and the snowball effect when people share a meme.

Why Vine and Other Short-Form Video is Important

Redvines Punning with Vine - a New Form of Ad?
Redvines Punning with Vine – a New Form of Ad?

Video is not just for Cats

When Twitter announced the Vine product that allows you to share 6 second videos with friends, you may have thought as I did that the whole genre of app development was getting a little too specific. “Why would anyone want to share a short video with friends?” was admittedly my first thought, and oh was I wrong. In the last week I have seen some amazing content on Vine that included: a stop-action movie of a “magic 6 ball,” a visual postcard from India, and some other very clever uses of video that caught my attention, made me think about short video as an art form, and challenged me to reassess my original ideas about Vine.

Why does Video Matter?

Short-form video is important because

  • The sound and movement gets your attention
  • It doesn’t take long to download
  • It can be personal, broadcast, or just something entirely new (a serial told in 6 second chapters?)

The first reason short-form video is vitally important (especially in this format) is that Vine was designed from the beginning to be social and mobile. Video is inherently interruptive in nature — both in the combined use of audio and video that commands your view — and the visual dopamine hit you can get from seeing something novel and interesting (and no, not talking about Vine’s porn problem here, as I think that will fade in view over time) is fulfilled very very quickly by Vine. The fact that you can fill a few seconds of your time with interesting content is a great sign for Vine.

We Communicate Visually

Short-form video is also important because it’s an evolution in the way that we communicate with each other (both on a one to one and on a multicast basis.) Because Vine is owned by Twitter, it’s reasonable to assume that the Vine features will percolate into Twitter over time, and the idea of making both a video for an individual person or for an audience will develop. My first impressions of this medium are that it’s compelling because it’s novel and also because it’s not too much work to discover some amazing, creative work.

Where will short-form video go from here? We’re in the early days, and short-term video seems well suited to survive (and thrive) as a third screen. If the tablet is the de facto second screen to the computer or Television, then the mobile-only video will have a place as well. I’m looking forward to seeing visual content that moves back and forth across these different visual modalities like a gigantic visual treasure hunt. And Vine would be a great way (if you could geofence it) to provide visual clues to a scavenger that only pop up when you’re within 50 meters of the target. The possibilities are intriguing, particularly for brands that want customers to engage via mobile.

What’s Next for Short-form Video?

Short-form video is here to stay, and Vine is an interesting first step in moving the animated gif into the mobile age. Because of the distribution that already exists in the Twitter ecosystem, I’m certain that Sponsored Vines are only a few clicks away – and by the way Twitter, if you can target these ads to me based on the people or brands with which I follow and engage, that will make those Vines more interesting to watch. You can find me on Vine – I’d love to see what you’re doing there – and in the absence of profile pages, watch this 6 second video of my dog

You can’t make sense of this. And you can act.

I don’t usually write about current events, but I can’t stop thinking about the one you’re thinking about, and need to share my thoughts. There have been some horrible things that happened this week. And you’ve tried to make sense of them. (I have too.)

It’s easy to try to explain why policy should change, why people choose to do unspeakable things, why innocent children happen to die, and why the media is partly responsible for this tragedy (and for the fact that we’re even talking about it). It’s also easy to jump to conclusions about what might or might not fix this problem (I have my solutions, and I’m sure you have yours.)

But this post is not about gun control, the responsible use of guns, or the exploitation of tragedy. It’s a call to all of us to stop trying to explain what happened and to act to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

What does that mean for you? I can’t tell you – I can tell you that it means for me that I’m going to act the next time someone I know calls our for help – and that you should too. Sadly, in my experience I haven’t found a way to stop random, senseless acts of violence from happening. And I have found that when people take small actions to make the world better, at least their part of the world gets better.

Let the tragedy at Sandy Hook be a reminder that we are all responsible for each other, that problems like this can and could happen anywhere, and that we need to do everything non-violent in our power to act and stop more tragedies like this from becoming reality. And we need to tell all mass media outlets to behave more responsibly (I’m up for a debate here as to what this means.)

Perhaps Margaret Mead said it best:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead

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