So Did Instagram Kill Vine or What?

No. They didn't. And understanding why is an important concept for anyone building a product to understand.

Halfway through my writing this piece, Mat Honan published an article titled “Why Vine Just Won’t Die”. Awkwardly enough, it appears Mat beat me to my own post. So read his piece, understand the importance of culture, then come back and let’s take it a step further.

I like how he characterized the niche of Vine’s community:

Take a moment to stroll through Vine’s “Popular Now” videos, and you’d have to be willfully ignorant to not notice that those on Vine are distinctly younger, distinctly blacker, and distinctly, well, gayer than society in general. In short, it’s cool. It’s hip. It’s a scene. If Instagram is an art museum, Vine is a block party.

Mat put plainly what everyone felt the first time they tried out video for Instagram. Shameful if the rambunctiousness of Vine disrupted the peace of someone’s silent Instagram wall. Sure, the tools were available to create something new. But the context of how we should use those tools felt… off.

Around the time that Instagram introduced video, Vine pushed an update with their own new features. The app now had the genre organization of Channels, a new Discovery mechanism, and most important: the Revine function. These additions improved the experience of using Vine the way it’s used best. By browsing and being inspired by the strange, hilarious, and creative content Vine users produce.

Contrast that with Instagram’s update. Not only do we now have video; but our videos are longer, with filters, software stabilization, and better editing! On paper, Instagram made a better product. They pushed software development hard to make something that gives the user a more powerful tool for creation. Impressive, sure; but it overlooks the culture defined by Instagram’s users.

I’m sure the team that came up with Vine initially imagined snippets of babies’ first steps, panoramic views of scenic landscapes, etc. And I’d assume that #smackcam and Llama Face were not what they had in mind for popular uses. But it appears that Vine has come to realize how most people use Vine, and what makes the app unique. So today they’re shaping the product to nourish that culture rather than add function for the sake of a better product.

Yep, form follows function, content is king, yadda yadda yadda. I guess this Vine/Instagram thing boils down to another lesson on the fundamentals of good design. But it also teaches a lesson for this current start-up era that’s making software where people interact.

If you’re lucky enough to have found a culture within the product you've created: first, congratulations on coming up with a platform that’s unique and simple enough to attract a community of users. But understand that you now have a responsibility to this community. The product you’re building and improving can no longer be done according to your own vision. It’s up to you to introduce features and changes that are amenable to how people are using it. And maybe you’ll come up with that killer new implementation that no one saw coming. But do not “improve” your app with something that someone else already has.

If Vine were to suddenly introduce filters, it’d be silly and everyone would ignore it. And it certainly wouldn't stop or change the off-the-cuff characters, painful pranks, and massive Vine meet-ups taking place all over. That’s the essence of how Instagram couldn't kill Vine by means of enhancing what it can do. A culture is not a feature to be built into a product. It’s one to form the product itself.

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