There’s a collective tech nostalgia of what could’ve been, would’ve been, should’ve been when it comes to Vine. Years before TikTok, Vine had created a social network around six-second looping videos. It had all the early hallmarks of TikTok: the virality, the influencers, the marketing. But three years after a 2013 launch which saw it catapult to the top of the app charts, Twitter shut Vine down. Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube were all competing over short videos, and Vine didn’t build the right features or help creators monetize.
Now, Elon Musk is considering resurrecting Vine and bringing it back as a challenger to TikTok.
“Instagram is vulnerable now, so any new approach has better chances of working than before. But if it's the exact same product, it's tricky to believe that it's going to go as well,” said Niko Bonatsos, an investor at General Catalyst who has backed social app makers like Snap, Discord, and Yik Yak.
There’s certainly public support for a Vine redux. In a Twitter poll with over 4.9 million votes, nearly 70% of respondents were in favor of bringing back the short-form social network.
Nostalgia alone will certainly drive some people to return to Vine if Twitter reboots it. But sentimentality for an app won’t mean it becomes useful overnight. As Bonatsos pointed out, most of Vine’s original fans from nearly 10 years ago are no longer in their teenage or college years, with loads of free time to spend on social media, but are now full-time working adults, perhaps with a family. Today’s time-rich teenagers don’t have that fond recollection of Vine that would help drive them to naturally use it.
“To bring back the app is not that hard. To make it culturally relevant again is the hardest thing,” Bonatsos said.
Bringing it back might not be so easy either. There’s a whole lot of technical debt, thanks to an untouched codebase that a slimmed-down army of Twitter engineers would have to work through. While Musk has asked employees to start looking through the existing code, it might be better if the company just started from scratch, according to Sara Beykpour, who worked on Vine at Twitter and led its shutdown. “This code is 6+ years old. Some of it is 10+. You don't want to look there. If you want to revive Vine, you should start over,” Beykpour said in a tweet. (She didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Products have come back from the dead before. Steve Jobs is hailed as a hero for reviving the Mac. Yik Yak, a once-popular app among college students, died in 2017 and relaunched last year; it recently released an Android app. Gowalla was dissolved in 2012 but came back with new venture funding in 2021. The cyclical nature of trends means things like QR codes, vinyl records, and even Polaroid cameras are having a moment again. (Unfortunately, ’90s fashion is too.)
But resuscitating a beloved brand isn’t a guarantee it will work. There are plenty of zombie startups walking around that exist in name after somebody bought the IP, but aren’t quite the same. Munchery, the former food delivery service, is now a recipe website. Napster’s latest revival is some kind of Web3/NFT play. Social network Bebo was resurrected four times and sold twice before giving up the ghost. “It’s been emotional,” wrote founder Michael Birch on what's left of its website.
A return of Vine as is likely wouldn’t be enough to pry away users from TikTok — especially a younger generation of time-rich social media users who don’t have the same fond memories of Vine in the first place.
Creators have already realized Vine would need to be something new to bring it back with any staying power. “If you did that and actually competed with tik tok that’d be hilarious,” YouTube creator MrBeast replied to Musk’s original tweet about whether Twitter should bring it back. But even he pointed out that everyone has copied TikTok, so whatever Twitter does, it has to make it more than a copy or it could be a waste of time. “No one is original anymore, whatever you do will be on every other platform the next month unless it has a deep moat,” he said.
Twitter’s product leaders are already trying to think through it with the goal of potentially relaunching by the end of the year. An early idea is to turn the camera inside of Twitter’s app into an easy way to record and post Vines, according to a report from Platformer. A reported use case could be users filming reaction videos to tweets they see. With Twitter’s product road map evolving by the hour, it’s too early to say what will happen to a Vine 2.0. Let’s just hope its lifespan isn’t as short as its videos.