The App that Withered on the Vine

Portsmouth University student Dyanni Swhyer-Brown laments the loss of an ingenious social media app that launched careers, raised important social issues and brought disparate people together. Dyanni Swhyer-Brown

Death doesn’t have happen to a human to be sad. Hearing about the death of a service dog you’ve never met, would bring a tear to anybody’s eye. What about the death of a publication or shop? There was uproar when thelondonpaper said it was closing down. BHS closed their doors a few months ago and Mum is still grieving about it. ‘Where will I get my nice cushions?’ she sobs into one she bought from Wilko yesterday. Don’t even get me started on Woolworths. The demise of our beloved Woollies was literally the only time the 2008 recession brought me to tears. Eight years later, and I still believe it will return, like Jesus did…

So what about the death of a social media app? In the last decade, apps like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have risen in popularity, now becoming staples on our smartphones. We can’t go five minutes without checking them. But, what if one of those apps just suddenly disappeared one day? What if they shut it down?

Last summer, a thought like that wouldn’t have crossed my mind. The internet was supposed to be forever. However, last October, while scrolling through Buzzfeed articles in the comfort of my bed and pink Minnie Mouse dressing gown, I saw the news, as clear as day. My head was tilted and my eyebrows were furrowed in denial, as I read Twitter announcing they were shutting down Vine.

Using the succinct videos it produced, Vine changed so many lives in its short three years of life. It was responsible for the rise of internet celebrities, known as ‘Vine stars’ or ‘Viners’. The success from Vine has given them the opportunity to launch singing careers, or act in movies and TV shows. Where would Shawn Mendes and Cameron Dallas be without Vine? Klarity and DeStorm Power overcame homelessness and poverty through the platform of Vine. Their hard work to create hilarious skits turned their lives around, by giving them the chance to become successful and live the true American Dream.

‘They’re killing off Vine?’ I whispered to myself. ‘Why?’ The silly thing is that I already knew the answer. When was the last time I actually went on Vine? I still got the notifications, but ignored every single one of them. Immediately, the guilt swirled in my mouth, leaving a bitter taste. I hadn’t consciously opened the app in over a year now. The only time I saw the familiar green and white home page was when I accidently tapped on a banner notification. Now, I realise each notification was a cry for help, a ‘save me’ from an old friend. I had ignored the signs and was now sat upright on my bed, dealing with the consequences.

Vine allowed young talent to flourish, while the rest of us withered with laughter. A well-known Viner, Jerry Purpdrank, even released a mixtape named Heard it Through the Grape Vine to honour the app launched him to stardom. While many remained faithful to Vine, their prominence on social media allowed Viners to convert to YouTube, where they could address their fans, for longer than six seconds. Unfortunately, this meant a large amount of their following converted with them, leaving Twitter now begging non-existent buyers to take over the most used app of 2013.

I began thinking back to the last time I scrolled through Vine’s timeline. Was it last year? A year and a half ago? What was the last funny Vine I watched? Was that really posted two years ago? No, it couldn’t have been that long. I swear I remember tagging Eve and other friends in a Mighty Duck vine in January. That’s when I remembered her: Eve. She introduced me to Vine, like setting me up on a blind date. It was awkward and stilted the first time I opened the Vine app. What was the point of watching a clip of someone doing a backflip, instead of stopping a robbery? Despite my protests, Eve convinced me to keep watching, showing me funny Viners that were worth following. Sure enough, with time the laughter flowed naturally at each different six second clip.

Vine was what brought me and Eve closer as best friends. I mean, we were pretty close before because we’re so similar: we’re the same height, we like the same food, we suggest the same fun activities. We have similar childhood experiences and memories, even though we didn’t know each other. We even chose university subjects that link, so I now have a go-to illustrator. But, Vine gave us another shared interest. We laughed at the same vines, gossiped about the same Viners and even made a pact to become Vine famous. It gave us a reason to message each other in the middle of the night saying, ‘have you seen so-and-so’s new Vine?’ We even threw Eve a Vine-themed surprise party. There were green decorations, everyone dressed up as their favourite Viner and I even made a Vine cake. Do you know how hard it was to draw their logo on a cake? It took three days! Would the death of Vine lead to the death of our connecting interests?

I broke the news to her on WhatsApp. No pleasantries like ‘Hi, How are you?’ I went straight for shock factor with, ‘SINCE WHEN ARE THEY KILLING VINE??’ Her initial response was a nonchalant ‘It’s been dead for ages’. True, but was she grasping the severity of the situation? I imagined her sat at her desk, pulling her thick bouncy curls into a bun, ready to start a sketch and shrugging away the crisis. She was pretty chilled when it came to major news, the antithesis of my overreacting nature. After explaining Twitter was getting rid of it, I suspect she flung open her desk drawer, grabbing her iPod to check if the dusty app was still working. It was, but for how long? Was Vine in a coma, waiting for Twitter to pull the plug? Or was it already dead, its followers listening for funeral announcements.

Memorial compilations had already been made, hours after the announcement. How long before she would find me wailing in the street, amongst other Vine mourners, clutching phones to our chests? Knowing Eve, she would probably leave me there, joking that she didn’t know that inconsolable maniac. A follow-up article titled ‘Here Are Some of the Best Vines to Watch before Twitter Kills It’ popped up. I sent it to Eve and waited for a response. Slowly, but surely, reality hit her.

‘Vine was memories,’ Eve said. She wasn’t a crier, but I imagined her usually wide, smiley eyes drooping down in mourning, as she waited for an update. ‘People’s dreams are being crushed.’ She had a point. Where would talented ‘one – Vine’ wonders share their hilarious gags? Years would pass, and the new generation would have no idea where certain unique pop culture references originated. I would have to explain to my children that Andrew Bachelor, now an A – List movie star, started off as King Bach on our humble phone screens. Without Vine, there would be no obsession for eyebrows to be ‘on fleek’ (well maintained).

In a world full of brutality and pain, Vine allowed insight into social issues, without being preachy. ‘Laugh at our pain’ beckoned the beaten black people, ‘as long as you understand this isn’t right.’ Vine assisted in Britain coping with Brexit. Instead of riots in the streets, there were riots of laughter on Vine. People of different cultures were able to make fun of themselves and each other, without being offensive. It became an unlikely community that embraced each other with open arms and wide smiles.

I stared at the screen, searching for a reason for Vine’s unfortunate death. The answer was simple. It wasn’t live. Social media is all about the zeitgeist and Vine couldn’t give that. The topics on Vine were in the moment, but not the right this minute. Even though Vines are only six seconds, the time producing and editing takes longer than writing a 140 character tweet. In the end, Twitter realised the app was ‘all Vine and no taters’ and decided to call it a wrap.

Breaking the news to my other Vine-loving friends wasn’t as hard. The icy wind of acceptance washed over me as I copied and pasted the article into each chat. I waited for the cacophony of questions like ‘Why?’ and ‘What next?’ These were questions I couldn’t answer myself. One friend gave me hope, saying ‘I still have that Vine party group photo on my wall. I look at it every day.’ Ultimately, that’s what I should focus on: remembering Vine in its prime. Instead of moping because it’s over, I should be glad it happened. It brought me closer to my friends, and let people live their dreams.

I should pay my old friend Vine a visit, but my grief is still raw. I later read that Twitter is keeping the old Vines up, like a shrine. Although new Vines won’t be produced, the old ones won’t be left twisting in the wind. I’m still left with a V – shaped gap in my heart, but I’m coping. Eve and I are still extremely close, converting to funny gaming videos on YouTube. Hey, eventually we’ll make our own YouTube channel. If we did, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell Eve to ‘do it for the Vine’, and she would turn to face me, with her wide, smiley eyes and reply ‘I ain’t gon’ do it.’

Photography by Moshe Tasky.