When Twitter shuttered Vine in 2018, it was the end of not just another video service but also the death of a wonderfully quirky part of the internet. Vine's six-second videos somehow gave birth to a treasure trove of time-lapsed punchlines, zingy one-liners and bizarre but surprisingly entertaining fare. Unfortunately, most of the creators behind these short films took their talents to more profitable platforms like YouTube. Last Friday, however, Vine successor Byte finally arrived, signaling a grand and much-awaited comeback. Sort of.
Launch Byte, and you'll find all the usual trappings of video capture apps. There's your feed with constantly looping six-second videos, an Explore page where you can look at other accounts, an Activity page with the usual "like" and "follow" notifications, a personal profile page and, of course, the center camera button, which is what you'd use to capture your six-second works of art.
Much like Vine of yore, the interface is fairly simple -- there are no selfie filters or crazy effects here. You can, of course, remix existing videos from your camera roll, and there is a Ghost Mode, which helps with positioning in time-lapse or stop-motion videos. But otherwise, the creativity is up to you.
This is in stark contrast to the other big name in the short-video world: TikTok. Instead of six seconds, TikTok videos are up to 15 seconds long (or you can pull four together for 60 seconds). You can add songs to create your own little mini music video, or "Duets," where you add to another person's video. These sorts of features make TikTok the perfect medium for viral memes, where anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame simply by dancing to a hooky song. It's such an influence in popular culture that Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" skyrocketed from TikTok meme to Billboard sensation in just a few months.
To highlight how much of a foothold TikTok has in this space, one of the first trends to emerge on Byte is about, well, TikTok. Scroll through the Popular page, and you'll see Byte videos making fun of TikTok and warning newbies not to post their TikToks. One popular Byte video captioned "TikTok dancers trying to use Byte" shows the user starting to dance, but he stops awkwardly, because his six seconds are up. Sure, these Byte videos are dragging TikTok, but they probably wouldn't be doing that if it wasn't so popular in the first place.
Yet, Byte seems very aware of TikTok's popularity and is working on a few ways to address that. One of TikTok's features, for example, is the For You suggestions feed that pushes to the top the most popular or viral videos based on your use of the app. In comparison, Byte has a For Your Consideration video that pops up in your feed occasionally to help you discover new content. Hoffman said the team is working on a recommendation feed very similar to TikTok's, which should help with reach. "We didn't start with it because there wasn't enough activity in beta to properly test it, but now we can," he tweeted.
we're working on a recommendation feed that learns as you use the app and should also help with reach. we didn't start with it because there wasn't enough activity in beta to properly test it, but now we can. you can follow our algorithm changelog here: https://t.co/pvL0eALsYl https://t.co/cJFzSeos1S
— dom hofmann (@dhof) January 25, 2020
There are other, more unique features of Byte, too. You can change the app's icon to one of nine styles, and you can set the camera to record by tapping anywhere on the screen. There's also a unique point system of collecting "stars" for the more followers and views you get. Hoffman says this is for fun right now, but perhaps there could be more use for them later on.
Additionally, TikTok doesn't currently have a way to help its content creators make money, while Byte, perhaps learning from Vine's mistakes, has a partner program in the works. "Byte celebrates creativity and community, and compensating creators is one important way we can support both," the company tweeted.
very soon, we'll introduce a pilot version of our partner program which we will use to pay creators. byte celebrates creativity and community, and compensating creators is one important way we can support both. stay tuned for more info.
— byte (@byte_app) January 25, 2020
Importantly, Hoffman seems to understand that one of the most important parts of Vine was its community. It launched a Byte community forum alongside its announcement a couple of years ago, and Hoffman says the Byte team is fairly active in responding to users and finding out what features they want.
Still, it's unclear if Byte can truly pick up where Vine left off. With Snapchat and Instagram Stories picking up the mantle for short ephemeral snippets, and TikTok, those viral memes, a simple six-second-video app might not be able to compete. Appetites for short videos may have changed, and Byte's super-simple interface could be too dependent on creator imaginations, at least in its current incarnation. Plus, Byte has quite a few teething problems already; it often crashes during longer video edits, the Android version doesn't let you block accounts and it's currently inundated with spam bots.
Yet, Vine's legacy could very well be reason enough for Byte to exist. In a world where so much of the internet is hostage to ad buys and sponsored content, it's so refreshing to see an app like Byte that is dedicated to creativity, fun and just straight-up wackiness. That was what Vine delivered. It helped make the internet wonderful and weird. And perhaps that alone makes the Byte endeavor worthwhile.
Byte's app store description notes: "Nostalgia is our starting point, but where we go next is up to you." Here's hoping it figures that out.