So, heard about Vine yet?
It started with a Tweet from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, so innocuous that I actually skimmed right past it on my morning commute. But by the end of the weekend, the Twitterati were buzzing with excitement and the newly-minted app was soaring up the iTunes ranks.
Co-Founder Jack Dorsey, who increasingly resembles someone playing Steve Jobs in a film, made a big fuss about the new app-cum-feature. He even went so far as to say - through Twitter, of course - that Vine "brings an entirely new art form to the world." Jason Goldman, former product bigwig, also Tweeted: "Acquiring and launching Vine as a separate product and brand is one of the best product decisions Twitter has made."
There was understandably disagreement, some of which was pointed. Matthew Ingram of GigaOm was nothing short of scathing in his claim that Twitter was losing its simplicity: "adding more and more content to each individual tweet threatens to overwhelm a service that used to be a bastion of simplicity". If I may, however, I think Ingram is confusing Twitter's delivery (the Tweet) with its purpose (to bring you real-time snippets of what's important to you). Are we for example to believe that embedded YouTube videos are somehow 'not Twitter'?
Daniel Terdiman of CNET was also initially disenchanted by what he interpreted as plain hubris: "I tend to tune out when an executive is so effusive in touting one of his or her company's own products [...] I saw it as a simple six-second video that looped."
Which is more or less what it is - in exactly the same way as Instagram is just photos spun through a small selection of filters.
See where am I'm going with this?
Okay, part of the appeal is purely technical: it's cleverly done from a user perspective. You just press the screen to record, in as many bite-sized pieces as you can fit into the short timeframe, and the app does the rest. It's also seamlessly baked into Twitter, which is always a good way to get that social leverage you need for an idea to carry online.
The other thing you need, though, is people to embrace the concept in a meaningful way. To reference Instagram again, the service only gained traction when early adopters started using it to spread images, art and ideas.
In this, Vine is already excelling. Much fuss has been made - perhaps almost as much as the app launch itself - over the small, unaffiliated site Vinepeek. Apparently created just hours after release, its functionality is simple: string together Vine clips, in real time, one after the other, automatically.
The effect is kind of mesmerising. "Vinepeek Is The Most Addictive New Site On The Internet," claims Buzzfeed, who know a thing or two about viral content. "You Will Not Stop Watching Vinepeek," chips in The Atlantic, in a voice faintly tinged with dread ("The only thing we know for sure is there's about fifteen minutes of our day missing because we were sitting and watching the thing play, over and over again").
And you know, it really is good. The ephemeral nature of this micro-videos slip-sliding by, little bites of humanity, too short to risk self-indulgence - it creates the kind of effect you'd normally associate with an exhibit at the Tate Modern. Indeed Vinepeek could be truly poststructuralist: there is all the instability, fragmentary and abstraction that we might associate with the term. The effect is both voyeuristic and addictive.
Vinepeek then shows us just how hypnotically entrancing these captured nano-moments can be. To my mind, indeed, there should be little that stops Vine from being hugely successful. With that success will come more and more creative uses of the format, limitations and all, just as we have seen with every other channel. Good for Twitter, but ever the perennial question: what does this mean for brands?
Firstly, it provides another excellent way to generate strong, shareable, built-for-social content. There's the snag that the video has to be recorded directly from the phone, but I would hope this would encourage more live tweeting from events - especially things like concerts, or Burberry's much-hailed Tweetwalks - where some brands could be doing a much better job. After all, having pre-commissioned Tweets will never benefit a brand in the same way as in-the-moment reporting will. The video format may also be something of a safety net: any brand ambassadors or staff involved should already know exactly how to behave in front of cameras, so filming them should present minimal risk. And hey, you can always just not upload the video.
Second, there is going to be a lot of very bad 'advertising' out there for a while, probably from the same charlatans who go off and buy followers and call themselves social media experts. Brands would do well to steer clear of this.
Thirdly, PR, CM and content agencies have got another thing to worry about (6 second customer service rants, anyone? Misbehaving employees? Products failing/being set on fire?).
Fourth, there is currently no direct paid product here; however, Vine embeds in a Tweet and so there is no reason why brands cannot use the existing Twitter products to promote. If there ever is a paid option in Vine, one imagines it would be to appear in the Editor's Picks section, or possibly even to buy an extended clip length - but that will be a long way off yet.
There is no question that Vine has the potential to be the next Instagram: a service that spreads quickly, has broad appeal and fosters creativity. One the biggest questions I actually have is why Tumblr didn't invent it first. Still - if Vine successfully breaks new ground, you can be sure others will follow - and it is almost inevitable that Facebook, with Poke still fresh on the market, is going to be where eyes turn. Early signs are telling: Facebook reacted by immediately pulling support for Vine from its platform. Chances are it sees prizes in this space too, and will be out to claim them for its own. It was ever thus, but the battleground has changed: we're into a new era of social video.
With contributions from Phillip Dyte, iProspect.
Follow Ben Wood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/iprospectuk