Vine in 60 seconds: An introduction of Twitter’s video app for think tanks

28 January 2014
Today I'm giving a short presentation at IDS on Vine -- a short video sharing service for Twitter -- to our Digital Communications Peer Group. And while I hope it's useful to others working here, I thought it might also be of interest to others working in other think tanks too. I figured that the only way to present on vines was to actually create some -- so below you can find my presentation: Vine in 60 seconds.

[Editor’s note: This article is also part of a series on Think Tanks and Video]

Today I’m giving a short presentation at IDS on Vine — a short video sharing service for Twitter — to our Digital Communications Peer Group. And while I hope it’s useful to others working here, I thought it might also be of interest to others working in other think tanks too. I figured that the only way to present on vines was to actually create some — so below you can find my presentation: Vine in 60 seconds.

Lesson 1: Six seconds

The first thing most people will notice when it comes to Vine is that, just like Twitter, it’s designed for short videos only! Although they can be a bit shorter, the maximum length for Vine videos is only six seconds. It’s not a lot of time — but you’d be surprised how much you can convey in such a short time.

Lesson 2: A piece of cake

Given how short they are, it’s important to keep to one or maybe two points, MAXIMUM. Just like Twitter wasn’t designed as a place to produce long reports, neither was Vine. That means if a think tank wants to use Vines, they must focus on a single point that gives the flavour of something much larger. We know that videos and images help posts travel farther through social media networks. So think of Vine as another tool in the arsenal to help communicate a piece of research. It’s a pre-packaged piece of cake — it’s not the cake itself. Nor the frosting on top for that matter! Nor, should I add are they particularly easy to do (as the title of this lesson might imply), or at least to do well!

Lesson 3: Back to the video future

One other somewhat unique thing about Vine is that it’s designed for smartphones and tablets. While most other videos, on YouTube and Vimeo for example, have moved to a widescreen format in a 16:9 ratio, Vine has nearly gone back to the future (remember those ancient TVs with a 4:3 aspect ratio??) with perfectly square videos. This was probably to get around the problem of mobiles being able to record both in profile and landscape — but most TVs and computer screens still optimised for landscape views. This is worth keeping in mind when planning videos. Vine isn’t great for a singular panoramic shot, but pans can have a similar effect.

Lesson 4: Same same, but different

So far I’ve been pointing out what makes Vines unique. And while they might not be the same as a video on YouTube, or a film in the cinema, a lot of the same principles still apply. For example, just because they’re short doesn’t mean that you can skip out on having a story. From a cinematographic perspective, this is often done with a mix of establishing shots (wide views, pans, etc.) that help to set the scene, close ups and action shots. All that is still possible with Vine, and is worth keeping in mind as you create your videos. It also means that your Vine will also have some sort of beginning, middle and end.

Lesson 5: Keys to SUCCES(s)

I probably talk too much about Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. But the rules that they’ve outlined to support more effective communication are just so universal. Unsurprisingly, they even hold true to Vine. I mentioned creating stories before, but the other keys to SUCCES are just as relevant, if not made even more so by their forced brevity.

  • Simple, in the context of Vine, is about focusing on one main idea and having that lead the whole six seconds.
  • Keeping things Unexpected rarely fails to draw an audience’s attention. Indeed, it’s the mainstay of much humour. And any teacher worth their salt will tell you to get students to pay attention, don’t shout but rather talk more softly to gain control of the class.
  • Making things Concrete is about making them relatable and tangible. Often this is done through a comparison to something else (e.g. that’s the equivalent of 10 trips to the moon and back), and Vine, which is a more visual format, leads itself well to making abstract numbers more concrete (see below on datavines).
  • Credibility is important, and yet it’s difficult to establish on the Web. This may be done through leaning on existing brands or by targeting influential (read respected) people within social networks to re-share the Vine.
  • Emotion — from empathy to humour — is where a lot of research communication falls down. The research process is designed to remove as much bias from the findings as possible. But to get other people re-engage with those findings, it’s often important to make them feel something about it. This isn’t about manipulating people, it’s about showing them that you’re human too.
  • Stories I touched on in more detail in the previous lesson.

Lesson 6: In the loop

Having said all of that, one of the unique things about Vine is that they loop. In other words, they start again from the beginning automatically after the six seconds is up. Keep this in mind when planning videos, as, on one hand it can be jolting if the jump cut back to the beginning is particularly dramatic, and on the other their are many creative ways to use the loop!

Lesson 7: How to record a Vine

Vine was designed specifically for use on smartphones and tablets — and they make use of the opportunities that those types of devices provide. Unlike most other video equipment and software, Vine ONLY records when the screen is being touched. This is to make sure you only capture the best bits within the six-second timeframe. It’s completely the opposite to a video camera that keeps recording once a button is pressed and only stops once another button is pressed. It therefore takes some getting used to!

Lesson 8: Buttons, buttons, buttons

In addition to touching the screen to record, there are some other buttons that may look confusing but that are really helpful when making Vines. The first may look familiar — it flips from the back to the front camera on the device, and vice versa. One note here is that many of the earlier smartphones and tablets had better cameras mounted on the back of the device (for higher quality photographs) than on the front (which was seen as mainly being used for video chatting where the resolution was less important as it depended on Internet bandwidth). This gap has narrowed significantly in newer devices, but it’s still worth using the back camera as much as possible for higher quality videos. The next button will overlay a grid on top of the images on the screen. This can serve a number of purposes, but it’s mainly to assist with the Rule of Thirds when composing images. But it can also help make sure that main objects in the images are perfectly horizontal or vertical.

Lesson 9: More buttons!

The next button helps with the problem of focus. It allows you to refocus between shots (which normally happens by tapping that object on the screen) without accidentally adding to the recording. And the last button is designed specifically to help with stop motion videos — it’s a ghost! What that means is that it shows the last frame of the previous segment almost transparently on top of the current image being filmed. This helps to keep everything in line from the previous shot in case things have to be moved around at all.

Lesson 10: Top tips

Based on some of my experience working with Vine, here are a few things that you can do to make your Vines that much better:

  • Make sure that you have a stand or tripod for your smartphone or tablet. I had a stand for these videos, but there was still a lot of precarious balancing of my iPad on top of stacks of DVDs (and even some loo roll) to get things aligned properly. I HIGHLY recommend getting a much more flexible tripod if you’re going to be doing any serious Vine making. Also, don’t forget that your props might also need a stand of some sort. I resorted to bull clips to keep some of the papers and such upright.
  • One of the neatest tricks I discovered with reading up on Vine was the use of Assisted Touch on iPhones and iPads (sorry Googlers, I don’t believe this is available on Android  — or for that matter Windows — operating systems). Pre-programming a one-second touch, for example can help give consistency to the various elements of a Vine video. Here’s a how to from Wired.
  • Use the microphone on your headphones to capture higher quality audio. It doesn’t work in all cases, but it can help reduce or eliminate a lot of background noise.

I didn’t mention lighting in this video, but that’s something I’d work to do better in my next videos, which may go to show you that it’s another important thing to try to get right!

But what about Vines for think tanks?!

Above was my introduction to Vine in 60 seconds. But how might think tanks actually use the technology? Probably the most promising use that I’ve seen is in the form of datavines. These end up being short video-based data visualisations that are eminently sharable. A good example I saw comes from Bill Gates, who released the below on 1 December 2013 for World AIDS Day.

But there are many more possibilities for the creative ones among you — clearly I’ve managed something of a ‘How to’ in Vines, and the King’s Fund have helpfully described on Wonkcomms how they put together a Vine advent calendar in the run up to Christmas.

In our Peer Group today, I hope that we’ll have a chance to put together a datavine or two. If we manage it, I’ll share it in the comments below. In the meanwhile, are there other good examples of datavines, or indeed of any other creative uses for Vine that you’re aware of?