If the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing gave Twitter's short video service Vine its first news "moment," the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, is re-establishing Vine as the go-to platform for amateur documentarians who happen to witness news and want to broadcast it to the world.
The videos are limited to six seconds, but they're about to get more professional. Twitter announced Wednesday it's updating the Vine app with new editing features that let users pack more into their six seconds of footage. The new version will allow users to import photos and videos not shot in Vine, as well as the ability to preview edits and shoot in low light. Twitter does not provide usage numbers for Vine; it is currently No. 45 on Apple's App Store ranking of free apps (Instagram is No. 5)
Twitter says 100 million people watch Vine videos across the web, and there are 1 billion "loops" each day. Vine videos play automatically and repeat, like a gif.
New features mean Twitter is investing in the service at a time when there's an obvious use in the aftermath of the shooting of black teen Michael Brown. Much has been written about the pre-eminence of Twitter on this story compared to Facebook. Twitter feeds are mostly chronological, while Facebook's news feed is governed by an algorithm. Twitter was built for following people, while Facebook is largely used to stay in touch with family and friends.
Videos on Vine have certainly been arresting. This video of police using tear gas in Ferguson is one of the most looped on the service:
But is there really more conversation about news on Twitter than Facebook? Hard data to support such a contention has been scarce, mostly because Facebook is a closed system. According to Salesforce Marketing Cloud, the hashtags #Ferguson, #MikeBrown and #prayforFerguson have been mentioned 9,731,961 times in the last seven days on Twitter, compared to 163,782 times on Facebook. But it's not really a fair comparison because the data only includes public Facebook posts and people don't really use hashtags on Facebook.
But it appears there are more Ferguson-related videos and photos on Facebook's Instagram than Twitter's Vine. A search on Vine yielded 15,200 posts tagged #ferguson, while Instagram had 274,000. That's not totally surprising since at 1.23 billion users, Facebook is many times the size of Twitter, which has 232 million active users.
Instagram's videos are limited to 15 seconds, which starts to seem long when it comes to news events. "What does get interesting with Vine is it is that visceral moment, that punch in the gut over and over again until can’t look at it anymore," said David Berkwotiz, head of marketing at ad agency MRY. "As crazy as it is 15 seconds is a lot of time to pay attention to that moment."
Vine has certainly captured some moments in Ferguson, as these videos show: