What the Kids Are Doing: A Search Engine for 4 Million Vines

Think you're a 30-year-old digital native? Vine may make you reconsider.


Vine is hard to explain. It's an app that lets you make and share six-second videos, which sounds absurd. But it's kind of fun, and especially since being acquired by Twitter, it has grown in popularity, hitting 13 million users earlier this month, especially among the kids, a technical term meaning "anyone younger than me."

So what are people doing on Vine? John Muellerleile wanted to find out, and he crawled Twitter looking for links to Vines, and then pulled four million of them into a database he calls vinecrawler. (Vine user post 12 million videos a day to Twitter, so this is just a small sample.)

Now you can search through this selection of vines for everything from parents to Snapchat, cooking to drinking. There's also a considerable amount of porn in 6-second increments. 

Muellerleile sifted through all these vines in building his tool, and he discovered (to his apparent surprise) that lots of people outside Silicon Valley are using the tool. 

A lot of people use Vine. I'm not talking about us dopes here in Silicon Valley, I mean actual people. All different walks of life, geographies, incomes; all genders, ages, races, backgrounds. They use it in all kinds of ways, sometimes hilarious, ridiculous, or strange, but all decidedly human. There is also some kind of fixation with Jay-Z, and I approve...

What I really found was humanity; all shapes, sizes, colors, and places, all things. When I find that, in the way I've found it through Vine, in one place, using one simple thing, I'm reminded that when we get the technology right, top to bottom -- like pointing at something, in the moment, that you want to remember and share-- it spreads everywhere, it's natural, fundamentally intuitive to use, possibly magical in operation, like magnets, or gravity, or maybe even a little bit like life.

The thing that stands out to me, both in my earlier investigations and looking at vinecrawler, is the age of Viners. From what I have seen, Vine's got a higher teenage-to-adult ratio than the mall food court on a summer afternoon. I don't know quite what to make of it yet, but I have a feeling that Vine might be the first form of social media that makes late 20s/early 30s "digital natives" feel like they emigrated.

And while it might feel like Vine is some weird, porny, dadaist mistake of a media form, woe be unto the media analyst who ignores what the kids are into. While not every teenage/college craze goes mainstream, I'll give you three good examples of things that propagated from the kids outwards: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Keep Vine on your radar, that's all I'm saying. Just look at this Vine of a pug doing the "Thriller" dance. Can you deny this genius?

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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