Social media: A six-second requiem for Vine
Let us all pause to mourn the passing of Vine, the video-sharing platform that “made six seconds feel like a lifetime,” said Brian Raftery in Wired.com. Vine’s parent company, Twitter, announced last week that it was shutting down the mobile-only app, which let users create and share endlessly looping six-second videos, in order to cut costs. When Vine burst onto the scene in 2013, many skeptics regarded it as “one of those new-media premises that sounded really, really dumb”—an attempt by a niche social network to cater to smartphone users’ ever-decreasing attention spans. But then something surprising happened. The platform developed a dedicated following of 200 million users, who turned Vine “into something really, really brilliant.”
If you didn’t watch Vine on the assumption that it was full of “teenagers making dumb jokes, you missed out on one of the internet’s weirdest and funniest spaces,” said Brian Feldman in NYMag.com. By isolating and repeating small moments—a dog playing a bass drum, footage of Alec Baldwin catching a stray tennis ball, a teen backflipping through a Krispy Kreme store—Vine users created a genuinely new kind of online comedy, in which ordinarily dumb one-liners and sight gags could be elevated into hilarious, sometimes mesmerizing memes. Vine minted its fair share of socialmedia celebrities, but its real contribution was making the web a more inclusive space, said Aja Romano in Vox.com. More than any other social network, Vine was dominated by teens of color, particularly young black people. In their hands, Vine became a “safe, comforting place to be black on the internet,” where they could playfully demonstrate wit and creativity “without fearing harassment or backlash.”
Vine’s demise “is a reminder of a Silicon Valley axiom: Being first to a trend rarely means you will win,” said Mike Isaac in The New York Times. When the app debuted nearly four years ago, mobile video was in its infancy and uploads were cumbersome; Vine’s six-second limit was devised in part to soothe users’ worries about burning through their cellphone plan’s data limits. But then came Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook with similar offerings, and “Vine quickly fell behind the fresher features of its competitors.” Twitter never figured out how to monetize Vine, even though its audience remained sizable and devoted to the end, said Alexandra Erin in Time.com. Still, the decision to pull the plug “reveals something disturbing about Twitter’s priorities.” Twitter is under intense pressure from investors to turn a profit and hasn’t been able to find a buyer for itself because of its difficulties—some would say unwillingness—in curbing hate speech on its main, 140-character platform. Now it’s “killed off a vibrant and diverse community of artists rather than addressing the issues that truly cost it the badly needed buyout.”
Innovation of the week
Scientists have developed a magnetic ink that lets wearable gadgets “heal themselves,” said Steph Yin in The New York Times. Smart clothing— think sports bras that monitor a workout or baby onesies that track a newborn’s sleeping—is expected to be tech’s next big thing. But current printable electronics are fragile and prone to tearing. A nanoengineering team at the University of California, San Diego, has developed a possible solution: ink made from ground neodymium magnets. When a fabric containing the ink breaks, the particles attract one another and close the gap. In tests, tears up to 3 millimeters long healed in just 50 milliseconds. Amay Bandodkar, who worked on the project, said the breakthrough could give new life to wearable tech. Even if something rips, he said, “it’s going to self-heal.”
Bytes: What’s new in tech
Going shopping on Instagram
Just in time for the holidays, Instagram is testing a new feature “to ease its users into shopping,” said Sarah Frier in Bloomberg.com. The Facebook-owned social network has partnered with 20 brands, including Kate Spade and J.Crew, to introduce shoppable tags into the retailers’ photos. Users can tap once on the photos to get more information on a tagged product, and tap again to buy it on the retailer’s site. Retailers can already promote products in Instagram ads, but the shopping update will apply to regular posts, “making it a more natural experience for users.” While Instagram won’t take a cut from sales in this test period, there’s no doubt its “e-commerce ambitions are large.”
Hack your car. It’s now legal!
“You may have thought that if you owned your digital devices, you were allowed to do whatever you like with them.” Not true, said Andy Greenberg in Wired.com. For years, consumers and security researchers have risked copyright lawsuits from manufacturers if they hacked the software of gadgets such as smart TVs, web-connected cars, and insulin pumps—even if they were trying to repair the devices. But last week, new exemptions to the decade-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act “quietly kicked in,” giving Americans free rein to reverse-engineer and repair software in their own products. The exemptions will last for a two-year trial period. Security researchers hope they can gather enough research results during that time “to persuade the Copyright Office to lift the ban for good.”
Computers keeping secrets
Artificial intelligence researchers at Google have shown that computers can create their own encryption techniques—without human assistance, said Timothy Revell in NewScientist.com. A team from Google Brain, the tech firm’s deep-learning project, instructed two neural networks—“computing systems that are loosely based on artificial neurons”—code-named Alice and Bob to send each other secret messages that a third neural net, Eve, would not be able to decipher. Researchers didn’t tell the computers how to encrypt messages, but after 15,000 attempts, Alice developed a code that stumped Eve but that Bob could decrypt. Experts say the experiment proves that computers will one day be able to talk to one another in ways that humans, or other computers, can’t crack.