Just a few months ago, Vine was mostly dismissed as a painful hipster affectation. A service that revolves around taking 6-second video clips and sharing them with the world does sound like a flash in the pan. But something fascinating happened over the past couple of months: Vine became one of the biggest app market growth stories in recent history.
According to the new Mary Meeker internet trend study, Vine’s monthly active user base soared from 2% to nearly 8% of iPhone owners in the U.S. between January and April. According to Onavo, Vine’s engagement growth in May is far faster than that of WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Chrome, Snapchat or other rivals. As a matter of fact, Vine’s engagement growth is more than seven times faster than Snapchat’s.
There are several fascinating aspects to Vine’s triumphant spring. One is that Vine is a top-10 iPhone app in only seven countries, including minnows like El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. It is amusing to see that Vine has found its biggest success in Norway, where it is currently the second most popular free iPhone download; Oslo is widely regarded as a nest of intolerably modish, tweed-clad, faux-Red Hook hipsters with neck beards. But it’s highly unusual that an app that has become a substantial mainstream success in America has such narrow international appeal.
Vine is already challenging Spotify and Gmail when it comes to U.S. iPhone engagement levels. But it lacks the global appeal of other apps that are regularly used by 8-10% of American iPhone owners. Could Vine have unique appeal to Americans and a select group of countries that have an extreme affinity for U.S. trends (Norway, Sweden, Mexico, New Zealand)? Or did it just catch fire so fast in America that the rest of the world is still in the earliest stages of adoption?
One interesting aspect of Vine is that it resembles Instagram, but requires far more expertise to master. In just a few months, the quality of the most popular Vine clips has skyrocketed. Breaking out now typically requires painstaking stop-motion animation work, hot models, synchronized groups of extras, exotic locations or some combination of the above. In that sense, Vine would seem to appeal to a far narrower niche than Instagram or the crop of popular new messaging apps. Yet Vine is now outpacing all messaging apps in engagement growth.
Virality of mobile apps is clearly something that is extraordinarily tough to understand and project. The seemingly intimidating level of sophisticated planning and painstaking execution good Vine clips require has not slowed down the triumphant expansion of the service. On the contrary — perhaps the fact that this app demands real thought and practice to master is the key to its success.
Most app vendors are focusing on making their apps supremely easy and painless to use. Dumbing down is the primary goal of most vendors. But the recent success of apps like Vine, Minecraft and Rage of Bahamut indicate that perhaps there is another route to glory. Creating apps that demand substantial time commitment and feature long learning periods can work if the apps tie consumers into communities of deeply committed aficionados.