Culture

Does Byte AKA Vine 2.0 Live Up To The Hype, Or Is Just Another TikTok?

Is there room for two video apps?

Byte

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Since launching on January 24, Vine sequel Byte was downloaded 1.3 million times in its first week.

Billed as “Vine 2.0”, the app has been a long time coming, originally hinted at by founder Dom Hofmann in December 2017.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hofmann says “I think I’m picking up where I left off”, but this may not be the best approach to carving out room in the same realm as video giant TikTok.

Four years is a long time in internet years, and many Vine-loving millennials have either jumped aboard the hottest app of the moment or entered the real world like normal people.

It’s early days, but what’s clear from its first two months is that Byte shouldn’t be seen as a competitor to video behemoth TikTok, but a breeding ground for a different kind of creation.

There is space for both.

Four years on and the old guard from Vine has migrated to other mediums like YouTube (Thomas Sanders, Lele Pons) or TV (Gabriel Gundacker, Liza Koshy). It’s like an aging population: a large generation goes by the wayside, leaving behind a new wave of inspired creators, armed with a new set of conventions familiar to them.

What’s more, our collective online humour has warped and twisted even further. Vine hasn’t been around to reflect on a Trump presidential term or the latest effects of climate change.

Why would a generation pre-exposed to TikTok take a risk on a relatively new app?

As anyone scrolling through Byte will quickly learn, perhaps it’s to share videos that wouldn’t otherwise stand out from the masses of re-churned content currently dominating the For You page.

THE INITIAL ASSESSMENT

A few months in, certain aesthetics and trends are starting to flow through Byte’s ‘mix’, the equivalent of TikTok’s For You page.

Scrolling through the algorithmic feed as a new user, you might stumble across clips with faux-retro effects and fonts, and seamless six-second loops.

There’s also an influx of absurdist humour, helped in part from the ‘wierd’ (not a typo) category on the app. It’s warmly familiar, but whether we’ll come to love it as much as Vine hard to say at this time.

A lot of the app’s features are identical to Vine’s, and its newer tools are already offered by TikTok.

TikTok was quick to salvage some of Vine’s style and those who championed it, in addition to offering new editing tools and an infinite sound catalogue. It encourages videos taken on smartphones with minimal cuts (such as dance videos), compared to Byte’s current slate of high-quality, cleanly edited clips.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Vine 2.0 is dead on arrival — why fix something that wasn’t broken? — but capitalising on something that was perfect in people’s minds sets a high bar and the fall could be great.

On the plus side, a significant difference between Byte and TikTok is the former’s new partner program which allows creators to earn cash from their videos.

Kicking off next month, the initial stage of the program will offer 100 creators a share of a US$250,000 pool, divided proportionally to the views they rake in. It’s the first time that creators on a platform like this will be able to directly receive revenue without teeing up brand deals independently or through an agency.

It’s a clever move: to any punter checking out Byte for the first time, they might be exposed to a higher tier of quality, compared to TikTok where there’s no revenue program available to the public.

It’s warmly welcomed by creators, too, considering the growing conversation around compensation for digital content creators. Recently, there was a huge discussion around the lack of credit to Jalaiah Harmon for her work on the ‘Renegade’ dance that spread through TikTok.

Any step towards acknowledging the labour of digital creators is a good one.

Since its launch, Byte’s website has offered a community forum for users to discuss relevant topics, creator tips and the app’s latest updates.

It’s a far cry from TikTok’s approach to community engagement, which has frustrated creators over arbitrary takedowns of content and a limited appeal process.

What’s interesting is how, if everything goes according to plan, Byte hopes to keep this grassroots community ethos. If we’ve learned anything from Facebook’s shocking approach to moderation, it would mean waves of new (human) staff making sure the people actually bringing in the ‘dough aren’t shunted aside.

But if they pull it off and listen to their creators’ needs, they could seriously galvanise a community of passionate creators.

THE TROUBLE WITH TIKTOK

It’s so damn simple to spread a song, meme or challenge through TikTok’s web of users and creators, thanks to its audio integration function.

It’s how tracks like ‘Say So’ and ‘Roxanne’ came to accrue the popularity they have. With Byte, it’s not so clear if clips will be as audio-heavy, but that could be its edge up.

Vines were standalone pieces of art, not videos that built upon or referenced others. In order to get those eyeballs, Byte creators will have to lean into the weird, candid and wonderful, instead of relying on pre-existing media.

That will also be the key to being remembered.

The issue with TikTok is, after being glued to it for months, you’re less likely to recall lines from any of them, probably because a large portion of its content is based on dances or one-liners from other media.

There’s less of a need for individuality on TikTok; it’s all about hitting the right mix of lip-syncing, choreography, text and aesthetics.

Ultimately, it’s overstimulating and nothing is really retained.

As Jia Tolentino writes in the New Yorker:

“I was giving TikTok my attention because it was serving me what would retain my attention, and it could do that because it had been designed to perform algorithmic pyrotechnics that were capable of making a half hour pass before I remembered to look away.”

Tolentino, like the rest of us suckers, was roped in by the hard-hitting flood of personalised content but didn’t really come out the other end remembering much.

Scrolling TikTok is the same reason I watch Riverdale: not because it’s good for my critical thinking abilities, but because it hits all my dopamine centres without fail. With more of a focus on individual clips, Byte videos could be as memorable as the Vines we still recite to this day.

It’s an uphill battle for sure.

Hofmann has said he’s only got a small team on deck so far and they don’t have the financial backing of a major social network this time round. Financial viability aside, I believe the two can sit side by side: one to set the trends, the other to take the less beaten path.

It’s fair to say that the newest kid on the block will forever be the underdog, though. Vine crawled so TikTok could walk, so Byte could follow behind from a respectable distance.