This past week it seems like everyone in my stream is trying out Twitter’s newly acquired-and-relaunched app, Vine. For those uninitiated, Vine allows you to take and string together a series of short video clips with your iPhone camera and publish the result as an animated gif. While the results have thus far been… entertaining, it seems not only possible, but likely that Vine’s novelty factor will simply wear off in the next couple of weeks, leaving the app a ghost town and Twitter wondering what to do next.
The thing is, I’d argue that Vine failing quickly would actually be the best possible outcome for Twitter. If it fails quickly, they can devote fewer resources to that and focus on the product moat they should be (and, at least on the web, are) digging to insulate themselves from future contenders. If Vine’s death is prolonged by even mediocre usage (by Twitter standards), it will be all too tempting to try iterating the app out of mediocrity. This means not only keeping the current team working on Vine, but probably hiring more people as the app grows more complex with each version. It means expending more time, money and resources on a product that isn’t Twitter.
And if the app actually takes off and explodes in popularity… I mean, I guess that’s great? Twitter will have a monopoly on the personal animated gif vertical? Surely that moat cannot be worth the distraction from defending the crown jewel.
A lot of people will (and have) compared this to Facebook buying Instagram. However, Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was in defense of their own product’s moat. Before Instagram, Facebook owned personal photos on both mobile and web. As Instagram started making massive gains in how people take and share mobile photography, Facebook saw the threat and, instead of trying to beat them head-to-head, joined forces with Instagram, strengthening their position as the #1 place to share personal photos.
Twitter acquiring and releasing Vine does nothing to protect their core product. If Vine had been released outside of Twitter, it gaining popularity would not have been a threat to Twitter’s value proposition. Buying and releasing Vine only serves to distract some folks at Twitter from doing work that strengthens the product and the company long-term.
Here’s hoping for a quick death.