Vine and Lightt (a poetics of the sublime ordinary)

Two apps. Similar concepts with different sensibilities. Lightt, which has been available for a few months now, is an app that grabs a frame a second for approximately ten seconds, creating a sort of low res sample of a moment that has a really nice animated feel to it. Vine, on the other hand, which has been swallowed into the Twitter oligopoly, shoots around six seconds of video, with a very elegant shooting interface of simply touching the screen to record. You lift your finger off to stop, touch to continue. Once you hit six seconds the sequence is done and you can upload and distribute via Twitter and the Vine site.

These two apps are extremely interesting for those of us exploring light weight, ready to hand video documentation practices that want to seriously engage with and intersect the everyday. Each achieves this, though enacting and promoting quite different aesthetic outcomes if approached from the point of view of a critical videography rather than merely a social video app. First of all, each are easy to use and take advantage of your phone’s camera and services to let you simply shoot in very minor ways, gathering location data if desired, and then sending out to the cloud. This really is the minimum needed for a viable app or product in this space, and is the video graphic equivalent to the polaroid – point, click, record, see, with the contemporary addition of distribute/share (their own site, Twitter and Facebook).

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Lightt’s strengths are in its interface, which has been progressively developed and enhanced through a series of releases, and its constraints. Once you click the camera icon it is going to record 10 or so frames at the fixed rate of one a second. By default individual clips loop, but you can repeatedly touch the camera icon to shoot another ten second, ten shot sequence and it is automatically butt edited to the previous sequence. You can close the app and return and it still has your previous sequences for you, preserving them until you choose to share them. This means you can assemble a relatively long series of shots (long for Lightt at least) that documents or records things around a particular event or activity. (Rupert does this quite a bit with great effect.) If you touch “next” each of the ten shot sequences is shown in a timeline and you can edit, which only consists of removing an entire ten shot sequence, and if you touch through this you then get to add caption, hashtags, location information and what services you want to distribute to.

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At the moment you are limited to forty in a row – which to my way of thinking is tons. The staccato sequences that result are often visually interesting and the default looping and staccato frame jumps encourages relatively abstract pattern making and observation as these sorts of sequences really bring out the strengths of what Lightt offers. This is unusual in this space, where most things emphasis what I think of Lowest Common Denominator documentation, and I suspect it works very effectively as an aesthetic hurdle that keeps away spam, porn and the like. In other words the stop motion already aestheticises the image which in turn encourages its users to notice aesthetically. This in turn discourages filming things that aren’t worth noticing. You can see someone’s sequences at lightt.com/username, and it is possible to share via Twitter and Facebook any clips you find there (there are some privacy options when you choose to publish which I think is a BIG plus).

However, what Lightt currently does not offer is any way to embed this media into other places, for instance your blog. I assume this is because the format is nonstandard and so relies on some lightt.com server magic to actually play (though presumably this is trivial to let sharing with them hosting in the way that you can embed photos from Flickr for instance). This is a problem as you can’t use it outside of their framework in any meaningful way, and you’re left with their decisions about how to present it. For instance as of today my lightt account (vogmae) automatically rolls back to mid December and I don’t know if it auto rolls back about a month, or perhaps 25 clips? And how do you see earlier clips? Or an archive of thumbnails? If I could publish these via my blog or own site then I could more with this material. In addition as far as I can tell, to date what others may like or comment about your clips which is available via the app does appear web side…

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Vine’s strength is that touching the screen to shot, and lifting your finger to pause, is a surprisingly nice way to film. It’s a big target and you touch what you want to record rather than press (touch) a button. Six seconds I like, it really is enough for most of the time. However, it already apparently has a porn problem which is unsurprising as unlike Lightt it just grabs the world for you. Sure, it might only be six seconds, but given services that already provide a live feed from Vine then the hashtag porn is going to get a workout. (As I write this it seems Vine might be under some load stress as I’m getting multiple ‘upload fail’ messages – that was ten minutes ago, normal service resumed….)

While Vine lets you post to Vine, twitter and Facebook I haven’t yet found how to view a users account of videos. The app generates shortened urls which then resolve to things like http://Vine.co/v/bJ5Y2ewtbvu where you can play the embedded clip but the user name is not clickable and the url is machine generated. The video is MP4 (a plus) and unlike Lightt clips appear in your phone’s camera roll, so you can do things with them elsewhere, just not within Vine once published. Even the web page where you can view an individual clip currently provides no way to share what is there. It is early days for Vine, but if they can make their back end more porous then its got an interesting and I would think viable future

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For nonfiction practice both apps offer a lot, but they both need to break out of treating the app as front end (media in) and as the key viewing experience (friends, and so on) with not letting those who want to build upon their services themselves elsewhere. If this is addressed then either (or both in combination) could really let some people get creative with everyday video documentation and a poetics of the sublime ordinary.

2 thoughts on “Vine and Lightt (a poetics of the sublime ordinary)”

  1. Wonderful piece. Thanks for really “getting” Lightt. I want to add that you can VERY EASILY embed Lightt highlights into any blog and also now post directly to Tumblr.
    Here’s how Lightt Blog Embed works:
    1. Go to your URL: lightt.com/username (mine is: lightt.com/pamk)
    2. Scroll back and forth to get to the highlight series you want to embed.
    3. Click the Share button on the right.
    4. Copy the embed code into your blog.
    5. You’ll get a beautiful embedded player that looks like these:
    lighttfashion.tumblr.com

    Tumblr users who like GIFs can now also post directly to Tumblr from the app.
    See our latest blog post:
    blog.lightt.com

  2. Thanks Adrian,
    a really useful intro to the 2 apps…
    re- not being able to use your clips in other media (blogs, website) do you think they will incorporate this at some stage?
    well, I am thinking: with a fbook/twitter feed on a website-blog then your vine-lightt video clips are incorporated that way.

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