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Tech Lab

Vine offers an easy entry into social video apps

It took just six seconds to turn me into a social video fan.

Six seconds is the time it takes to shoot a video using a marvelous new smartphone app called Vine. Released late last month by social networking titan Twitter, Vine is already one of the 100 most popular free apps for the ­iPhone, probably because it makes sharing a video almost as simple as transmitting a tweet.

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There are already a host of social video companies, and Vine’s sudden success could be disastrous for them, but I don’t think so. Six seconds isn’t a lot of screen time. And it might be nice to add special effects to a video, the way users of apps like Instagram can do with still photos. I’m guessing that Vine’s popularity will attract many people to its more sophisticated rivals.

But if you’re not already into social video, by all means start with Vine. It’s a free download at Apple’s App Store; no, it’s not yet available for phones and tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software, but the day will come.

You create an account on the service using your Facebook or Twitter account, or an e-mail address. I hooked up via Twitter, and Vine hooked me up with Twitter followers who also use Vine. Now I see all their postings, and they see mine.

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Creating a video is a model of simplicity. Point the camera and touch the screen. As long as the finger remains in contact, the video camera rolls. Lift your finger and it stops. Continue until you’ve shot for six seconds. Vine saves the video, and gives you the option to attach a text message. You can route your minimovie to Twitter, Facebook, or Vine’s own network. And you’re done.

But what can you show in just six seconds? You’d be amazed. Just as Twitter’s 140-character limit forces people to write more efficiently, Vine goads you into looking more closely at the world, to identify visuals that get to the point. Go to vine.co/blog to see some examples, and prepare to be impressed.

Unlike other social video programs, Vine lets you start and stop the camera multiple times during the six-second shooting spree. This lets you build little stop-action animations out of real world people and objects. I’ve been using it to shoot the headlines from each day’s Globe and turn them into a snappy little news summary. The headlines race by mighty fast, but that’s OK; Vine videos automatically replay over and over.

The worst thing about Vine is some of the clowns who use it. There has been a torrent of six-second smut videos. Twitter has responded by saying that the app should be used only by those age 17 and older. It’s a feeble reaction, but I’m not sure what more Twitter can do. After all, you can find far worse by running a Google search. Ultimately, it is up to parents to shield their kids.

Much as I enjoy Vine, sometimes you need more than six seconds to make your point. Just about every rival social video app gives you more time. Tout, for instance, ups the limit to 15 seconds, and another, called Keek, has settled on a 36-second time limit. Keek, by the way, has a cool “keekback” feature that encourages your online friends to shoot videos of their own as replies to your offerings. There is also Klip, a service that starts you at one minute of shooting, but ups it to three minutes if you can persuade friends to sign up.

One of the most popular social video services, Socialcam, lets you shoot as long as you like. Socialcam also has a suite of video effects that let you fine tune the appearance of your video. Then you can add on-screen titles and a musical soundtrack. Another app called Viddy also offers visual effects and soundtracks, but limits shooting to 15 seconds.

Does it matter which video app you choose? Not all that much. Except for Vine, the ones I’ve listed are available for Android or Apple devices. They each have their own social communities, so you and your friends might want to use the same app. But these apps make it easy to share your work with friends on Facebook or Twitter, which is where people usually hang out anyway.

So choose the app that best suits your cinematic style — ­Socialcam for videos of epic ambition, perhaps, or Viddy for something short, sharp, and polished. For the absolute beginner, I’d recommend Vine. Then even if your videos are lousy, the pain only lasts for six seconds.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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