Six seconds doesn't seem like a long time but Vine, the white-hot video app, has made it an eternity. Created just last year, Vine now has 40 million-plus registered users uploading short videos featuring everything from waves crashing and comedy sketches to Harry Styles brushing his teeth, that all loop back on themselves - again and again and again - six seconds stretched to infinity.
The infinity loop and its ease of use, has punted Vine out ahead of a competitive pack. Its instant appeal led to Twitter snapping it up, for an undisclosed sum, before it had even officially launched. Now Facebook has paid it the ultimate compliment, adding a similar service to its Instagram picture service. Andy Warhol - whose Factory was a short walk from Vine's Manhattan office - predicted that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. It seems he was optimistic. In the future, everyone will be famous for six seconds.
Dom Hofmann, one of Vine's co-founders, knew he was on to something but the video-obsessed 26-year-old tech entrepreneur wasn't sure how big it would be. While a lot of people were talking about mobile video, not a lot of people were doing it.
"We knew that people all had these smartphones with great video cameras on them but they weren't using them at all," he says, when I meet him at his office.
The reasons were many. Videos are hard to upload, they take a long time to make, often you have to pull it off the phone to edit it easily. "We needed to have a technique that was really easy to do, otherwise people wouldn't be able to tell their story," he says.
Hofmann and his partners, Rus Yusupov, 28, and Colin Kroll, 29, came up with a simple display, touch the screen to start and stop, film upright in the square, that's it. No bells, no whistles (well not yet) and six seconds so it uploads fast even without Wi-Fi.
At first the Vine crew experimented with a range of time limits from no limit at all to 30 seconds. "We went down to one second for a day, which was interesting. Six felt like everything you needed and not any more," he says. But the abrupt ending felt wrong. "It's strange to shoot something and think about an ending." When he thought of the loop, Hofmann knew immediately that they were on to something. It took a long time to make that loop seamless but when they had done it, the videos suddenly had a new depth: "It made sense immediately," he says.
Like Twitter and its 140 characters, Vine's limitations have been its making, says Hofmann. "If you give somebody constraints, it's easier to be creative," he says. "There's a quote by Orson Welles, he said: 'The enemy of art is the absence of limitation'."
Initially Vine was conceived as a video tool, not as a social media app. But from the start the team noticed how much their small group of test users wanted to share. They saved the videos to their phones and sent them as text.
"That's a lot of work," says Hofmann. "There was just this feeling that there was something more here," he said.
The team had other projects on the go. They had met at Jetsetter, the New York-based luxury vacation company and were considering some travel-related technology among other projects. "But we realised pretty quickly that this was it."
The service launched in January and was an immediate sensation. "We were blown away by how quickly it resonated with people and by how quickly people pushed the boundaries of creativity," he says.
Sites like Vpeeker post the latest "vines" as they come up. A sneezing puppy is followed by a man in a wheelchair shouting: "Death to all tyrants." A girl squeezing what looks like saline solution up her nose is followed by people bowling, a woman licking a pizza, a man dressed as a panda pushing over a trolley in a supermarket. Vine offers a mesmerisingly odd global snapshot, a planet at play six seconds at a time.
The content is getting increasingly professional, says Hofmann. When it launched, Vine was used by many people as a broadcasting tool to show what they were doing at that moment. Blowing out birthday candles, jumping in the pool. "Now we have another class of people looking at the world, coming up with ideas and then framing them within the limits of Vine," he says.
Comedy sketches are big. It's also provided a renaissance for stop-motion animators, some of whom are making astonishingly complex pieces using the simplest of tools.
The app has attracted the film world's attention. Matt Spangler, who oversees marketing and content at Tribeca film festival, helped co-ordinate a vine competition for this year's festival. "We were blown away by the quality of the submissions we received. And now you see all these actors and comedians collaborating on one another's stuff, turning up in one another's vines. It's like they are creating a TV network. It's really interesting."
Even the festival's co-founder Robert De Niro is a fan. Ahead of this year's festival he told the Wall Street Journal: "Six seconds of beginning, middle and end. I was just trying to time on my iPhone six seconds just to get a sense of what that is. It can actually be a long time. One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five one-thousand, six one-thousand - you can tell a whole story in six seconds." Adam Goldberg has built one of Vine's biggest followings with a series of sketches that resemble a messed-up mix of David Lynch, Roman Polanski's The Tenant and Lena Dunham's Girls. The actor and musician, whose credits include Entourage and Saving Private Ryan, plays himself and a blond wig-wearing, cross-dressing maniac who often appears in the same scene. His girlfriend, Roxanne, worries about what Vine is doing to him; he seems more concerned about whether he can make it through the day without the wig.
Goldberg says when he first saw Vine he thought of it as a "horror app". The jittery quality has some of the filmic qualities of horror classics such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari or Nosferatu. He said the second post he made, a jumpy but formally composed piece featuring his girlfriend and a chair, reminded him of Ingmar Bergman's modernist horror classic, Persona. "I was making a joke, it's like Insta-pretension," Goldberg laughs.
At first he says he found Vine's limits "extremely frustrating".
"Then I started thinking of it in terms of a haiku," he says. Whatever he did, it worked.
The series took off, earning Goldberg the title King of Vine. He says it has affected some of his other work. The video for his band the Goldberg Sisters' latest record, Stranger's Morning, is made with the same jarring jump cuts that pepper his vines.
But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The King of Vine is ambivalent about what the app may represent. He is currently directing a comedy, No Way Jose, about a struggling indie rocker. One of the scenes is 18 minutes long, another is 11 minutes, and he worries that a new generation of attention-deficient media consumers may find that just too much.
"Attention is a big issue for people growing up in this environment," he says. "It's odd to be a kind of spokesman for an app that in many ways represents everything that disgusts me." He isn't posting as much to Vine these days, partly because he is busy on Jose but also because of the inevitable online backlash. "I'd get so many comments, with people saying: 'sick of this' or 'come on, move on'. Really? It's six seconds and it's free." For less established stars, Vine still offers a way to get noticed. Comedian Brittany Furlan has built up a following of more than 2.8 million people with her anarchic sketches in which she kisses strangers, stands way too close to them, steals their shopping carts and commits other random acts of comedy. Furlan's videos rack up tens of thousands of likes and shares - known as "revines" - within hours of her posting them and have attracted the attention of stars including Jimmy Kimmel and Chelsea Handler, who have featured Furlan's skits on their programmes, a big break for any aspiring comedian.
Advertisers are also piling in. Fox recently promoted its latest Wolverine movies with six-second vines. Dunkin' Donuts, Trident chewing gum, Urban Outfitters - all have produced mini ads. Burberry used it during New York fashion week to promote its shows.
Making a vine that goes viral is more art than science, but when it happens it's all down to numbers. "If I choose to share something with you, it has a better than zero chance of going viral. If you choose to share that with someone else, it has an even better chance. Each time that continues, the chances increase. At some point the coefficient goes over one," says Hofmann, but the fundamental question is: "Is this worth sharing?"
The big question for Vine, as with any other service, is also is it worth sharing? The explosion of social media services is inevitably creating more casualties than winners. Remember Color? Probably not. But the investors who poured US$41 million into the now-defunct photo-sharing app once touted as the Next Big Thing surely do.
The biggest winner in the latest wave of social media startups is probably Instagram, the photo-sharing service that also looks set to be Vine's main competition. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey told Vanity Fair he was "heartbroken" when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg snapped up Instagram, the social media photo-sharing app, in 2012. He had been a fan from day one. "From the start, Instagram was a simple application and a joy to use," Dorsey said. "I was blown away by how much detail they put into the experience."
The close ties between Dorsey and Instagram proved no match for Zuckerberg's US$1 billion offer. When Vine popped up on Twitter's horizon, the company moved fast to make sure it didn't lose out again.
Last year Twitter was on the point of launching Cards - a service that offers a snapshot of other content such as a newspaper article, a photo or a video alongside the tweet. Vine's founders reached out to the company as they considered places to syndicate their service. The two sides realised they had a lot in common. "We are both focused on being public, on real time, on constraints, on free speech," says Hofmann. Very quickly talks about syndication turned into an acquisition.
Dorsey has gone on to be something of a Vine sensation himself. Posting a series of spooky selfies, standing stock-still and wearing shades in passing crowds or poised on top of a bridge, his face as expressionless as Ryan Gosling at his impassive best.
In June, Dorsey's old pals at Instagram launched a 15-second video-sharing service to rival Vine. It has a couple of advantages. First, it has a more established base - 150 million active users. Second, it has Facebook's backing. Facebook has 1.15 billion users compared with Twitter's 200 million.
Hofmann doesn't seem worried: "There are quite a few mobile video products and people are hungry for it," he says. "Our goal is to build the best service. I think that if the world of mobile video is growing larger, that's a good thing for us."
For all the hype, says Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research, when it comes to making money, Vine and its rivals are a long way from being the new television.
TV is experiencing the same seismic ructions that have shaken music, books and newspapers but there are few signs that - financially - social media is taking its place.
"Vine has a lot of promise as a marketing product and you are seeing a lot of experimentation," he says. "But the scale is to be determined, not unlike Twitter itself or Pinterest or Instagram."
The advertising dollars now going into Vine are largely coming from other, more established internet companies such as AOL and Yahoo, says Weiser. In this tech-dog-eats-tech-dog world, TV is holding its own.
"TV advertising is not cheap but from an advertiser's point of view it's ridiculously effective. If you cut your TV spending when your rivals don't, you lose. It doesn't matter how cool your vine is."
So where does Vine go from here? Hofmann says the initial idea was to get the service out and make it as easy as possible to use. Now the company is looking at ways to better promote its content. A website or partnership deals are under discussion. Channels are being added so people can filter content. Last month two new editing tools were added; other features in the pipeline include a way to change the focus and a grid for stop-motion movie-makers.
"When we first went out, we were art. Now we're comedy and art," says Hofmann. But he says news services are also increasingly looking at Vine. A vine of the Boston marathon bombing, taken from TV, attracted 35,000 people in less than a minute when it was posted in April.
Celebrities such as One Direction's Harry Styles, whose vines dominate the top of the chart, are also using the service to broadcast to their fans.
Will Vine stand the test of time? Goldberg is on the fence. "I was auditioning for teenagers to be in my movie and this girl really stood out, ad-libbing about Vine. It was hilarious." He wonders whether he should use it in the movie. "A year from now, will it be seen as an archaic reference? I don't really know." But if Vine can do this much in six seconds - who knows what it can do in a year.
Five of the best video-sharing apps
1. Snapchat: Lets you share nine-second videos with your friends. Its unique feature is that you specify a time for your videos to self-destruct.
2. Qwiki: iPhone app that allows you to create videos straight from your camera roll. Recently bought by Yahoo! for US$50 million.
3. Viddy: An app that enables you to edit
and add effects and sound to 30-second videos, then share them with your friends and follow other users' video streams.
4. Tout: Lets you create your own 15-second news and entertainment videos, and follow the accounts of celebrities and news organisations.
5. YouTube Capture: Enables you to record videos and then enhance them with editing, stabilisation and music. You can then upload and share via the usual social networks.