Look before you loop

The Snapchat phenomenon has introduced many of us to the world of throwaway – or rather exploding – images. Take a photo, send it to a friend and – pouf! – it vanishes after 10 seconds. Teenagers love them, I think less for hide-it-from-parents reasons than that it’s a bit like making a silly face and moving on. Not the sort of thing you want to preserve for eternity.

Then there is a video service, Snapchat Stories, where a ‘story’ made up of snaps can be assembled that will last a whole 24 hours. I read that marketing people are starting to exploit them.

I can see the point of these, sort of. But I’ve also been seeing more and more little films, five to 10 seconds long, popping up in our ‘serious’ world. They have been appearing more frequently in my Twitter feed – for example, the tech news site, The Next Web (@TheNextWeb), is a regular producer. The best known channel is Vine, where the videos stretch to six seconds before starting again. We wrote about the Philips Vine presence in January, and now the White House is producing ‘vines’ for, and of, President Obama. Apple’s latest iPhone camera meanwhile lets you take a couple of seconds of video before and after you press the shutter.

One corporate careers site I visited recently used a short repeating video in place of a (usually static) banner image. The most unambiguous use of looping video on a corporate site that I’ve seen is on the Cisco corporate web estate. The networking giant’s ‘newsroom’ microsite has a page ‘Cisco in 6 second Vines’, which showcases four vines and profiles their creators (The banner image on this page is also a looping video).

Are very short videos effective? At their best, they can be funny and informative. Time-lapse photography – showing how a scene or a subject changes over time, can be interesting. And the New York Times is being clever, having gone all Daily Prophet in a feature on the South China Sea. For those not familiar with the works of Ms Rowling, the photos in the Daily Prophet move – I suppose they loop but it is done in a way that makes that unclear. The NYT piece is the same – the video of a man in a boat starts again after a while, but you have to look carefully to see the join.

This works well, because it is subtle. Most of the time, looping videos are annoying, verging on headache inducing. Flash animation came and went in the first 10 years of the century. Looping videos have come; I think it’s probably time they went.

- Jason Sumner