Skip to main content
  1. Writing/

GIFs, Products And Superpowers

·712 words

Did you know that as of today, the GIF sharing and hosting site Giphy is valued at over $600M? Or that Barry Schuler (yep, the guy formerly behind America Online) believes that:

“GIFs are emerging as a format that consumers love and will be really important to advertisers as well,”

Add that to the list of statements you didn’t expect to hear in 2016.

GIF, a file format that originated all the way back in 1989 (27 years old and counting).

GIF, a file format that in 1998 was my favorite one to embed in my first FrontPage projects, because who doesn’t like a spinning globe in their personal site, is now emerging as a lovable and widespread tool to distribute short sound-less animated clips. So lovable, in fact, that Giphy raised $17MM in 2015, $55MM just this year in February, and another $72MM just this month.

Look at the fact that all your favorite apps are using it now - you can embed those directly from iMessage, you can embed those on Twitter and Facebook Messenger, and even Slack did not escape the fate of becoming a GIF-powered chat tool - what’s missing from this list is Snapchat allowing users to have embedded GIF reactions.

So what’s behind all this? Why Giphy? Why is one service emerging as the leader in a field that even by the most optimistic predictions we didn’t see coming? Surely, it’s offering is not exactly innovative - image hosting services existed before and none of them had restrictions on image types. Twitpic, Imgur, ImageShack and many others were widespread. Imgur, in fact, went as far as work on pushing a variation of the GIF for the “modern HTML5 era”;, the GIFv.

And yet, that’s not who we see funded today. Why not? To answer that question, we need to go back to the golden product/program manager question:

“What superpower is the product you’re building giving your user?”;

Think of it this way - before Giphy, you needed to go to an image sharing service, search for GIFs and hope that you find what you need in the sea of other non-animated images. Or you had to use Google Image Search with a “filetype:gif”. Or maybe you are one of the Reddit-faithful who likes to browse through /r/gifs, /r/reactiongifs or even /r/dancegifs.

You, as a user, are facing two key barriers here:

  1. Discoverability. Because none of the resources necessarily was designed around the GIF provider experience, it’s complicated to find exactly what you need.
  2. Context Switching. You have to leave the app you’re in, open your browser, or another app, and try to find what you are looking for.

For you as a user, this is sub-optimal. You are in the middle of a group chat and someone says something funny, and you just know the perfect GIF you saw a couple of days ago that fits this exact moment. You go to the browser, you open the necessary subreddit, you search for that picture and… it’s not there… or wait, it’s there but looks like the image was now removed? You go to a different site, you search, you find it, you copy it, you get back to the conv… never mind, because by now everyone moved on.

Understandably, we are talking about a very scoped scenario, but nonetheless you, as a user, hit a barrier that could and should have been avoided (for more details, I also recommend reading Joel Spolsky’s “Human Task Switches Considered Harmful”).

And here is where Giphy steps in. GIF format merits aside, the product removes that friction that we described above. You no longer have to context switch to find the perfect GIF, you can just do so from your iPhone keyboard. Or directly from any of the major Top 10 apps. Integration is what sets Giphy apart from everyone else, and that is 100% win for them (the company) and you (the user).

The superpower that Giphy gives you is the ability to preserve context and be able to set yourself apart in the conversation - quickly.

Hence, little bit of knowledge for PMs - always ask yourself, what friction are you removing for the user? What superpower are you creating for the user?

What’s old is new again.