There’s a certain homespun charm to the animated .gif. The beauty lies in the simplicity of these animations: It’s easy to make one, and .gifs are far faster to upload, stream, or send than a video file. For the uninitiated, a .gif is simply a looped set of static images, a kind of digital flipbook. Animated Internet ads, for example, are often .gifs. Those Internet memes featuring cats falling into swimming pools, or hipsters riding backwards on bikes? .Gifs.
Gif Shop, a new app for the iPhone that allows users to easily create, send, and share .gifs, saw 30,000 downloads in its first month (July-August 2011) with 91% on the iPhone 4, 9% on 3GS, iPad, and iPod. It also attracted some intriguing users. Mike Rosenstein, a producer who works with Ben Stiller, has been using it to make an archive of .gifs featuring well-liked actors and actresses, for example.
The cofounder and newly minted app entrepreneur, Daniel Savage, spoke with FastCompany.com this week about what makes these quirky, often instructional, sometimes beautiful animations so enduring, and why his startup may be the new Instagram. Savage is responsible for the Gif Shop concept, brand, and marketing; technical designer Matthew Archer, a creative technologist based in Chicago with previous experience in productivity apps, leads development.
What is Gif Shop and who uses it?
Hopefully everyone uses it. In seriousness, a lot of people still don’t know what animated .gifs are. It’s pretty simple–take a bunch of photos and a .gif plays them one right after the other. Gifs are just fun. They can be really useful, too. You can do anything–but the most obvious type of .gif to make is stop motion. You can use this for educational tutorials–showing someone how to do something. We recently saw a food blog where someone was showing people how to cook various recipes. We’ve seen people using it to show clients how to use certain software that they’ve been making. They range from kids goofing off, showing funny faces, to someone showing a multimillionaire their idea.
Why not just make a video?
A .gif strings individual photos together versus hitting record, so when you upload it, it’s a lot lighter than a video file. It can live on your phone or your blog rather than having to go to YouTube, Vimeo, or another hosting service. For the same reason a .gif uploads much quicker than video.
Why do people love .gifs so much?
I think it’s the choppiness–the idea that you can take a picture, move stuff around, put it down, take another picture. And then, too, you can manipulate the speed and make it go back and forth. I think the idea that it’s goofy and fun has a lot of appeal for people.
What have been the most creative uses of the app so far?
There have been some really cool ones. A lot of the stop motion ones really make people happy. People use it a lot for face comparison. I’ve even done this with my mom–take a picture of my face, her face, and play it really fast. That’s always fun.
There are other sites that let you do something like this, like Loopcam. What does Gif Shop do differently?
Their app is very stripped down–there are no extra features. You can’t preview your .gif, change the speed or loop features. All of Loopcam’s share services go to Tumblr, whereas Gif Shop’s go to the Gif Shop site.
Does 30,000 downloads mean you can quit your day job?
[Laughs] Yes. I quit my job recently to focus full time on Gif Shop. But we don’t have employees yet.
How are you generating revenue?
From the app itself [which is currently selling for 99 cents]. Eventually we would also like to generate revenue from Gifshop.tv, but we haven’t thought about that too much yet. We’ve been talking to a couple of brands–we are talking to Brooklyn Brewery about doing a Gif Shop photo both, and we also threw a party with Puma on a yacht where we had a .gif competition.
This is your first startup. What have you learned so far?
One big thing I have learned is not to make your product a secret until you launch. If I could go back I would have had influencers using Gif Shop as soon as we had a private beta, getting their followers on Twitter or wherever excited about the launch.
Another lesson for us has been don’t think you know how people will use your product. Be ready to react. We are learning every day from our users. There was a lot of debate about whether Gif Shop should be a utility versus a social platform. Because of this we have thought about Camera+ versus Instagram.
Obviously we look to other tech startups, including Instagram, who are doing more social things [for inspiration]…We have decided what makes the most sense for us is somewhere in between these models. We want Gif Shop to be really social and grow the community that way.
[Eds. Note: Warning, the looping animated .gifs below may cause eye strain.]
[Image: Flickr user brookeduckart]