Your selfie game is about to get a lot more poignant. Giphy, which has been called the “Google for GIFs,” launched a new iPhone app today (August 20) called Giphycam, which lets anyone turn any moment into a GIF.
On the surface, Giphy’s new app is a fun little tool to turn tweets, Facebook messages, and Tumblr posts into something a bit more interesting to watch. Like any good social app launching in 2015, it’s got its own unique filters and effects—including one that makes your GIFs look like they’re flying through space, one that makes everything look like 3D film, and one that for some reason, lets you dance with a cat brass band.
There’s something about the auto-playing, forever-looping nature of GIFs that makes them feel alive. They load pretty much everywhere on the web, and don’t take up as much space as a video would. Adam Leibsohn, Giphy’s chief operating officer, told Quartz that many users search for GIFs on his site to find “cultural tropes”—touchstones from movies, TV, and music that the sender thinks the user will get and that encapsulate a feeling better than words alone could. “The last piece of the puzzle that we were missing was a way for a user to insert themselves into that conversation,” Leibsohn said.
Leibsohn said the app is part of the company’s growing desire to become a media company, based on GIFs. Giphy has sealed deals with most major sports leagues and film houses, as well as artists, to create sanctioned GIFs for its site, and previously launched “Giphy TV”—a section of the site that lets users watch endless streams of GIFs.
The app is pretty easy to use: Open it up, point it at yourself or something you want to GIF, choose a filter, and press record. You can either make a GIF out of a burst of sequentially-captured stills, or from a video—though video GIFs will be much heavier files, making them harder to quickly share around the web. You can then share your creation to Apple’s Messages, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, email, or save it.
Leibsohn called Giphycam “the perfect selfie application,” which it may well prove to be, but Julie Logan, Giphy’s head of mobile, said the GIF does something photos alone can’t: “GIFs share the emotion of a moment—they’re the digital language of emotion.”
As I played with the app more, I found I was using it just as often to take silly selfies and GIFs of my surroundings as I was to take quick animated shots of more intimate moments. These GIFs might get shared at some point over email, but they’re not about the quick hits, they’re not the Snapchat or Instagram bragging “look-at-me-I-lead-such-an-interesting-life” photos. They’re personal. In just a couple weeks of using the app, I got some shots of my new baby cousin laughing, my sister hugging my dad, my mom waving at me, and a perfectly timed GIF of a friend walking into my apartment as I started showing the app to my roommate.
They’re small moments that capture the personalities of people I care about in ways that a still photo wouldn’t. I saved almost all the GIFs I created through the app, and although the iPhone doesn’t animate GIFs in the Photos app, I forgot that all my photos are automatically uploaded to Google Photos. As I scrolled through my photos, the GIFs spring to life, and I feel a bit like I’m looking at whatever magic controlled Harry Potter’s photo albums. I get the feeling that I’m going to scroll though these for years to come, and I hope those digital photo frames start to get cheaper. Family portraits will never be the same.
Giphycam may well end up being successful just because it’s fun to use, like Vine, Snapchat, or any other app that lets you share quick personal moments. Logan suggested people will share GIFs of the same things we generally share on the internet—”cats, dogs, their kids, their new outfits”—but looking back at old GIFs might give them a glimpse of their past selves. “Personality changes as you grow,” Logan said. “You might not’ve remembered you always used to smirk a certain way.”
There’s no guarantee that Giphycam won’t be a flash in the pan (there are other apps also trying to GIF the world) or that the 28-year-old file extension will continue to be the internet’s animated file of choice (some image hosting sites are moving away from it). But the team at Giphy are bullish on the power of the GIF, as are its backers who have pumped almost $24 million into it through two fundraising rounds. Logan thinks we’ll soon use GIFs like we’d quote a song lyric or a piece of poetry.
“There’s an eloquence to using professional content, but there’s a real power to using your own words, even if you stumble with it, you try to find the right thing,” Logan said. “It might not be the most perfect way of saying it, but in that moment, and with those people, it has far more power. GIFs are going to enter that similar space.”