By: Ashley McManus, Global Marketing Manager; featuring Alex Chung, CEO of GIPHY
The use of GIF memes is everywhere, across all of our social media channels: from Twitter to Facebook and all those in between. It’s hard to not stumble across a GIF when scrolling through your feeds on any given day - it’s a distinguishing way to inject the bland text of the internet we live in with some type of human emotion.
Our emotion-sensing and analytics technology transforms a variety of applications, including those for social and video communications. We give developers the tools to create more immersive experiences, and provide unique ability to drive this app functionality with their emotions. GIPHY, an Affectiva SDK user, was designed around this shared concept of expression. GIPHY is building a new type of internet search engine - one that revolves around searchable content beyond text. Most recently, GIPHY was a finalist in the 10th Annual Crunchies awards for best startup. You can get GIPHY on giphy.com, and in the App, iMessage, and Play Store, and you can learn more about GIPHY here.
We interviewed GIPHY CEO Alex Chung on how GIPHY works, the process of developing it, and what he thinks is the future of emotion-enabled applications.
What’s the pitch for GIPHY?
Most search engines were built 20 years ago when the internet was mostly text. Since then it’s evolved to encompass everything in life: social media, video, entertainment, culture, all created by a new generation of creative people for a new audience. GIFs are a much better encoding format for everything around us, it adds in time and expression into what was primarily a text based world.
What does GIPHY do and how does it work?
GIPHY organizes all the world’s GIFs and makes it searchable and discoverable to everyone. Our partners, artists, users create the best GIFs with our creation tools which then go through our process to become searchable and available everywhere. All the GIFs for all the people.
Where did you get the idea to build it?
Like many people we’ve been playing with and sharing GIFs forever but there really was no place to search all of them, even Google didn’t have a GIF search back then. So GIPHY started as a summer project to build something to make it easier for my friends to find and share GIFs. The internet and GIFs has come a long way since then. More specifically over breakfast with a friend at Prune in the East Village NYC.
What was your process in building it?
That summer I was hacking on a few different projects just for fun and a friend and I were talking about a GIF search engine we called Gifggle which was a horrible name glad we changed it. So my process is usually to build something that I actually use i.e. you have to be able to convince yourself to use your own products and if none one else uses it at least you made something useful for yourself.
Then after that a friend and I played with it until we were both using it - so the next step is to convince your friends to use your stuff. Once you have all your friendsx using it then you know you have something to work with. Building a company out of a hack is a whole other thing we can get into another day.
What role does emotion and emotion technology play in the concept of your project?
When you think about the fundamental reasons why we share GIFs it’s because messaging and digital communication have traditionally been devoid of emotion and expression. We’ve had to express our frustrations of the world via a few sad face emojis or a few black and white letters. The world and information by the very nature of having been created by humans has a humanity that has been lost in the digital transcoding we do when we transfer them to the internet. How do we get back the color and feeling of the morning, the smiles, the laughs, the beauty of the world into the ones and zeros that we live in?
How did you arrive at Affectiva's technology to help achieve your vision? How did the SDK help you?
I met Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby at a conference and we had a conversation about the lack of feeling and emotion on the internet. We are all trapped behind screens that hide our expressions from the digital world. We wondered how we could bring the human element back to communication and the internet as a whole. Basically she is awesome and Affectiva is building some amazing technology that is going to make some big changes in the world.
How do you use Affectiva?
We’ve experimented with Affectiva as an automatic way to tag GIFs with emotions and reactions. As a platform for expression in communication it’s obvious that Affectiva has the possibility of efficiently cataloging all the GIFs into specific sentiment. We’ve also used Affectiva technology in real time events such as the presidential elections to find the best reaction GIFs as well as give commentary on the emotional state of each candidate. There are dozens of ways Affectiva can help our work at GIPHY and we’re just getting started in what we can do together.
What are GIPHY's metrics for success, or user goals? Can you share how you believe emotion tech contributes to those goals?
We have a lot of different metrics we track. By far the most successful metric for success we care about is the happiness of the people that work at GIPHY. Success of the company is secondary to the success of the company of people we work with everyday. In that sense any technology that can give us insights into the emotionality of our workplace would be extremely useful.
Which features of GIPHY are you most excited about?
I’m really excited for all the products we’re about to launch in 2017. We have a ton of new creation tools that are crazy as well as an entirely new way to search emotion, reaction, entertainment that we’ve been working on. We’ll show you soon.
What is the next step for GIPHY?
GIFs are only the beginning. This year you’ll see GIPHY exploring all the formats that can capture more of everything that makes us human. Other than that, it’s step by step. We just finished planning the year and are in production mode. So after we take a shower we’ll be right there.
Are there any plans to build another project like this in the future?
As an entrepreneur you’re lucky to get the opportunity to work on a project like GIPHY once maybe twice in your lifetime. And almost never do you get to do it with your best friends. When it’s all said and done we’ve brought billions of more laughs, lols, and feels to people via the internet and that was worth all of it. If we get the opportunity to do this again in the future, you bet.
Do you have any other advice for those looking to build similar projects of their own?
Affectiva has a great empathetic (obviously) staff. I would go talk to them just for the conversation. There is a lack of great people bringing life back to technology; we need your help.
How can someone try GIPHY?
Visit http://giphy.com. It is also in the App, iMessage, and Play Store. And available in thousands of integrations everywhere. Or just email me.
About Alex Chung
Alex Chung is currently the founder and CEO of GIPHY, the people who bring you all the GIFs.
Before founding GIPHY he was a Hacker in Residence at Betaworks and directed media technology for companies such as MTV, Viacom, Comcast, managed research for Paul Allen’s R&D lab, and started his career as a hardware engineer at Intel. A serial entrepreneur whose past projects include The Fridge a private social network acquired by Google and several others backed by investors such as YCombinator, Mitch Kapor, Google, Intel, Yahoo, and others. He was named on Business Insider’s Top 25 most influential technologists in New York, Fast Company’s most creative people in business, Ad Age’s 50 most creative people of 2016, and has degrees in philosophy, computer engineering, and graphic design.