The Inverse of the Animated GIF May Be the Real 'Instagram for Video'

By Alexis C. Madrigal

A new app, Picle, offers a new form of mobile story production that feels just right.

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Walking through my neighborhood, I passed a local school: The sound of children playing popped out its open windows and into my ears. For a split second, I could remember being that age, laughing that way, running with that cadence. 

"This is a good feeling," I thought. "I'd like to share this nostalgic moment." But no photo, no matter how well Instagrammed, could capture the sound of the kids, and @altissima aside, Twitter poetry doesn't normally work. 

What I needed was sound! Not video, but sound. 

So, I tweeted, "An iPhone app that captures a photo and 10 seconds of either A) ambient sound or B) what's in your headphones. Exists?"

Several people (thanks @joecorcoran, @brownpau, @gilfer) responded that such an app did exist, at least for Part A of my question. 

It's called Picle ("pickle").

I've been playing with the Picle app for the last day now, and I'm convinced that this is a fantastic idea that may be the unexpected winner in this contest to find the "Instagram of video." At the very least, it's a great tool for exploring the frontiers of mobile storytelling. 

At the core, Picle -- the work of the London creative agency Made by Many -- is exactly what I asked for: you take a photo and either simultaneously or serially record up to 10 seconds of audio to accompany it. These are then presented in a (hot) visual interface. This video should give you a pretty good idea of the different ways you could use it:

Weddings, birthdays, hikes, talking to yourself about inequality, concerts, street performances, sporting events, kids stuff, etc. The stuff of Instagram, but also a whole new category of things. Cute kids + cute kids saying cute stuff. Busker + busker's music. Etc. 

Looking at "picles" is initially disconcerting. When you hit the play button and start to hear sound, it's almost as if the image is broken because it is not moving in time with the soundtrack. 

But, then the experience started to change. The unsyncing of the sound and image helped me concentrate on the photograph. You can't just flip past the image with another thumb flick. You have to really look at it while the sound finishes playing. (Look at your fish image!)

These objects are, in a sense, the inverse of the animated GIF. Weird thought, let me explain. Both GIFs and picles take the idea of video (pictures + sound) and slice its components in different ways. GIFs take away the sound and focus your attention on a few frames of visual motion. Picles take away the motion and add the sound. 

What does that do? I think these objects focus your attention on the narrative that led to the creation of the photo. And it's this psychological trick that I think makes Picle like Instagram. Filters are a way to infuse your subject with a feeling that suggests a story. Here, the audio channel -- rather than the visual effect -- delivers the emotional message. 

In that, as Made by Many's Will Roissetter pointed out, Picle approximates the way your memories actually work.

"Like your memories, they are snapshots: sea crashing against the rocks and that beautiful sunset," Roissetter said. "Memories are made up of moments. They don't flow like a seamless video."

Picle soft launched at SXSW and it turns out they are on the verge of a major revamp as its makers get ready to turn it into an actual product. They entered SXSW with 15 users and left with 30,000. Now, they're up to about 60,000. 

But the thing about Picle as it is currently constituted is that it is not primarily a social network. It could have two users and still be interesting as a way of producing a new kind of digital object. In fact, the networking features only exist on the website and are only sort of functional (e.g. you can "follow" users but only if you type the URL of their profiles into your browser; there's no search functionality). 

A key addition to the app that went beyond my primitive vision is that the Picle app also lets you string together multiple picles into longer stories. So you could, for example, take a photo of every step of a recipe and record yourself describing them. Or you could document the changing soundscape along the Sunset Strip in 100 picles. These digital objects turn out to be a really interesting mix of real-time and random-access narrative. They can be experienced linearly -- and there is always a linear element through the sound -- but the chunks can be experienced however you'd like to. 

One advantage of Picle that Made by Many's Alex Harding pointed out to me is production ease. A picle story is almost like a video, but it's far faster and easier to produce. Which is good, because that's always been a background bugaboo for all these would-be video apps. You can make a cool looking photo in 10 seconds; not so with video, which is laborious and more difficult along every vector. 

Here's how a walk down my street to the school I mentioned at the top went; I produced this in only the time it took to take the photos and record the audio, no post-production necessary. First, I've embedded a video export of my Picle story and then tried to embed the real deal through janky iframe.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/the-inverse-of-the-animated-gif-may-be-the-real-instagram-for-video/261233/