When you make a Pop, you can draw from your own camera, or this whole database of GIFs. You guys have called that latter set of stuff “the visual history of our culture.” Can GIFs be that important?
Haha! While often silly, we do believe GIFs are actually really important. We share GIFs to express emotions. A GIF of Grumpy Cat conveys a mood in a way that is fundamentally different than with words. We’re not alone in obsessing over the unique powers of GIFs — in a few weeks, the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC is opening an entire exhibition devoted to the emotional potency of reaction GIFs.
It might sound crazy, but we often compare GIFs to the symbols that make up pictorial languages like Mandarin. A symbol in Mandarin represents a word, and GIFs often function in the same way. The meaning of a GIF, like all visual symbols, is built through common cultural understanding. The reason a GIF of Jack Nicholson knocking on the door in The Shining says so much, so quickly, is because of the shared lexicon of popular culture. In this way, GIFs are elemental building blocks of the Internet’s language.
This language, which includes images and videos, too, is being invented every day. As a result, the vocabulary is constantly morphing, expanding. People are building this language by making entirely new symbols – writing phrases on top of still images or mining cultural history to create GIFs from movies and TV shows.
Like the evolution of all languages, phrases bubble up to the top and accrue shared meaning. What’s amazing — and how we can see that it is working like other languages—is that teenagers who have never seen a John Hughes movie in their lives are communicating through scenes from the Breakfast Club. The symbolic value of the images goes beyond the original context in which they were created.
While Pop gives access to millions of GIFs today, not too far down the line, we’ll make it possible to search for images and find media that is recorded within Pop. This means that the network itself can be generative of new phrases that can be used by others.
The mobile app Pop grew out of Zeega, this much more complex way of creating multimedia stories for the web. What do you see as the connection between these two products?
With Zeega, we discovered the power of giving people the ability to mix media from all over the web. This remains a driving force behind Pop. The biggest difference between Pop and Zeega is the context of mobile vs. laptop. Pop allows you to record in the moment and is social, so you can follow people and respond directly to others. You use Zeega while sitting down. It’s a way to edit interactive stories of any length you choose, so you can layer audio, images and text together.
Having played with Pop, I think the easiest way to get followers would be to take interesting GIFs and reenact them because it would be such a satisfying reveal. Are people doing that? Are other microgenres gaining traction?