Why I think Facebook and Giphy have spoiled the internet

  • The fact that Facebook bought the Giphy platform makes perfect sense: Both companies want to reach as many people as possible, and all without a unified view or aesthetics.
  • GIFs were originally an indispensable and unique art form, but Giphy has seized them and made GIFs boring and predictable.
  • Facebook did the same with the Internet and paralyzed the Internet culture.

On May 15, Facebook announced the purchase of the Giphy platform, a searchable treasure trove of GIFs, for the equivalent of just under EUR 366 million. In the future, Giphy will be under one roof with Instagram and is already integrated in the app.

Since its founding in 2013, Giphy has become an indispensable tool for millions of Internet users who cannot express their thoughts in words and who need a character from the Doctor Who science fiction series. The takeover by Facebook therefore makes perfect sense. A company that has stolen a bit of creativity from the internet and made it more predictable is buying another company with the same success story.

In the beginning, GIFs were a sign of the dynamism of the Internet

After emancipating themselves from their rudimentary form on MySpace, animated GIFs were the most versatile file format on the Internet in the early 2010s. These GIFs were more dynamic than regular photos and easier to upload than full videos, so they could easily be inserted into emails. Animated GIFs were especially popular on Tumblr, where thoroughbred fans cut out their favorite TV characters, scenes, and facial expressions to put together mood boards.

In popular Tumblr blogs such as “What Should We Call Me”, these images were recontextualized as “GIF reactions”. Instead of an emojis that rolls your eyes, a GIF can be sent, where Tina Fey does exactly the same.

The GIF became a cultural currency. Users filled entire folders with hundreds of GIF reactions. The inventors of new GIFs were highly regarded among Internet users.

For a short time, creating GIFs was a special skill that only people who had working copies of Photoshop could export and overlay individual images from video clips. Media organizations that didn’t want to violate copyright restrictions began to break pop culture into easy-to-spread GIFs that were perfect for social media. (See: ‘Mad Men’ GIF for Eternity, Buzzfeed, 2009.)

But then Giphy came

But finding the right GIF wasn’t easy – and that’s where Giphy came in. When it was founded in 2013, Giphy scraped together a number of GIFs from the Internet, marked them, created a directory and arranged them according to an algorithm. Suddenly everyone had access to GIFs, not just the freaks with the folders.

Shortly after founding Giphy, Twitter announced in 2014 that it would support uploading GIFs (which are actually re-encoded as video files to save bandwidth). Facebook followed suit a year later. When Apple launched the iOS 10 operating system in 2016, a giphy search engine was integrated into its messaging service.

Giphy’s search tools led to a noticeable monotony in GIF culture. The same principles that apply to Google also seem to apply to Giphy: If you don’t appear in the first three results, you just as well cannot exist. GIF responses declined and became less diverse.

Merging Giphy with larger platforms also forced the company to sweep more eccentric parts of GIF culture under the carpet.

Shortly after the release of iOS 10, Apple had to deal with porn GIFs and My Little Pony eroticism that appeared in the iMessage GIF search results. Apple quickly put an end to this. If you search for a GIF using the Giphy search function integrated in Instagram, you will see a small, pre-approved sample of possible results. If users rely on services such as Giphy when curating and Giphy has to adapt to the whims of mega platforms such as Facebook or iOS, it quickly gets boring.

Facebook has paralyzed the Internet in a similar way

This homogeneous control behavior of Giphy fits perfectly with Facebook – a huge company that wants to please everyone and no longer really knows what it stands for. Recurring algorithms paralyze the once lively Internet.

Facebook is structured around the news feed. Anyone who wants to get attention simply bends to the laws of the news algorithm. As a result, messages are uniformly adjusted and the same videos and live streams always appear first on the feed. Everything blurs to a gray mass. The charm of the Internet, in which so many creative things can be realized, is nipped in the bud.

The entire internet culture is increasingly centralized by companies like Facebook and Instagram. Various blogs and fan websites disappear from the scene or are replaced by boring Facebook formats. Giphy centralized GIF culture in the same way.

Disney briefly removed popular Baby Yoda GIFs on the Giphy platform last year. This was due to disagreements regarding copyright. At that time, Giphy was still a relatively small company. As part of the billion dollar company Facebook today, more and more people could block GIFs due to copyrights and hope for the big compensation money from Facebook.

It is quite possible that Facebook would then find it easier to simply remove the GIFs from the platform than to engage in time-consuming and costly paperwork. As a result, the GIFs accumulated over the years could simply disappear and the platform would become extinct.

Giphy and Facebook have made the internet a boring and predictable place. The two fit perfectly together.

This article is a column. The thoughts expressed reflect the opinion of the author.

Brian Feldman is a full-time gamer living in Brooklyn, New York. Occasionally he writes on technology topics.


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