Exclusive Interview: Gyfcat's Amanda Lorei Talks The History & Future Of GIFs

The Things had the opportunity to sit down an interview with Amanda Lorei, who is the spokesperson for the website Gfycat, which was a pioneer for the way GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) are used today. Gfycat is a website that is all about users creating GIF content, short videos, and whatever else they desire. The company is focused on building the website based on the user's needs.

Amanda was gracious enough to share not only some fantastic information about the company but about GIFs, including their history and their future. She even gave us the lowdown on GIFs vs. memes for those who aren't quite sure what makes the two different. She shared a ton of interesting and valuable information.

The Things (TH): How did you wind up working for Gfycat?

Amanda Lorei (AL): I graduated from Stanford, and our head of business development graduated from Stanford Law. I found this job posted on a Stamford job board. Since we had some people in common, I reached out to John and was able to connect with him. We talked about what the company was like. I am a big GIF user. I love trying to communicate and be expressive in visual ways. So I thought this sounds fun and is in my wheelhouse. I have like a little bit of prior communications experience through stuff I'd done in college. I felt that both the job and Gyfcat was a good fit for me.

TH: Is this an area you had envisioned yourself going into or was it just an intriguing opportunity?

AL: Somewhere between the two, I've always been a language person. I knew that I was looking for a job that would let me use those skills. This was an opportunity that came onto my radar and it was great. It also seemed like it would be a lot of fun. I wanted to work in a GIF company... And Gfycat fit those needs.

TH: What makes Gfycat different or stand out from the other companies? There are so many companies out there right now creating and making GIFs, what do you think makes users choose Gfycat over another GIF sites?

AL: The biggest differentiator is technological. We make it super easy for people to upload their own GIFs. We serve them in much higher quality. Gfycat uses AC quality, which is like little videos clips. We are the only platform using that. Everyone else uses super clunky, like dacha format from the 1980's. We also have Artificial Intelligence programs that we've been developing. They include one that increases image quality, one that pops, one that identifies different celebrities and one that reads texts that might be a little blurred. We do a lot of really cool things with AI, so we're much more like a tech company than a convenient driving company. We don't have GIF making teams. We're really about providing people with the tools to make GIFs. We are also continuing to innovate on the GIF format of animated short animations without being wedded to like a single file format.

TH: Where does Gfycat go from here? What's the next step for the company to stay relevant? With anything as you know, especially with technology, things tend to come and go. How does Gfycat keep up?

AL: We recently launched a new product and a new integration. We have a new integration with a company called Metaverse. They are an Augmented Reality platform. They let their users create AR experiences easily. We've started to integrate our content into, their AR experiences. We also just launched 360 GIFs, which are interactive. The GIFs are wrapping around you and can be viewed in Virtual Reality as well. Gfycat is working on more immersive experiences that go beyond browsing on your desktop or messaging on your phone but are experiences of integration with the entire world around you.

TH: So those new products and integrations make users feel like more involved?

AL: Exactly, we're all about trying to engage people by letting them create content. I think we're going to continue to focus on the fact our creators love to have new ways to create content.

TH: How did the GIF craze begin? Can you give me a little history behind how it became such a trend?

AL: A guy named Steve Wilhite, who I believe worked at Compuserve at the time, so it predates the Internet, invented The GIF in 1987. It was meant to be a file format that could work across different kinds of software and operating systems. The GIF was the first standardized image format, and the fact that it could animate was an auxiliary benefit. It works like a flipbook; it was a set of frames. The technological advantages of being shared everywhere aren't relevant today because most image formats can be shown in the same way. Plus, it's really big and clunky, and it only supports 256 colors. GIFs were really popular in the early days of the Internet. But then as more advanced image formats were developed, like jpegs, web developers started to sour on GIFs. Web developers were like they're so heavy, they're so clunky, they don't support a full range of colors, they take up so much space, etc. So they decided to stop using GIFs and just use Jpegs. They began using more modern a web video formats such as MP4's. GIFs became really unpopular. But as people started to interact with the Internet on mobile devices, they wanted to experience content in little bits. Video was too long, and still image wasn't interactive enough. People wanted a short clip, so GIFs started to be used again. But they still had all the problems they'd had before. Gfycat's founders saw the appeal of the GIF, but since it takes so long to load they decided to serve a little snippet of web video that would be more efficient. The quality would be so much better. The experience would be the same, a quick animation. So that's what they did. If you have a single link it will show up as a WebM, MP4 or WebP depending on how you're using it. If you've embedded it somewhere or you're in a messaging platform, we'll adapt to how you're doing it. I think there are 12 or more different ways we'll show it and adjust to how you're viewing it to be as efficient as possible. That is where Gfycat got its start as the technological, improvement on the GIF. Since then we have expanded to do more things like branching out into 360 content and AR content. But we've always been a platform that was focused on improving the technology behind GIFs.

TH: How long has Gfycat been in business?

AL: We incorporated in 2015.

TH: Gfycat is still a relatively new business, but you guys have come quite a long way in three years.

AL: Yeah, we definitely have grown fast. When I started in 2016, we had 75 million monthly active users. Currently, we have 180 million monthly active users. We've seen tremendous growth, and it's all been organic. We haven't paid for user acquisition. People are like, ‘how did you make this GIF? I didn't know that you can make GIFs'. Our creators will be like, ‘oh, I used Gfycat it was easy.’ I think our content creators love our platform. They have been very involved in, telling us what features they want and what would make their experience better. I think they have customer loyalty and that is powerful.

TH: Do you keep track of who's uploading certain GIFs or who is creating certain GIFs? What kind of data does Gfycat collect to help keep the company moving forward?

AL: If you upload content, we can see your IP address, your approximate location and we know the language that your computer is using. That helps us with localization. If you're in Brazil, we can serve you content that's language and geographically relevant to you. We have good data on what kinds of content people are using to improve our categorization of content. Understanding what types of content people are looking at has helped improve our data because it’s all user-generated and we don't always have great data on what it is. But as our AI programs improve, we've been able to understand more people like the content of say, Taylor Swift. If we're doing this large scale AI-powered data processing, we're able to see other celebrities that are popular with people who love Taylor Swift. People really like video games on our platform, and we started to be able to tell which video games are the most popular by when a particular video game has spiked in popularity. Attempting to understand what our users are doing and what they like is also about understating our platform.

TH: Can you see certain GIFS popularity throughout the country based on where people are viewing them?

AL: Yes. We are seeing where people are viewing content from, but we consider uploaded data to be more meaningful.

TH: That was going to be my next question. Just because people are not uploading GIF's doesn't necessarily mean they're not viewing them. But for what Gfycat is doing, your uploaded data is what is essential to the company and how you move forward, is that correct?

AL: Our creators are the people bringing viewership and traffic to our site in the first place. So we try to understand what their needs are, what they're interested in. We have been working on a series of interviews with our content creators to help us understand their needs. We realized everyone's needs were somewhat different. So we started doing some case studies, and that turned into a series of interviews for our blog. I got on a phone call with different GIF creators and asked them why are you making GIFs? What kinds of content are you making? Why are you excited about being able to create GIFs? How did you get started? It's been really enlightening because the reasons people make GIF's are so different. Some people create GIF's because it's a fun side hobby. They love getting other people excited about something they created themselves with other people. Getting customer acquisition for marketing and PR is essential. There's a range of how people are using GIFs as a tool, and I think it's just so exciting to see. People have turned to our platform to meet their needs in ways that are super interesting, in ways that we didn't necessarily expect. One of my favorite interviews was with a goat farmer. I talked to this woman who owns a goat farm and takes videos images of her goats, then turns them into GIF's and shares them. We never really created this platform thinking ‘oh farmers are going to use it,’ but unexpectedly that's what she's doing with it. We talked to a bunch of different people, including people who enjoy sharing content on Reddit. We have a mix of people who are doing this as a hobby and people who are doing this as a business. It's been fascinating!

TH: Can you explain the difference between a meme and a GIF?

AL: There's significant overlap between the two. A meme is any kind of element of culture or system of behavior according to the Internet. So basically a meme can be words, it can be an image, it can be a video, it can just be an idea that's transmitted from person to person by imitation. Usually when people say something is a meme, often what they mean is that it's a video or a still image that they can alter in some way to change the meaning slightly. So for instance, if you have a GIF of someone looking annoyed and then you add a new caption to it you've changed the meaning. You're taking an element of culture that's shared. Then you're adding something that's unique and then retransmitting it. All GIF's are memes, but not all memes are GIFs.

TH: There is interchangeability between the two depending on how your user is using it and what they're doing to it, is that correct?

AL: Exactly. Some gestures are more adaptable to memes than others. I think with a visible emotion or reaction is a lot easier to use as a meme than a GIF.

TH: If there was one thing you could to tell people about Gfycat and GIFs in general, what would it be? What would you want them to know that isn't something easily seen by looking at the website?

AL: I wish that more people knew you can create your own GIF's and it is actually super, super easy. I think a lot of people really enjoy using GIFs, but it doesn't occur to them it's something that they can do themselves easily and be creators of culture instead of just transmitters.

TH: People think it is more challenging to create GIFs than it really is, is that what you are saying?

AL: Yeah. I think people who use Gfycat know that it's effortless. But so many people see GIFs and reshare them without understanding it is something they can do.

TH: I agree with that. I think a lot of people, especially on social media like to look at GIFs but it doesn't occur to them to go create their own. I have one last question. Do you think that GIFs are a fad or are they here to stay?

AL: I definitely think they're here to stay. I think they're bridging the gap between a photo and video. Sometimes you want something that's dynamic, but you don't want to commit more than a couple seconds to it. I think the desire for something that has a bit more meaning than a still but doesn't require a time commitment is always going to be there.

TH: It is the best of both worlds right?

AL: I think the most significant proof of the GIFs continued relevance is that it's literally older than the Internet. It's older than me. It's older than the Jpeg that is embedded in the web video. It's been around for longer than we've had the Internet. I think that's proof of it staying power and proof that GIFs are easily adaptable. They are also easy to evolve, to stay relevant and as technology grows there's the ability to grow with it.

TH: Amazing! Amanda thank you for taking the time to interview with me; I've learned a lot of valuable information about GIFs and Gfycat.

AL: Thanks so much for reaching out I enjoyed speaking to you as well.

TH: Have a wonderful rest of your day!

If you have not visited Gfycat website, we highly recommend you check it out. The site is easy to navigate and you will be surprised how addicting it can be to create GIFs. Take it from us, we have a new favorite past time thanks to Amanda and Gfycat.

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