The man, the GIF, the legend: An interview with Giphy founder Alex Chung

In the past five years, nobody has dominated the GIF market quite like Giphy. Since the company’s inception in 2013, it’s been the internet’s go-to GIF platform. Every day, roughly 300 million people send over 2 billion GIFs through the service.

To get the scoop on the company’s meteoric rise, Digital Trends dropped by Giphy’s New York HQ and sat down with CEO and founder Alex Chung. We asked him about the effects GIFs have had — and will continue to have — on communication, media, and, culture. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Digital Trends: What inspired you start Giphy?

Alex Chung: “In the beginning, it was just the idea of, ‘there’s no way to find GIFs on the Internet. How do we find them?’ So it was just a fun project to see if it could be done. After it was launched and we looked at the data, we found it was all these things that typically aren’t searched for on the Internet and the people searching for these things were then sharing them with their friends.”

Alex Chung CEO of Giphy

You started Giphy just so you and your friends could send each other GIFs. So what made it blow up?

“I only sent it to four friends because it was supposed to be our secret way to find and GIFs and send them, but then someone sent it to a publication. In the first day, we were the most popular site on the internet. Everyone loved us. By the second day, everyone hated us, told us we had the most horrible thing that was ever created, and that we suck.

The peak in the first week was around a million people, and then it leveled out to 300,000 people hanging out. So we knew we had something, and it was just about figuring out what the exact something was that would make it a viral behavior that would go beyond a fad. What we found is that no one had really figured out a way to put search into messaging. How do you get people, while they’re having conversations, to go search the Internet and find content and then bring it back in to send to their friends? That behavior didn’t exist. That’s what we worked on for the first bit, and now we have hundreds of millions of people searching every day.”

Why do you think people have gravitated to Giphy so much more than your competitors?

“Google has always been our competitor and so it’s asking the question “why do people go to Giphy versus Google?” No one searches for human expression or entertainment on Google. It’s just not the brand or place that you go. You wouldn’t go to the library to try and meet Ariana Grande.”

Alex Chung CEO of Giphy

How do you think GIFs have impacted society and the way culture works?

“The way that we see people use GIFs is exactly the way that people end up having conversations. It’s greetings: Hello, goodbye, good morning. Those are always one of the top 20 searches. Then it’s expressions: I’m hungry, I’m sad, I’m tired. And then once you’re past that point, it’s really just talking about current events and entertainment. Did you see that show last night? Did you see this in the news? What’s going on with so-and-so? And that’s the next step of the conversation.”

How many GIFs do you send each day?

“I’d say about 50 times a day. Some days 10, some days 50 — a lot more than I do anything else. More than I call my mom.”

What does it mean to you to know that so many people love and use your service?

“We think Giphy is a positive force on the internet. We once calculated the number of laughs we had in a day just by counting how many laugh and humor tags that were being searched. It was millions of laughs in just one day. Anything that puts out millions of laughs on the internet every day can’t be that bad.”

What does the future look like for Giphy?

“We have a few things that we can talk about: we have an animated emoji platform coming out, because why shouldn’t emojis move? We have a text platform, we have a micro gaming platform with short 15 second games, and we have a video platform coming out. The future is about Giphy bringing short-form entertainment into messaging.”

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