Before giving you a recap of two of the sessions I attended today, I wanted everyone to see the real SXSW experience: standing in line. See anyone you know?
Behind the GIF: The Future of Online Visual Culture
This was a panel discussion featuring the heads of giphy.com and imgur.com, two online curators of GIFs; short, silent video clips you see everywhere. Both sessions I’m featuring today share a common theme: looking past the actual information featured in “silly” online phenomena and seeing that how they are used is what’s truly revealing about our culture. GIFs are incredibly shareable not entirely because of the content itself, but because it allows the user to express something to the person they share it with.
Why are GIFs the perfect medium for storytelling? Alex Chung from giphy.com says that decades ago, a typical scene of a film was comprised of 6-8 second cuts. Today, cuts happen roughy every 4-5 seconds. Each cut can be seen as a self-contained narrative in and of itself, so is inherently shareable. Also, the fact that they lack sound means they are perfect for the mobile experience, and perfect for browsing lots of them at a time. Remember the moving-image newspapers and posters from Harry Potter? The time when every image is a moving image isn’t far off.
What are the characteristics of a good GIF? Some of the most shareable GIFs contain a set-up and a resolution. They generally have an element of tension and capture some sort of emotion. A good GIF contains layers of meaning or layers of interpretation, so the meaning becomes what the person sharing intends it to mean, it becomes a new thing.
And GIFs are no longer simply images to be passed along for a shared laugh, many TV and movie campaigns rely heavily on GIFs to distill an action or a funny moment from their upcoming film into a shareable chunk, and point the user back to the original content. Think of it as a trailer-to-the-trailer. And not just the entertainment industry, there are examples of goverments and social campaigns beginning to understand and use this powerful format.
Some examples to enjoy:
Lessons from BuzzFeed
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s Co-Founder came to deliver a talk about the future of his media empire. Again, your first impression of BuzzFeed’s content can vary from helpful to silly to absolutely useless, but he spoke about the act of sharing and the connections that are formed being at the core of why BuzzFeed is in business.
An example: ”29 things everyone with nipples should know” was an article with all sorts of content related to….well you can guess what the content relates to. BuzzFeed received many messages that the article spurred them to get a breast exam, and in one case, even led to an early tumor diagnosis, early enough that surgery was able to take care of it.
Not all of BuzzFeed’s content has such an obvious element of social good, but it was refreshing to hear the co-founder say “Sharing online is meaningful, but real-world action is even more meaningful.” To make BuzzFeed a meaningful part of our lives, they launched both BuzzFeed News and BuzzFeed Life and have begun to create massive amounts of content under both umbrellas.
When BuzzFeed was founded, it was founded using a vertical model – creating and distributing all of its own content on its own channels. But the future of BuzzFeed looks quite different. “Our goal is to be indifferent to how people find our content. It doesn’t matter where the content lives. If you can connect with your audience in a deeper way, it doesn’t matter where it appears.” He calls it BuzzFeed’s new “Network Integration Model.”
For example, the most recent thing that broke-the-internet was the “What color is this dress?” phenomenon. Traditional thinking suggested that the content should live on the channel that you own, and should be marketed or teased on all of the other channels. But the dress post was created by BuzzFeed and posted on Facebook, where it quickly achieved over 8.6 million views. But wider distribution happened via what Peretti calls the “downstream cascade,” leading to more views on more channels. The popular Obama video also was launched on Facebook. GIFs and Vines and Tweets only magnified its popularity. If you see the video, you’ll notice how the White House used it to get a message across in a far more effective way than through traditional channels. There’s a lot for all of us to learn from this example.