The rise and fall of Giphy: from king of animated gifs to old-fashioned content

Invented in 1989, it was not until the emergence of social networks that the animated gif (Graphics Interchange Format) became the quintessential resource for adding context or exposing with images what words could not describe. A decade later, things have changed. It’s not just that they’ve gone out of fashion, but that younger users consider them “for boomers” (people born between 1946 and 1964) and even “cringe” (which could be translated as embarrassing or that gives grime).

This is confirmed by Giphy, which was the largest search engine for gifs. The platform clings to this argument to convince the UK Competition and Markets Authority that Meta is the only company in the world that will buy it. Specifically, the company assures -in a presentation before said body- that “there are indications of a general decrease in the use of gifs as a result of the drop in user interest in these contents.”

An approach that is also shared by the writer Ryan Broderick, who assures Guardian that these videos are considered “old-fashioned” and, in many cases, are associated with a resource that would use “your millennial boss on Slack”. To this is added, in addition, the role that large corporations, mobile phones and copyright laws have played in the strangulation of gifs.

The platform was born in 2013, at the dawn of the revolution started by Tumblr, Facebook and Whatsapp. Founded by Alex Chung and Jace Cooke, the search engine came to solve the main problem that lovers of gifs faced: finding exactly the right one to use in any situation. The company collected, tagged, and classified hundreds of thousands of animated images, and made them available to users. Such was the popularity of this engine that, in just 3 years, it reached a $600 million valuation and even caught the attention of Facebook.

However, the success was short lived. Although still popular, user interest in these animated resources waned over the years. So much so that, in early 2021, the company led by Mark Zuckerberg acquired the platform for 200 million euros less than it was worth in 2016.

The search engine’s problems did not end there. This operation set off the alarms of the competition regulator in the United Kingdom, which launched an investigation to determine whether the purchase of Giphy could imply a reduction in the supply of gifs to the rival social networks of Facebook, including Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter. While it was being developed, Zuckerberg’s company integrated Giphy, which breached the order imposed by the agency. In response, the British entity imposed in October 2021 a £50.5 million fine (59.7 million euros). A month later, the UK Competition and Markets Authority ordered Facebook to sell the search engine for gifs.

It now remains to be seen whether the argument put forward by Giphy causes the UK Competition and Markets Authority to change its mind and allow its purchase by Meta.


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The rise and fall of Giphy: from king of animated gifs to old-fashioned content

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