STRV & Audiobyte: Revolutionizing the GIF
Let’s face it; there’s a lot to love about GIFs. They’re entertaining as hell, incredibly efficient at quickly conveying complex emotions, and in recent years, have emerged as a sort of go-to form of communication independent of words altogether.
The thing is, as effective as these visual tidbits are, there’s one glaringly critical piece of the pie that’s been missing that’s kept gifs from achieving a true full sensory experience—music.
When Audiobyte came to STRV for design and development, this was precisely the vision: build a platform by which users can create, customize, and combine GIFs with tunes from the world’s biggest artists. Now, some three years and a heck of a lot of work later, Gifnote has established itself as the preeminent, fully-licensed music messaging app.
THE UNLIKELY RISE OF THE GIF: A MICRO HISTORY
Before delving into the significance of what Gifnote means to the future of both messaging and entertainment, it’s first important to understand how the simple perfection of the GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) got to where it is today.
Although the widespread daily use of GIFs is a fairly recent phenomenon, the truth is they’ve been around since the early ’90s where they were an essential bedrock of web design. This was the time when the 56 Kbps dial-up modem was king, so the GIF’s bite-sized file sizes were the only reasonable option for animations online.
They were crude. They were eyesores. Yet, for all of their rudimentary faults, they got the job done.
As the early to mid-‘00s rolled around, (due to a myriad of advancements in internet technologies), GIFs seemingly went the way of the dinosaur as they were seen by professional web designers as little more than inferior throwbacks and jokes of the digital world.
Then, some five-odd years later, a perfect storm began taking shape upon the horizon. High-speed broadband became the norm, opening the floodgates for mobile technologies like smartphones and entertainment sites such as Youtube and Tumblr. Suddenly, the average user was given newfound freedom to create and share their own visual content—fertile ground for the rebirth of the GIF.
Unlike the simple animations of the ’90s, the foundation of this new era of the GIF was built on images and memes mined from cultural currencies such as pop culture, film & television, sports, politics and everything in between. Essentially, a new sort of universal visual language for modern globalized society was born.
Now, with the introduction of Gifnote—that evolution is going even further.
As the saying goes: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If this is the case, then a Gifnote’s equivalent to that of a short novel. There’s a reason why Gifnote was recognized as one of the top trends of 2019. Music and GIFs share a universal and efficient ability to quickly connect with the user, pulling heartstrings and inspiring feelings of nostalgia. With this in mind, it’s only natural that the merger of the two signals fresh terrain in the arenas of social media, entertainment, and messaging.
In many aspects, Gifnote also represents a new medium for music consumption within itself. Regardless if one’s preferred listening system is vinyl, their trusty old iPod, downloads, or streaming services, these methods, simply put, don’t cater to the unavoidable nature of our ever-shortening attention spans and also, do not easily integrate with texting communications.
In the words of Audiobyte CEO, Andrew Blacker: “With over 60 Billion text messages sent daily in the US alone and growing, texting dominates human communication. But now, with Gifnote, music is part of the conversation.”
Gifnote offers users the ability to search by mood, genre, keyword, artist, expression, album or song title to help them construct the perfect Gifnote. If a user’s not quite digging the pre-selected song choices for a particular GIF, they can choose another. Want to shorten a song to a specified length or upload a GIF your own? Go right ahead. Gifnote was built to be the perfect platform for saying happy birthday, making plans with co-workers, getting back into good graces with family, and stoking the flames of a sports rivalry with friends.
For a closer look behind the work which brought this multi-industry game-changer to life, we sat down for a Q&A with STRV backend developer Milan Manasievski, iOS developer Tomáš Čejka, and project manager, Filipe Simões.
Give me an overview of the project.
Filipe: Gifnote launched in 2017, but we’ve been working on the project for three plus years. It’s one of the longest running client projects we have at STRV. In addition to the app, we’ve built Messenger and Slack extensions as well as sharing capabilities for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and iMessage.
Milan: We’ve also built a way for sharing the API with partners so they can implement Gifnote with their apps. At this point, Gifnote’s not only an app but a platform unto itself.
With Gifnote, the music thematically connects with the visuals of the GIF. How was this achieved?
Milan: It’s all about the metadata that we get from the GIF and the song clip. There’s some magic around that which combines those two to find out how good of a match they are. There’s a bit of machine learning which is involved as well. A user can search for a song if they’re not satisfied with the pre-selected song clip, So in this way, the actual userbase assists with improving the matching of songs with GIFs.
What was the creation of the Gifnote Keyboard like? Any hurdles in the design or functionality process?
Tomáš: To be honest it was quite crazy. First, we struggled with limited memory in the keyboard extension because we were animating items in collections and in various formats (mp4, gif, webp). Second, we also needed a native keyboard but the final result was good, and users liked it, so it was worth it.
Creating a platform of this scale must have been quite the undertaking. What did it take and what were some of the biggest challenges?
Milan: The whole thing was pretty much built and designed in-house. The client came up with the concept and had a wireframe, but there were many variables and unanswered questions. We created a method by which a song can be dragged and dropped, and in the process, we get all the metadata: year of release, artist, title, album, everything that’s attached to that file. In the same process, we were able to figure out what the portions of that song are so we can create clips from it automatically.
Tomáš: We tried different variants of flow so that user sharing would be fast and simple. We did a lot of user testing and AB testing to proof user expectations and behavior with how they use the app. There were many changes made in the development process.
Milan: The iOS app was built from the ground up; the API which talks to the iOS app was also built from the ground up. Then there was the music which is all copyrighted, so we had to find a way to communicate with the music label to let them know how many downloads each song has had and how many times its been listed—generally reporting end usage with the labels.
Filipe: Right now it’s Milan and Tomáš on the project, but we’ve had many different teams working on it for a long time. We had designers such as Katka Potuzakova and additional frontend and backend help as well in the past from Jakub Kotula and Jan Hybl. The project has had quite a history of cooperation from multiple departments at STRV.
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