While other file formats have faded, the lowly Gif has stubbornly stayed alive for more than 25 years through sites like Tumblr. Other apps like Vine and Cinemagram have also popped up to support the short-looping video.
Coub is doing the same and it’s starting to pick up some real traction. Over the last few months, the site, which lets people take YouTube or Vimeo videos, clip them to 10 seconds and loop them with music, has started attracting upwards of 1 million visitors a day from virtually nothing at the beginning of the year. Almost all of this traffic is from Russia, where the company has its Moscow headquarters.
The name is a play on Cobb, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the Christopher Nolan’s movie Inception. (They had to add the ‘U’ because Cobb was already taken as a domain name.)
The two brothers behind the site, Anton and Igor Gladkoborodov, have a long history of building and selling media projects in Moscow. One of their last projects, Lookatme.ru, became more hipster hub for Russia, while another project catalogued public lectures in the city.
After selling Lookatme.ru, they started to brainstorm about other possible projects. They bootstrapped Coub and launched it last year, although it only started to pick up momentum in January. Now they’re seeing 5.5 million uniques per month.
Unlike Vine or Cinemagram, Coub is web-first and it’s mainly designed for people to manipulate existing videos, not create new ones from their phones. The Gladkoborodovs say many of the existing Gif-making sites aren’t that intuitive to use and the file formats can take longer to load and have poorer image resolution than their looping videos, or Coubs.
Russians are using Coub to mock celebrities and politicians, like the one below making fun of famed director Nikita Mikhalkov or the one below that of Vladimir Putin. There are signs that Russia is heading in a more politically oppressive direction after Putin’s re-election last year. Earlier this year, two of the founders of Russia’s top social network VKontakte, Vyacheslav Mirilashvili and Lev Leviev, abruptly and mysteriously sold a 48 percent stake in the company to UCP, an investment fund run by a financier with close ties to Putin.
Some are worried this will mean more limits for online political criticism.
But looping videos and Gifs meanwhile are pretty harmless, and funny, at the least. The two brothers, who moved to Moscow years ago from a city near St. Petersburg and the White Sea, say that their product is more comparable to YouTube than to other meme sites like 9gag or Reddit.
The site is starting to see pick-up abroad, with pockets of usage in places like Portland, Oregon. The Gladkoborodovs are hoping that they can find a way to help Coub take off in the U.S. and other sites outside of Russia.