Riffsy’s David McIntosh On Why GIFs Are A Language

Riffsy CEO David McIntosh doesn’t think GIFs are a novelty — he thinks they’re the harbinger of a new form of communicating emotion over the Internet.

“The beauty of GIFs is if someone texts you ‘what’s up,’ you might send back ‘hey, I’m ok’ and people might think something’s wrong,” McIntosh says. “Or you can send back a GIF, fundamentally the beauty is it extracts some particular emotion you’re feeling that’s bundled in a 3 to 5 second moment.”

Riffsy adds a keyboard for users that allows them to search for and copy GIFs that they can then paste in messaging apps. Recently, Riffsy unveiled a new feature that allows users to add captions to GIFs. The trick is finding a daily use case — and Riffsy measures the company’s success by how short a session time is (how long it takes to find a gif) and how many times a user is using the keyboard.

“Ultimately they aren’t looking to browse, they’re only gonna look at those 4 to 8 [GIFs], and if you don’t deliver something in the first 4 to 8 [GIFs], they won’t want to share,” he said.

There’s a technical aspect to the problem as well: Riffsy has to ensure that the GIFs that show up on the keyboard are optimized for messaging platforms. That involves figuring out how to optimize video elements, making it easier to share those GIFs in a lightweight — and fast — manner.

If it all works, that gives Riffsy more data as to what GIFs people are looking for at the right moment. That then turns into a positive feedback loop: the faster it is, the more likely people are to use it, and the more likely they give Riffsy more data that helps it improve the speed and accuracy of the GIFs it serves.

Riffsy of course isn’t the only one working in the space — there are competitors like PopKey. But McIntosh says Riffsy’s been able to hold their position while other competitors sometimes see a spike in popularity but have some problems maintaining their status on the App Store. He’s not entirely far off, but to be sure Riffsy hasn’t really breached the top spots of the overall App Store itself. Still, it’s usually ranked among the top utility apps.

Here’s the ranking chart for PopKey:

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And here’s Riffsy’s:

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McIntosh says Riffsy isn’t a keyboard company exclusively, as it working with a lot of partners like Fleksy, Kik and Facebook Messenger. All this it would seem, taken together, makes Riffsy more of a video company trying to make GIFs one of the core ways we communicate in the future more than anything else.

“We think of ourselves as building this visual language, this lexicon,” McIntosh says. “We’re building this visual expression language. What we’re finding is that people love sharing GIFs on mobile because they’re a fast, fun way of communicating.”