Culture

GIPHY Is Having An Identity Crisis After Gen Z Said Gifs Were “Cringe”

Could this be the end of the .gif?

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GIF search engine GIPHY has told a UK competition watchdog that GIFs have “fallen out of fashion as a content form”, and are regarded by Gen Z as “cringe” and “for boomers”.

When the creator of the .gif format Stephen Wilhite died earlier this year, commentators predicted that the humble medium that gave us Nyan Cat and dramatic chipmunk would endure and prosper for decades to come thanks to its ability to condense culturally significant moments as short visual reactions.

However, the future of the filetype looks bleak as an obscure battle between popular GIF search engine GIPHY and the UK’s competition watchdog grows increasingly desperate after a blocked acquisition by Meta.

Meta Blocked From Acquiring “GIF Search Engine”

GIPHY was developed by Alex Chung and Jace Cooke in response to how frustratingly difficult it was to search and find GIFs on the internet. Marketing the service as a GIF search engine, GIPHY allowed users to find the perfect visual reaction that aligned with their specific cultural interests.

As the website’s popularity rose, Meta — known then simply as Facebook — acquired GIPHY for a whopping $400 million back in 2020. However, shortly after announcing the acquisition, the English Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) blocked the sale and requested Facebook divest GIPHY over fears that it would give the social media platform a monopoly on the GIF market.

GIPHY and Meta have been fighting the decision ever since, with GIPHY recently bringing a new submission to the CMA which seems to spell doom for the company and the humble GIF in general.

In a new submission, the company expressed fears that Gen Z’s seeming disinterest in the medium as well as an “overall decline in GIF use” had gutted the company.

“Marketplace commentary and user sentiment towards GIFs on social media shows that they have fallen out of fashion as a content form, with younger users in particular describing GIFs as ‘for boomers’ and ‘cringe’,” the company wrote in a submission to the CMA.

Aside from the attempted purchase by Meta, GIPHY lamented that there were currently no other offers to buy the company. While there had been initial interest from big tech companies like Adobe, Amazon, Bytedance, and Twitter prior to the sale to Meta, GIPHY claimed that “none of these discussions proceeded beyond initial contacts” and that many of the once interested parties had since contacted the CMA to say they were “unlikely to be interested”.

“GIPHY is now less attractive than it was two years ago, and consequently GIPHY predicts less interest today from suitable purchasers than there was at the time of the Transaction,” GIPHAY wrote to the CMA. “There is a high risk that the only purchasers interested in acquiring the GIPHY business (if any) will be weak or inappropriate.”

Worse, as a result of the ban, GIPHY has apparently been unable to generate any revenue or receive further development from Meta, forced to helplessly watch as competitors like Tenor and Gyfcat were acquired by “well-resourced companies” such as Google.

Not All Gen Z Thinks GIFs Are Dead

While GIPHY seems convinced the end is nigh for the GIF, users on social media seem unconvinced, raising a litany of problems present with the search engine.

Users cite problems with GIPHY’s search function, as well as the lack of quality user-made memes on the platform as the reason some have made the jump to competitors like Tenor.

“The GIF you’re looking for may have been uploaded to GIPHY but their search is utter crap so you’d never know,” wrote one user on Twitter.

Technology editor for The Guardian Alex Horne also argued that the increasingly monotonous supply of memes syndicated from television shows like The Office actually hurt the popularity of the format.

Elsewhere, the essence of the GIF has been built on and improved by other filetypes that allow for higher resolutions like MPEG4 and Webm formats.

So while it’s unclear how long it will take the CMA to rule on whether or not Meta’s acquisition of GIPHY is legal, nor is it clear what Gen Z truly thinks of the filetype, it’s clear that the future of the format isn’t directly tethered to the success of GIPHY.