If you want to send a funny GIF to your friends on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) Messenger, it's now as easy as two taps. Facebook is testing a "GIF" button that displays trending GIFs from Giphy and Riffsy within the app, removing the need to download separate apps and switch in between them and Messenger. The animated images, once sent, will prompt users to download the corresponding app from which the image was sourced; but removing the barrier is an interesting development for several reasons.
First, it begs the question, how popular are these GIF apps that Facebook was compelled to integrate them with its Messenger app? Second, what does Facebook's move to integrate GIF apps say about its strategy with Facebook platform?
The popularity of GIFs
The move to include GIFs directly in Messenger says something about the combined popularity of Giphy and Riffsy. They're either very popular, or not as popular as Facebook wants them to be.
By including easy access to the top content from each app within Messenger, Facebook is promoting both apps. It even encourages users to download the apps when one of them sends a GIF to another. This could indicate that the GIF apps have been met with a less-than-desirable response from Messenger users, and Facebook wants more people to get used to the idea of sharing content from other apps within Messenger.
On the other hand, it could indicate that the apps have proven extremely popular, and Facebook wants to take advantage of that in some way. By subsuming the GIF apps, Facebook opens the door for it to include its own set of GIFs, knocking down Giphy and Riffsy a peg.
Other social networks such as Tumblr have invested in products around GIFs, and Giphy was valued at $80 million at the beginning of the year. This indicates that there's potential money to be made in GIFs.
The strategy behind Messenger Platform
With Messenger Platform, Facebook has a couple of goals. Primarily, it wants to make Messenger more engaging and functional as a stand-alone app. But it also is able to use its ownership of the platform to co-opt the next big social media app.
Indeed, part of the strategy behind integrating both Riffsy and Giphy into one feed within the app may be to blur the lines from where these images are coming from. Facebook could then place GIFs it sourced itself in the feed without anyone noticing.
It's easy to see Facebook doing this for other popular apps that allow users to draw pictures or put filters on photos. While none of these would have an immediate impact on Facebook's value, especially since they're difficult to monetize, Facebook could prevent the next Snapchat-type app from cropping up and taking away engagement from Messenger and its flagship product.
At the same time, Facebook needs to be careful not to set off too many alarms for developers. The company offers a pretty nice carrot by enabling developers to easily tap into its Messenger network, which now sports 700 million active users. However, if Facebook comes down too heavy handed by pushing its own product once a certain kind of app (like GIF sharing) gets popular, it'll scare off developers from the platform.
Right now, Facebook is still pushing Giphy and Riffsy and featuring dozens of other image and video-sharing apps within Messenger. Growing that ecosystem while maintaining control over it puts it in the driver's seat when it comes to finding the next big social platform, and stopping it before it gets too big for Facebook to stop -- or at least buy out.