by James Xue, Columbia
Slack has become ubiquitous in the workplace for one huge reason: a burgeoning marketplace of integrations. With over 600 apps on its platform in July 2016, Slack announced itÂ invested over $2M into fourteen Slackbot startupsÂ via its Slack fund. That investment looks to have paid off: from Diggbot to Google+ Hangouts, companies big and small are trying to tap into this new â€œapp storeâ€ gold mine of sorts and find their way into your teamâ€™s Slack. One of these smaller companies, GIPHY, is an online database and search engine for the best and freshest GIF animations. I interviewedÂ GIPHYâ€™s Head of Engineering, Nick Hasty, to find out more about how GIPHY has risen to the top of the Slack marketplace, and get insights on the Slack integration space moving into the future.
Founded in February 2013, GIPHY (hard â€œGâ€) initially worked as a website search engine for GIFs. Nick, one of the first employees at GIPHY, was working as a Hacker in Residence at Betaworks at the time, and met Founder/CEO Alex Chung through mutual friends. As an engineer with a web development background, Nick has always been passionate about the intersection between technology and the arts, serving as Director of Technology atÂ Rhizome at the New Museum. As Head of Engineering, Nick oversees the entire codebase, and is always on the lookout for cool special projects to investigateâ€Šâ€”â€Šintegrating with Slack being one of them.
â€œOurselves, we knew the power of gifsâ€Šâ€”â€Šwe had a lot of fun using them, and realized all the ways they could be used, especially for sharing. So we wanted to focus on search for sure, but instead of building out a big website, we wanted to first get inside every existing external network,â€ Nick recalls. By the end of 2013, GIPHY had expanded to Facebook and Twitter. One of the major challenges was a technical one: GIFs werenâ€™t even supported natively on Facebook and Twitter by then, so the team had to hack around it by injecting GIFs through flash videos.
Nick attributes a large part GIPHYâ€™s fast growth and early success to the power of GIFs in communicating and expressing ideas. There is a lot more to GIFs than silly cat videosâ€Šâ€”â€ŠNick notes the power GIFs over emojis in how they have altered the way we message and express emotion digitally.
â€œItâ€™s like an excerpt from a movieâ€Šâ€”â€Šthere are so many layers to a smile that are different than anything a little yellow face canÂ show.â€
Additionally, Nick explains how GIPHY capitalized on two other benefits of GIFs: portability and ease of understanding. With their website interface and integration with social networks, GIPHY made it easy to simply drag and drop GIFs into your messages. And while GIFs can convey complex emotional ideas, it doesnâ€™t take a lot to convince people of their value. â€œItâ€™s a very instantaneous thingâ€Šâ€”â€Šthey just get it.â€
GIPHYâ€™s Head of Engineering, NickÂ Hasty
Integrating with Slack was a challenging case for GIPHY. Nick credits Nam Nguyen, now Director of Product at GIPHY, for leading the charge towards integration. â€œWe were originally onÂ HipChat, but Nam quickly picked up the value of Slack.â€ At the time, Slack didnâ€™t even have an external developers platform. However, Nam and the GIPHY team worked with Slack to build in GIPHY functionality directly. Their symbiotic relationship has flourished since then: â€œAs they grow, we grow too,â€ Nick says. â€œTheyâ€™ve been a good test bed for us to figure out a lot of our products.â€
Why has GIPHY become so popular on Slack? Nick attributes their previous work with integrations in providing stickiness to their user baseâ€Šâ€”â€Šnow, whenever youâ€™re communicating with people online, you expect GIPHY to be there. And whether your team is using Slack for work or play, GIFs can lighten the mood.
â€œWith GIPHY, you can be very productive, but also silly andÂ absurd.â€
Nick also points out how Slackâ€™s receptiveness to integrations has helped drive both companiesâ€™ success. â€œSlack is a smart companyâ€Šâ€”â€Šby adding other parts to Slack, people can customize their Slacks into their own.â€ The product ecosystem is indeed so rich within Slack, which has differentiated them from their competitors.
â€œWe owe a lot to Slack,â€ Nick says. As a team, GIPHY uses Slack nonstop all the time, and is always experimenting with new things to do. Recently, Nick and his team have been working on additional customization by assigning different team members their own special GIFs that reflect their personalities. Although this feature hasnâ€™t been released yet, you can still play around withÂ some GIPHY Easter eggsÂ the next time youâ€™re on Slack.
What does Nick think about the growing trend of artificial intelligence into Slack integrations, and integrations on messaging platforms as a whole? â€œItâ€™s a phenomenon that happens in tech every now and thenâ€Šâ€”â€Šone idea rapidly takes hold, but after six to eight months, it dies down.â€ While Nick is unsure whether we will be living in an AI bot-driven world in the near future, he is hopeful that we will be interacting with machines in intelligent ways more and more, whether itâ€™s on Slack or elsewhere.
â€œAI and machine learning will make interactions with data better and richer toÂ us.â€
And how does this fit in with GIPHY? At least in the short run, itâ€™ll be smarter language recognition. â€œWe want to help augment and amplify information, but also package it nicely to make it easy for our users.â€ Give it a shot yourself: tryÂ â€œ#weather 10014 NYCâ€Â next time youâ€™re on Slack!