One would think
… that in today’s era of innovation and technology, advances in the field of communication would only move forward. However, it seems like instead of expanding our vocabulary, we have returned to the most basic form of communication pioneered by our ancient ancestors – the hieroglyphics.
The online world is slowly moving away from writings to the more pixeled world of what we can call today’s hieroglyphs. Nowadays, being able to navigate in the world of online communications requires the mastery of the emoji language.
It is seen as not only more convenient, but also as a more expressive way to communicate with each other.
Sending a heart shape emoji to express something that you like or love, or an angry face emoji to express your displeasure with a person or a situation has become a social norm in the online world of communication. However, a new phenomenon has been taking place recently.
Those of us who use Snapchat are already familiar with the idea of Bitmoji – avatars of yourself that you can customized by choosing everything from hairstyle to outfit. The founders of Bitmoji have created the app with the idea of making conversations between individuals more intimate and interesting. Jacob Blackstock, the CEO of Bitstrips, a company that created the Bitmoji app, believes that by inserting personalized cartoons of yourself into conversations, the concept of personal touch and identity that has been lost along the way with the growth of online communication platforms, could be restored. Blackstock told Business Insider that “Texting is making conversation more convenient than ever, but it’s also stripped away a lot of the things that make communication human”.
The Bitmoji app, which was later purchased by Snapchat has been named the fastest growing app on the U.S. market. It has consistently ranked among top 10 utility apps on the App Store.
Why has Bitmoji become so popular ?
While people still use traditional emojis on their keyboards, your personalized Bitmoji avatar follows you wherever you go and can be easily inserted into various communication platforms including Gmail, Messenger, or even Slack. The biggest hype comes from its real-time updates, which allow the users to talk about issues that are currently trending, such as the Super Bowl, Thanksgiving, or the infamous “Cash Me Outside” hit. Bitmoji uses your geographic location to make the updates – for example, you would get a different version of your avatar depending on the time of the day, your location, or the current weather.
The idea behind Genies
Bitmoji has clearly taken texting to a new level, but Sillicon Valley is not resting and is has drop on us another technical wonder that might reshape the way we interact with each other. This brings us to Genies, an app similar to Bitmoji that successfully raised $15 million to allow its users the creation of personalized avatars to represent the current news events.
According to Akash Nigam, Genies, Inc.’s CEO, the traditional news outlets had become overtaken by social media, and most of the millennial nowadays get their news from popular social sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. Nigam saw this as an opportunity to apply the model of news source into a totally new social app.
How does it work?
Step 1 – Create your Genie avatar
Once downloaded, the user’s first task is to select a personality type that would determine what kind of scenes the user would see. This is done by choosing the type of news outlet, brand, events, or buzzwords that the user is most interested in, for example, if you want to know more about tech related news, you would choose things like TechCrunch, Mashable, or Apple. While, if you are more interested in the aviation industry, you might go with FlightGlobal, United Airlines, or sustainable fuel.
After the user had chosen its avatar personality, it is time to create a similar to Bitmoji cartoon-style clone of yourself. The big difference here is that the Genies’ avatars look less cartoonish and more realistic than Bitmojis. Also, Genies provides the user with many more features to customize the avatar, including plenty of different skin tones, eye colors, nose shapes, and outfits ranging from popular brand to more generic ones.
Step 2 – Receive animated news scenes
Once your Genie avatar is ready, the app will send you up to 15 short animated videos throughout the day about the news that you have indicated to have the most interest in. All the videos will feature your Genie, for example, if you have indicated that you are interested in world politics, you might receive a video of your Genie looking at Jerusalem as Israel’s newly recognized capital. Each video will include a link to the source of the news article that will allow the user to tap on it in order to be redirected to the actual source of news online. In that way, the user will be able to read more on what is going on.
The videos might also include less serious news such as holiday reminders, or daily or local activities such as iceskating, or your city’s marathon.
Step 3 – Share with friends
The users are encouraged to share the news with their friends on other apps such as Messenger, Apple iMessage, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Another feature of the app is the ability to add another Genie into the news, such as a person from your friend list, or a celebrity. This aspect of news personalization is not only fun to share with friends, but it also increases the virality of the news message. The idea behind that is to make the news more interesting and shareable.
What about social implications?
The habit of reading a newspaper to a morning coffee is long gone now. The big majority of people have also moved away from reading the online versions of newspapers. As sad as it might sound, our knowledge about what is going on in the world today mostly comes from social media. It all started with Twitter, with revolutionized news reporting by providing us with real-time updates and hashtags making the news go viral. What came next was Facebook, which despite shining a light on the potential of providing fake news article content, has become the dominant platforms for news. And lastly, Snapchat with its feed-style news platform has become the dominant platform for celebrity and holiday news.
Is Genies then the next big thing?
Genies has a great potential to revolutionize not only the way we get news, but also the frequency with which we do it. The idea of seeing yourself being featured as a star of a news video sounds exciting, and it might make people tap on the actual news source and influence them to get fully informed more often.
The app could also help to raise awareness or influence people to do something. For example, if a user sees a video featuring its Genie donating blood, or volunteering at a local shelter, then he/she might feel some kind of an internal push to actually go out and do it.
Another way that the app might be revolutionary and might win over a big chunk of Twitter’s user base is because we are visual beings, and watching a short video resonates better and is more memorable to us than reading a short Twitter post. Therefore, Genies through its personalized storytelling has a potential to engage its audience more than any other social media site.
Despite the advantages that this entertaining way of providing news can have, at the end of the day, everyone has different opinions about specific topics, and so while designing the video content, Genies needs to be really careful not to cross the line between sensitive news information and the way they will portray it in the video, especially when it comes to political news. The editorial team at Genies will also have to pay special attention to make sure that whatever they are depicting in the news video is actually accurate, and that the parodies that they make are not offensive to anyone.
As we now, social media is able to strongly influence people’s behaviors, and having content related to topics such as party, drug, or sex featuring ones Genie bring a risk of negative influence. Therefore, in my opinion Genies should leave reporting on such kind of news, or events to others – mainly Snapchat.
Another issue that I see is with the product placement and sponsored content. There is a huge potential to monetize from these two sources, however, it will be important to make sure that the content showed to the user is preferences specific, doesn’t feel like forced advertising, and its amount is not overwhelming to the user.
In conclusion, Genies is a great app that could really help to get the younger generations interested in newsworthy events, and possibly motivate them to take an action, or a stand on a specific issue, however the way it will deliver the news must be sensitive and well-through-out in order to avoid being ignorant and getting into scandalous situations that might bring along huge repercussions. Many people seem to have faith in the success of Genies, and have poured over a lot of money. This includes a pop star Shawn Mendez. Although the potential of this avatar-based digital product is huge, I am eager to see whether it will succeed in creating a community around it, and whether it will create value in the long-run, or simply fade away as Nintendos’ Miiverse attempt at creating a social gaming community.
The free Genius app is currently available on iOS and Android.