Over on NPR’s All Tech Considered blog, Nishat Kurwa discusses the recent success of Bitstrips, an app that allows users to make cartoon avatars of themselves and their friends and then insert those characters into their own comic strips.
In the beginning, there were just the characters and the backgrounds, but what’s interesting about this story is that Bitstrips didn’t really take off until the creators started meeting users halfway. After all, creating something from nothing—or just an avatar and a background—is hard. It’s much easier to complete something someone has already started, so the Bitstrips folks started generating cartoon scenes that users could insert themselves and their friends into; they are also invited to write their own captions.
That, plus the release of a Facebook app, has caused Bitstrips to go viral, with over 8 million active users, including Kurwa herself.
With the templates and the Facebook app, Bitstrips seems to have hit a sort of social-media sweet spot. The templates allow users to create something new, with minimal effort, that is still completely personalized. Even better, it allows them to include their friends and makes it easy for them to link up via Facebook. The result is a sort of visual version of the joke hashtags that make the rounds on Twitter, such as #HalfBakedMovieTitles, that allow a group of people to riff on something and then pass it along to their friends.
The trick with social media is always figuring out how to make money from it. Bitstrips caught on early (2008) with teachers, who use it in the classroom to allow students to make their own comic strips, and a good bit of the company’s income comes from educational licenses. The shared comics also include a few ads, and it looks like the creators are looking for investors to help the company move on to the next level.