You probably still remember the text: the message that introduced you to Bitmoji. The app enables its users (mostly millennials) to create cartoon avatars that look eerily like them and then insert those avatars into a library of stickers they can send to their friends. So you probably got a message with a cartoon figure that looked a lot like your friend. Perhaps it was illustrated with a prop, such as a bubbly drink, or accompanied by a Word Art-like exclamation.
We all love the standard sets of emoji. But the Bitmoji app is different. It offers what it calls “personal emoji.” And it turns out we like sending each other our emoji likenesses. Fast Company’s Rebecca Greenfield reported in 2015, when the app was beginning to take off, that for most people the likeness is pretty surreal. That’s surprising “because making a personalized emoji using the app is such a subjective process. First, you pick a face shape, skin tone, hair color, length, type, style, jaw shape, eyebrows, a mouth, and so on. Before you know it, a cartoon version of you appears on your iPhone (or Android) screen.”
It’s no surprise the Bitmoji app has stuck around because of its customization. If you have friends who use the app, you know what the characters look like and how many stickers there are. And if you use the app yourself, you probably know how addictive it is to scroll through the options. Beyond that, there are probably plenty of things you don’t know about Bitmoji. Read on to check out a few of the most fascinating facts about the platform.
1. A comic artist created the Bitmoji app
As Fast Company’s Greenfield reported, the Bitmoji app’s creator was Jacob “Ba” Blackstock, the chief executive and creative director of parent company Bitstrips. After going to film school, Blackstock worked as a receptionist at an animation studio. “I would be sitting there and drawing comics of my friend and faxing them to his work,” he told Fast Company.
He later founded a media studio, Core Matrix, and children’s animation school, Dream Machine. Blackstock started Bitstrips in 2007. It began as a website that enabled users to create cartoons that featured characters from their lives. The rest is history.
2. Company first made money with school comic site
Another fact you probably didn’t know about the Bitmoji app we know and love today? The first revenue stream for parent company Bitstrips was a version of the comic-building site for schools. Ellis Hamburger reported for The Verge in 2013 that Bitstrips launched at SXSW 2008, catching teachers’ attention and leading them to create comics for their students.
“Seeing it used in schools gave us insight into the power of Bitstrips as a communication medium — as people communicating through their avatars,” Blackstock told The Verge. So Bitstrips For Schools became the company’s first revenue stream.
3. People wanted Bitstrips off their Facebook feeds
The Verge reported Bitstrips was addictive because “you get hooked customizing avatars for you and your friends and then sticking them in unlikely situations.” So when the platform first became a mobile app, Bitstrips inundated Facebook News Feeds.
As Blackstock told the publication, people started writing “about how to block Bitstrips from the News Feed. It was a symptom that people really loved it, and they loved it a little too much.” That bad word of mouth turned into bad PR, but it didn’t stop the company.
4. Bitstrips wanted users to be their own emoji
So how did Bitstrips make the jump from comic strips to emoji, a la the Bitmoji app we have today? Steven Tweedie reported for Business Insider in 2015 that “after emojis exploded onto the scene, Blackstock and the Bitstrips team wanted to bring the user out of the comic and into their phones as their own emoji.”
The team created the Bitmoji app as an iOS and Android keyboard to bring identity back into virtual communication, according to Business Insider. Users could import an existing Bitstrips avatar or create a new one. And they could use their avatars in their favorite messaging apps.
5. Bitmoji get more updates than traditional emoji
The set of traditional emoji your smartphone supports gets updated relatively infrequently. That’s not typically a big problem on iOS, though it does pose some problems for emoji lovers who use Android phones.
But Blackstock told Business Insider the Bitmoji app can receive weekly updates. That makes it easy for the Bitstrips team to keep the platform current. “We’ve even been able to release Bitmojis in less than 24 hours before,” Blackstock said.
6. You can use Bitmoji in other apps
People have been sending each other Bitmoji avatars in their texts and Facebook messages since the Bitmoji app launched. But in 2016, Bitmoji made its way to a platform that seems to be the favorite communication platform of millennials everywhere: Snapchat.
Snapchat acquired Bitstrips in a deal valued at about $100 million. “We fell in love with the Bitmoji team and their amazing products, and we are so excited to welcome them as a new part of the Snapchat family,” Snap announced in a blog post. You can send Bitmoji in chat or stick them to snaps.
7. Snapchat isn’t treating Bitmoji like other acquisitions
Bitstrips was far from Snapchat’s first acquisition, Kia Kokalitcheva reported for Fortune in 2016. But the deal has been “playing out differently from the others.” First, in a departure from Snapchat’s acquisition record, the Bitstrips team still is based in Toronto instead of moving to Snapchat’s office in Venice, California.
Furthermore, the Bitmoji app still is available to download. And Snapchat has no plans to discontinue it “as the company has done with most everything it has bought,” according to Fortune. That makes sense because the process of creating and customizing an avatar has remained outside of Snapchat’s app.
8. Bitmoji app enables us to represent ourselves
Ever since the Bitmoji app burst onto the scene, we’ve been obsessed. That means there have been plenty of think pieces examining our use of Bitmoji — and how that relates to our emotions and sense of self.
In a New York Times column titled, “My Bitmoji, My Better Self,” Ashley Parker wrote Bitmoji “[marries] our own sense of self with our public image, yet in a safe, quirky way that we ultimately control.” And in an article titled, “Our Bitmoji, Ourselves,” Slate’s Amanda Hess confessed, “I’m convinced that Bitmoji can help encourage emotional disclosures and accelerate bonding, and that the virtual expression of love can help encode the real thing.”
And it’s not just young users who have taken to the app. Alyssa Bereznak reported for The Ringer that the Bitmoji app “has become an avenue for baby boomers and beyond to become more connected with online society and their digital selves.”
9. Bitmoji can wear designer clothes, even if you don’t
Steven Krutz reported for The New York Times in 2016 that “even if you can’t afford designer clothes, your Bitmoji can.” The Bitmoji app had recently launched couture options.
Through partnerships with Bergdorf Goodman and W Magazine, users could outfit their Bitmoji in clothes from designers, including Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, and Diane von Furstenberg. “Women can buy a wrap dress and outfit their pixilated selves in the same one,” Krutz noted.
10. A fashion update caused a scandal
Interestingly enough, one of the most high-profile controversies to hit the Bitmoji platform can be blamed on fashion. As Hess reported for Slate, the Bitmoji app rolled out an update that promised new outfits from designer labels.
But some users found their avatars lost a few dress sizes after choosing the new clothing. In a rush to hit deadlines with its fashion partners, Bitstrips only had time to design outfits for the most popular builds in the Bitmoji app. The app automatically downsized bigger avatars, offending users who didn’t feel represented by the slimmer figures.