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It’s 2013, and yet we’re still relying primarily on static images for finding videos on the web.

For all the great strides we’ve made in online video over the years — the rise of HD content, more efficient codecs, and so on — the act of browsing a web page or app to choose a video feels practically archaic. But there may be an answer inspired by the unlikeliest of mediums: animated GIFs.

Redux, maker of the popular video discovery app of the same name, last week launched Riffsy, a free iPhone and iPad app that it claims brings together the best features of animated GIFs with social sharing options. The app finds short, repeating video clips, or Riffsys, and lets you share them with your friends. It also has an online editing tool that easily creates Riffsys from online videos.

To be clear: Riffsy isn’t powered by animated GIFs; it’s just replicating the looping clips we’ve grown to love from that format. Riffsy’s clips are actually fast-loading streaming videos on the web and mobile (although they do get transcoded to animated GIFs for e-mail).

The immediate appeal of Riffsy isn’t hard to explain. It’s easy to get mesmerized with all the short clips, and the app encourages you to share the clips across iMessage, e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook.  It’s well positioned to be a go-to service for self expression with your friends.

But Riffsy’s true genius is a bit more subtle: The clips typically link back to an original video, which could be something on YouTube or a purchase page on Amazon.

By tapping into the magic of the addictive yet seemingly immature animated GIF (something that the mobile video sharing app Vine also takes advantage of), Riffsy could give content makers the best way yet to advertise their content on the web. It’s also easy to see how Riffsy’s technology could spice up video discovery for services like YouTube and Netflix (imagine a YouTube homepage alive with choice clips or a Netflix page showing off choice scenes from movie trailers).

“In our view, the biggest problem with video discovery was that the actual process of discovery was really shitty,” said David McIntosh, Redux’s president and founder, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Our solution was to let content creators take a premium piece of content and create a riff on that.”

Indeed, Riffsy’s current progress shows McIntosh has tapped into something powerful: The short clips have been viewed 20 million times in Riffsy’s first three weeks online. McIntosh says 93 percent of people using the Riffsy iPhone app are sharing videos through iMessage, while only 6 percent are sharing with Facebook.

Before launching the iPhone app last week, Riffsy was also a part of the launch campaigns for Arrested Development‘s new season on Netflix and Dexter‘s latest season on Showtime. For Arrested Development, Riffsy generated more than a million views and tens of thousands of clicks back to Netfix’s landing page for the show in the first day of its campaign. It’s easy to imagine how Riffsy can grow as more properties use it.

Using short flash videos in ads is nothing new for media companies, but Riffsy opens up the potential for fans to actually share clips, which their friends will likely pay more attention to than a typical banner ad.

McIntosh tells me that Redux will soon implement Riffsy’s technology in its video discovery apps, which are now available on more than 100 million connected devices, including Google TV and the PlayStation 3. He’s also looking to bring Riffsy to the company’s television network partners.

So if your cable network’s channel guide all of a sudden feels more alive with dynamic short clips, you’ll likely have Riffsy to thank.


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