Why We're So Comfortable Expressing Ourselves Using Bitmoji

Sometimes it's easier to send a delightful picture than a complicated string of text.

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May 29 2017, 3:00pm

In 2015, almost everyone on the internet—92 percent—used emojis. That same year, Bitstrips CEO Jacon Blackstock told Business Insider he helped create a better replacement: Bitmojis.

Bitmoji is an app for iOS and Android to create a personal emoji. You can, in your likeness, go through an entire library of scenarios ranging from doling out cash with a cat on your head to being sucked away from paradise, back to your boring desk job:

The author in Bitmoji form. Image: Anna Iovine/Motherboard

While it's unknown if users have actually replaced emojis with this, the app is nonetheless popular. This April, Bitmoji was the No. 1 most downloaded app in five markets, according to App Annie, an app analytics company. Per comScore, the app has seen a 5,000 percent growth in monthly unique visitors in the past two years. The surge was no doubt partly due to being acquired by Snap Inc., and Bitmoji integration in the Snapchat app.

There is something enticing in itself, though, about creating an alter-ego. You can customize make-up, body-shape; older users can give themselves wrinkles. Bitmoji can wear a designer outfit you yourself cannot afford.

Bitmojis convey an entire scene impossible to express with text, or with an emoji. The alter-ego may be in a scenario unexplainable even in a face-to-face talk (describing the cash and cat image above is an example). Your Bitmoji, an extension of you, can express what you may not be able to yourself.

Psychologist Linda Kaye of Edge Hill University has researched what emojis say, if anything, about our behavior. She says that emojis and Bitmojis are both used as "icons to sum up an overall feeling or thought in one icon in a way which is more holistic than a string of words."

Every Friday, the Bitmoji team unloads six "Newmoji" to add to the mix. In recent months, there has been a growing trend of existential 'mojis like these:

The author in Bitmoji form. Image: Anna Iovine/Motherboard

"Bitmojis and emojis can add an extra layer to the discourse, and on some case can portray more than just words on their own," Kaye said. "Take the sentence; 'I'm back at uni tomorrow' and then 'I'm back at uni tomorrow :) '—clearly one gives more information than the other without any changes to the written language itself."

Is it possible that Bitmoji has become so popular because they can provide more information to difficult conversations? You may more readily send a Bitmoji of flies coming out of your empty wallet than write in words, "I'm too broke right now." You may more readily send a chipper Bitmoji holding an "I hate myself" mug rather than write out a self-loathing comment.

The personalization of Bitmojis enriches the experience: it's not a generic avatar's wallet that is empty, it's yours. "[Bitmojis] represent not just emotions but an expression which is representative of the individual themselves," Kaye explained. This allows us to express both our current state and how we feel about ourselves.

"This can reveal more about the person in respect of their self identity or self image in a way which emojis can't," she said, "which makes them very interesting as communication tools."

Bitmoji has not released much data, but according to a March 2016 interview with Blackstock in Forbes, employees pay attention to it. They know how many users share happy Bitmojis and how many share angry and upset ones.

The increase in these "Bitmojis in distress," then, may be revealing to how often they are used. Every batch of Newmojis seems to have at least one distraught image in the bunch. Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz said he learned, from five years of studying Google data, that "we're all a mess." Perhaps Bitmoji animators have picked up on the same thing.

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