If you’ve skimmed the TODAY Show’s website recently, you may have noticed something familiar. It looks a heck of a lot like Pinterest.

In fact, Pinterest is influencing website design all over the place. Companies are favoring intensely visual, accessible design elements similar to the pins on Pinterest.

TODAY has found that a similar site concept resonates with its Pinterest users. “There’s something about the mindset of Pinterest that is similar to what [people] love about TODAY.com — and that’s discovery,” says TODAY’s digital director, Jen Brown. “Sometimes I go to Pinterest and I’m not sure what exactly I want, but I know I’m going to find something fun. That’s really how we try to program our site.”

SEE ALSO: How Pinterest Is Changing Website Design Forever
Brown explains that, similar to Pinterest, TODAY.com provides people with five minutes-worth of entertaining, interesting content that they can discuss at their happy hours or mommy groups. She says that both Pinterest and TODAY.com give users “a little moment that they can take away with them when they have a chance.”

Those “moments” also originate from the TODAY Show broadcast itself, Brown says. The show lends itself well to visual snapshots, which incidentally, work well on Pinterest. For instance, when a Rockefeller Plaza fan brought a picture of Matt Lauer as Rosie the Riveter, TODAY’s digital team recognized that the occasion would pin well to Pinterest. “You have to grab that one moment and put it out there,” says Brown.

Other content that does well on the TODAY Show Pinterest? Food, animals, travel and aspirational messages, says Brown. And we’re not talking complicated, gourmet dishes, but rather, accessible meals that anyone can tackle. That mindset has a lot to do with TODAY’s family-centric, female demographic. And while many would argue that Pinterest’s 82% female user base and the TODAY Show’s audience couldn’t be a better fit, “TODAY means different things on different platforms, so I don’t think it’s a one-to-one correlation,” says Brown. “But we try to be mindful that [the show has] a very specific audience with specific behaviors and specific interests.”

Brown suggests that users embrace a similar brand of specificity in their own Pinterest activities. She advises that pinners use the platform with targeted goals in mind — her first boards organized ideas and inspiration for redecorating her living room. “That really gave me a reason to look for various rugs that go with my weird green couch,” she says. “When you have a purpose, it becomes really fun to search and explore, and you find the people who are talking about the same things.”

How do you see Pinterest affecting the social media presences of media and entertainment organizations in the future? Let us know your thoughts about TODAY’s strategy in the comments below.

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Michael Schneider is CEO of Mobile Roadie, the leading self-service mobile app platform. With more than 16 million users, Mobile Roadie powers over 3,000 apps for some of the world’s most popular artists and brands.

You don’t need to own app development software — you just think you do.

Often a business encounters one of two scenarios: Either a company is hesitant to go with a development platform because it’s so much cheaper than building an app from scratch. (“If it’s so cheap, something must be wrong.”) They feel they need to “own” the app and source code. Or companies rely on in-house IT departments for development projects, even when they don’t need to.

When a brand new industry emerges (such as SaaS app builders), it takes time for companies to realize that, many times, it’s not cheaper. Over time, this problem will correct itself, in much the same way that WordPress, Tumblr, Square Space and others have become acceptable solutions for building a website, despite their low costs.

On the other hand, IT departments that think they can do it all can actually be dangerous for the companies that employ them. If you’re a technology company, meaning tech is your main business and not just a function within a larger organization, perhaps it does make sense to try and build in-house. But for most organizations, IT groups simply exist to serve the larger purpose of the business, likely something other than tech.

Saying no to an in-house IT department that wants to build mobile may take courage, but it may be in the organization’s best interests.

Or companies may insist: The price is right, IT agrees that it should outsource app creation, but they want to own the source code. This is equivalent to telling Microsoft that you want to use Windows, but that you need the source code to seal the deal. This often derails otherwise great use of app platforms, and causes the organization to build from scratch when, in reality, the organization does not need to own the source code.

Mobile moves at lightning speed. If you own the source code when Apple and Google come out with new versions of iOS and Android, it’s up to you to build in new features and make sure your app is up to snuff. And with new phones and software versions coming out monthly, this can be a daunting and expensive task.

In these three instances, building an app from scratch makes sense.

  1. If it’s your core business to be in the app market.
  2. If you’re trying to build a game.
  3. If your needs are truly, highly custom.

However, if your app is content-driven, there is no good reason to build something from scratch, or to own the source code. There are many impressive platforms on which to build content-based apps, with great viral sharing features, media, gamification and more — at a fraction of the cost and time it takes to build from the ground up. So, stop your IT department from trying to do it all.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, sndr

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1. Helvetica vs. Arial

Can you tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial? This game puts you to the test.

Click here to view this gallery.

We have a treat for font fans with itchy thumbs in this super selection of five fabulous iPhone games that share a typographical theme.

Can you easily identify typefaces? Can you tell Helvetica and Arial apart? Can you spot the serif in a sea of characters? These games will test you on these skills — and more. Best of all, the apps we’re highlighting are all tried, tested and free, so you can give them a go without spending a single cent.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Accessories for Typography Nuts [PICS]
Take a look through the gallery for our selections. Shout out in the comments below with any other typographical games you enjoy on your iPhone.

More About: apple, dev and design, features, fonts, Gaming, iphone, iphone apps, iPhone games, typography

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David Tucker is a principal architect at Universal Mind. As the resident Apple and Adobe expert, he works closely with Universal Mind’s clients to develop rich user experiences that leverage many of today’s exciting new development platforms. Follow David on Twitter @mindmillmedia.

Many companies have mobile apps at the top of their to-do lists, but while churning out a quick app is fairly straightforward, developing a strategic application or digital “solution” is considerably more complex. Smart planning is essential.

Here are 10 things to consider before developing your app.


1. Agree on goals for the program.


When developing a digital solution strategy, first examine your organization’s goals for the program. Are you looking to be seen as innovator, or fend off competition by showing progress in the space? Simply showing initial momentum and previewing the future roadmap can often place you ahead of the competition. Should your digital solutions help build customer loyalty and enable greater customer self-service, or is your highest priority to create new revenue streams? Once you’ve agreed on the goals, prioritize them so you’ll know where to start.


2. Understand your target users.


The next step is to understand who your target users are, their goals and requirements, and the technologies they use. This process includes researching the platforms your users are most likely utilizing, then gaining an understanding of each user experience. Every device is different, and every user has multiple needs. For example, a person might typically use an online banking application to pay a bill, but he might use the bank’s mobile application to find the closest ATM.


3. Build a user testing focus group.


Spending time with your target users is the only way to ensure you really understand what they are looking for in a mobile application. As you move through the process of discovery, you can discuss ideas with this group on a daily basis. Focus groups can provide value from the far beyond the initial discovery phase.


4. Identify a minimally viable solution set.


Don’t try to tackle the whole problem at once. Instead, companies should identify a minimally viable solution and start there. In other words, release a basic but functional app as a foundation, then take advantage of the efficient upgrade paths most devices offer to provide regular updates. This enables you to enter the market more quickly and refine as needed. Plus, periodically giving your users access to new developments ensures your organization stays top-of-mind.


5. Plan for multiple releases.


With mobile applications, releasing the initial version is only the beginning. Statistics show that many users will re-engage with your application when new features are added. Spread key functionality across the first handful of releases to keep your users engaged. Be careful not to release too often, lest users feel bombarded. In many cases, a 2-3 month window between major releases will keep your users engaged over a longer period of time.


6. Balance your users and your business.


Balancing business drivers with real user needs can be difficult. In many cases, the two are at odds with one another. Therefore, arm yourself with the right information to make smart tradeoffs. Collect research such as user studies, expert opinions, and business viability and technical feasibility studies. This body of data can then be weighed to achieve the best balance between user-centric solutions and business-value gains.


7. Know what is out there.


Spend time exploring apps in each of the platforms you plan to support. Each platform offers different interface paradigms and a different collection of applications. Experimenting with the most popular applications will help you understand not only what is possible on the platform, but also the user’s expectations. If possible, use a different mobile platform device during the exploration process.


8. Bring your IT team into the discussions early.


The far greater technical challenge is tying your backend business processes to a digital solution that encompasses smartphones and kiosks, for example. The technology infrastructure for a multichannel solution goes well beyond the platform you choose for front-end development. In order to be successful, companies must consider how to architect data delivery and API management as well as security, scalability, content aggregation, device optimization, API translation, etc. Bring your IT team into the discussion before you get too far down the planning path.


9. Decide on a technology you can live (and grow) with.


As the mobile space matures, there will be many more application develop choices. In many cases, your goals will help determine what you choose here. For example, if your goal is to reach as many users as possible across all platforms, you may choose an HTML framework with little hardware integration. If your goal is to provide deep hardware integration for augmented reality technology, then you’ll probably develop a native application. Decisions around technology can directly affect your app’s functionality.


10. Plan to analyze.


The final step in the process is determining how to measure success. With a morass of potential features, devices, platforms and technologies, success can be challenging to define, but it will affect your ultimate strategy. Consider the following questions.

  • Will this increase our transaction volume and, therefore, revenue?
  • Will this increase customer adoption and retention?
  • Will this increase our brand recognition and loyalty?
  • Will this decrease our costs?
  • How many people do we want using our app?
  • How do we want to integrate the solution with our social media program?
  • How will we integrate with our existing analytics tools?

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, TommyL, Nikada

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Every time he drinks a cup of coffee, Dan Meyer makes a note on his phone. He does the same every time he opens a beer, turns on his TV or travels away from home. At the end of each month, he spends about three hours transferring these meticulously gathered notes into an excel spreadsheet.

Meyer isn’t obsessive compulsive, he just likes data. Like an increasing number of data geeks, he uses his personal life as a project — compiling small events into a sometimes elaborate, graphic annual report each January.

“It just speaks to the natural tendency to introspect, look inward,” Meyer says about his habit. “I do it for the same reason people journal or blog about their lives. I don’t see it different than that fundamentally.”

Dan Meyer’s 2009 personal annual report includes the number of text messages he sent, hours of TV he watched and his frequency away from home.

Not everyone who tallies his daily minutiae does it for the same reason, but most cite the same inspiration. Designer Nicholas Felton seems to have started the trend with his first personal annual report in 2005. By 2010, The New York Times had caught wind of the project. By 2011, Facebook was impressed, too. The company hired Felton to help design its new Timeline feature.

In the meantime, Felton actively helped launch imitations of his report.

“I can imagine how counting fireflies over the summer would make a poetic record of the way the summer was spent for an individual,” he writes on his blog, “but if 100 or 1,000 people are doing the same thing, does it start to tell an aggregate story that speaks more about global warming or habitat loss?”

“I believe that the Annual Reports have encouraged a desire among readers to discover similar things about themselves.”

To make it easier for others to track their data, he and co-creator Ryan Case launched an online tool called Daytum. The tool helps users collect their daily data and turn it into an infographic. People have used it to quantify their dogs’ lives, their baseball stadium attendence and even, in at least one case, the life of a couch.

“I believe that the Annual Reports have encouraged a desire among readers to discover similar things about themselves,” writes Felton, who declined to comment for this article.

In some ways, tracking your own life with such detail and then publishing it seems like an archetype of self-important broadcasting. But its practitioners agree with Felton that it is in fact an act of introspection.

“It’s just a fun way to learn more about myself through data,” says Jehiah Czebotar, who has been completing elaborate interactive annual reports since 2008.

Jehiah Czebotar sets up his computer to automatically photograph him each day.

A software engineer at Bit.ly, Czebotar incorporates data from Google, Mint and Foursquare into his personal record-keeping. Last year, he took a photo of every laundry receipt he received and set his computer at work to automatically photograph him at his desk throughout the day. The year before, he recorded every keystroke he made.

“After an entire year of pressing on keys all day long and all night long, I could have stored it all on one floppy disk,” he says. “My entire year of programming could fit on one floppy disk.”

Now there’s a way to put your work into perspective.

“I do it for the same reason people journal or blog about their lives. I don’t see it different than that fundamentally.”

Czebotar says he sometimes uses the quantified view of his life to start conversations, and turns the reports into programming challenges. Meyer, on the other hand, considers the benefits of his documentation to be solely intrinsic.

The teacher turned educational consultant (he has used personal data reports to teach statistics) has been keeping track of seemingly trivial details for six years. Sometimes he makes elaborate videos or infographics depicting the data. But several years, he has published only one graph from his mound of information.

Meyer’s 2010 annual report contains just one graph

In 2008, a graph titled “honeymoon” depicts his calls, SMS and tweets screeching to a halt at the end of July.

In 2010, another is titled “Number of Dads: 100% decline FY09 to FY10.”

In 2011, a third shows a huge increase in miles flown through the air since 2006.

“It really is just like journaling,” he says. “In the same sense that you wouldn’t go around talking about whatever you journaled. It’s inward focused, and occasionally I’ll have people take a look at it. I’ll post my annual report, and that’s kind of fun.”

“But for the most part, it’s just for me.”

More About: annual reports, data, features

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1. First Frost by Meredith Winn

A first frost is crisply captured in New England with an iPhone 3GS and processed with Camera+ and Instagram.

Click here to view this gallery.

Changes in the weather make for great photo opportunities. With the recent snowfall, we thought it would be a good time to see what kind of ice-cool snaps iPhone photographers have been capturing.

From the first frost through to adventures in sledding via some beautiful nature scenes, our selection captures many aspects of wintery weather.

SEE ALSO: iPhotography Calendar: 12 Months Captured in 12 Stunning Snapshots

Wrap up warm and take a look through our gallery of snowy scenes. Link us in the comments to any great wintery shots you’ve captured on your cameraphone.

Thumbnail image courtesy of John de Guzmán

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The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles — it delivers smart mobility services. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

GetTaxiIf modern technology is a universal language, the world is getting schooled in innovation, especially in the public transportation sector.

The global transportation industry has become a testing ground for new payment systems, as cutting-edge technologies have been introduced to taxis, buses and trains worldwide to streamline your jaunts around town. From reserving and paying for a cab with an app to purchasing train tickets via an iPod, various countries are experimenting with new ways to reach out to travelers and make payment and transport a whole lot easier.


Get Taxi


Israel is already making an impact on the mobile payment industry with an app called Get Taxi, which coordinates cab pickups and payments. Without making a phone call, Get Taxi — which is available for Android, BlackBerryand iPhone devices — allows consumers to get a taxi at the click of a button in less than 30 seconds, as though it were an OpenTable reservation.

Once ordered, users can watch and track the reserved taxi on a smartphone’s map as it comes to pick them up — Get Taxi estimates the time of arrival and displays motion in real time. Much like airline travel, passengers can collect miles for free rides or prizes, and payment can be streamlined by saving your credit card information in the app.

The app has been hailed by Time Out Tel Aviv as app of the year, and the host of popular show Big Brother, Israel Assi Azar, tweeted on Friday that after several failed attempts to hail a taxi, he ordered one through the app that showed up just minutes later.

“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of downloads since the app launched, and the news of the service has gone viral,” says Nimrod May, vice president of offline marketing and strategic partnerships for Get Taxi. “Since you get the driver’s contact information ahead of time, parents feel safe sending their kids in Get Taxi cabs, and passengers also feel less frustrated when waiting for it to arrive since they can see where exactly the taxi is headed from.”

Get Taxi’s innovative concept also benefits the driver, bypassing the need for a dispatcher and welcoming cash, credit cards and business accounts for payment. Drivers are also assigned pick-ups close to their last drop location, so they don’t have to waste time or gas getting to their next location. A five-inch device — which is free for drivers and resembles a GPS system — can be installed in taxis to keep track of the latest reservation requests.

“A main component of the success is that the app is simple, it allows users to get full control over something they didn’t have control over before, and that the experience is optimized and seamless,” May says. “We couldn’t be happier with the results so far.”

Founded in 2010, Get Taxi seeks to reinvent the taxi market in Europe, which is valued at about $22 billion, according to the company. In addition to having a presence in Israel, the app is also available in London. Get Taxi plans to roll out the app in Moscow in March and then has its sights set on Paris, Spain, South Africa and eventually the U.S.

To spread more global awareness, Get Taxi is launching a Guinness Book of World Records initiative called “It’s on the Meter,” which will follow a taxi as it travels three continents, 39 countries, 10 time zones and more than 31,000 miles. Right now, the taxi is in San Francisco and will be headed to New York before it takes a ferry to Europe, Russia and then Sydney, Australia.

“We have already tremendously and positively disrupted an industry that wasn’t being tapped with cutting-edge technology,” May tells Mashable. “We think in the next five years that businesses will either have to keep up with the innovation or cease to exist.”


VeriFone Payment Terminals


VeriFone

In addition to being an early adopter to the GetTaxi app, London is no stranger to being at the forefront of other emerging technologies. In fact, taxi drivers in London were incentivized last year with nearly $5,000 to trade in their old models for newer vehicles that are more eco-friendly and boast state-of-the-art technology, such as back-seat TV sets and mobile payment machines powered by San Jose-based VeriFone that let you swipe or tap credit cards.

VeriFone is one of the most innovative mobile payment providers currently testing the waters with new technologies worldwide. Beyond its experimentation in London, the company recently deployed validator technology on bus systems in Turkey, allowing travelers to tap a pre-paid contractless card, issued by the country’s transportation authority to make jumping on board buses easier and more efficient. VeriFone is also using GPS-tracking on buses, so people waiting at a bus stop know in real-time how soon a bus will arrive.

“The buses in Turkey are equipped with GPS tracking and are constantly reporting their location to Verifone’s system in the cloud,” says VeriFone’s senior vice president of marketing, Paul Rasori. “VeriFone then sends messaging to signage at various bus stops to inform travelers that their ride is only four minutes or so away.”


High-Tech Subway Payment


Taxis and buses aren’t the only modes of transportation getting a taste of new tech. Austrian railway WESTbahn recently rolled out new payment technology onboard its trains with the help of the Apple products and mobile technology provided by VeriFone.

“There is a general trend in mobility with companies taking advantage of consumer mobile devices, such as iPhones, iPads and iPods,” Rasori says. “Customer service representatives on WESTbahn trains carry iPods that fit into a cradle to enable easy payments. It takes the customer service windows away, and it also allows people with near field communication-enabled (NFC) mobile phones to tap their devices to make a payment.”

Wireless carrier China Telecom Beijing Limited Company is also testing a new way to pay for its bus and subway systems with its “e-Surfing Traffic Card” program. The service incorporates a radio frequency user identifier module (UIM) card that integrates with China Telecom’s 3G mobile network and Beijing’s transport cards. To pay for a ride, users just need to swipe their mobile phones at designated spots. It can also be used to pay for products at participating merchants.

“Mobile payments technology has made advancements in the past few years across the globe, and it’s only expected to grow,” Rasori says. “What’s happening overseas will eventually come to the U.S. and in some cases, it’s already started.”

Rasori notes that just five years ago, New York City taxi cabs were cash only. Now with the incorporation of credit card systems attached to TV systems, 60% of fares are now electronic, and there could be more innovation on the way.

“In the future, you will even be able to buy lottery tickets from the back seat of a taxi,” Rasori says. “The capability exists and so does consumer interest, so it’s only a matter of time before we see more innovative technology in the public transportation industry.”


Series Supported by BMW i


 

The Global Innovation Series is supported by BMW i, a new concept dedicated to providing mobility solutions for the urban environment. It delivers more than purpose-built electric vehicles; it delivers smart mobility services within and beyond the car. Visit bmw-i.com or follow @BMWi on Twitter.

Are you an innovative entrepreneur? Submit your pitch to BMW i Ventures, a mobility and tech venture capital company.

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Since the days of Google Buzz, the +1 button has been a mystery to users and content producers alike. It’s different from Facebook’s “Like” button, in that it doesn’t directly share content to a user’s social stream. But the cultivation of a social graph has long been the goal of Google, and its connection to search was likely inevitable.

Google defines the +1 as a feature to help people discover and share relevant content from the people they already know and trust. Users can +1 different types of content, including Google search results, websites, and advertisements. Once users +1 a piece of content, it can be seen on the +1 tab in their Google+ profile, in Google search results, and on websites with a +1 button.

The plot thickened last month when Google launched Search plus Your World. Jack Menzel, director of product management for Google Search, explained that now Google+ users would be able to “search across information that is private and only shared to you, not just the public web.” According to Ian Lurie from the blog Conversation Marketing, in Search plus Your World, search results that received a lot of +1s tend to show up higher in results.

Google has come out and described the purpose of a +1, but hasn’t necessarily explained the direct effect a +1 has on search ranking. Here’s a breakdown of what we currently know.


Does a +1 Affect my Site’s Performance in Social Search?


The +1 has an indirect effect on your site’s search rank. This does not mean the more +1’s a link has, the higher rank it achieves in traditional search results. Take this scenario:

When a Google+ user +1’s a piece of content, he gives it his “stamp of approval.” Then, say one of his connections from Google+ searches for the same or related topic. Because of Search plus Your World, his friend is more likely to click on the same link the original user +1’d (when a signed-in user searches, his Google results may include snippets annotated with the names of connections who have +1′d the content). This is because content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers, according to Google.

This is also true for users who are not signed in to their Google account when they search. When a user searches for the same phrase, the results might display the total number of +1’s a link has received, which is another validation that it’s a relevant link.


How Does This Relate to SEO?


Since the +1′d link has a chance at a higher Click-Through-Rate (CTR), there is a greater potential the link will be shared, whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or any social network. An experiment by Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, tested the relationship between Twitter and Facebook shares and search results in Google. He found a positive correlation between the number of retweets and shares a link received and its search ranking. This means, the more the link was passed around on Twitter and Facebook, the higher the search rank of the page. This in turn led to better SEO.


What’s the Take-Away?


A Google +1 can indirectly lead to a better page rank. A greater number of +1’s increases a link’s potential for a high CTR, which could lead to increased social sharing, and in turn can increase its Google search rank. What’s important to note here is the correlation, not causation, between +1′s, other social shares, and search rank.

The bottom line is, the SEO effects of a +1 are very indirect, which means traditional SEO practices should not be ignored. SEO methods such as link building, relevant keywords, and URL structure have a more significant impact on page ranking.

The Google +1 feature is still in its infancy of course, and more data needs to be gathered to draw a statistical correlation to search. As Google said, “For +1′s, as with any new ranking signal, we are starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality.”

SEO experts, such as Erin Everhart from 352 Media Group, have a positive outlook on the future of social search. She says, “I don’t think we live in a world, nor will we ever live in a world, where any social cue doesn’t have influence over SEO.”

Are you seeing the effects of Google +1 on your SEO? Will the +1 eventually have a direct effect on search rank? Share your experiences in the comments.

More About: features, Google, Google +1, Google +1 Button, plus one, SEO, Social Media, trending

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1. Dunken K Bliths

As the current king of the animated G+ profile with his role as resident artist at profile pimping company
JustBusiness, Dunken’s own profile doesn’t disappoint.

Click here to view this gallery.

We’ve seen some great Google+ profile hacks, but there’s a new breed of design in town — the animated Google+ profile.

Pioneered by Dunken K Bliths, whose creations dominate our gallery, the animations create a real splash when you first land on someone’s Google+ profile page.

SEE ALSO: Trick Out Your Pinterest Boards With This Simple Hack

Take a look through our gallery of awesome animations. Link us in the comments to any other good ones you’ve seen on the social service.

More About: features, gallery, Google, photography

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1. GifBoom




The free app we’re using is “GifBoom: Animated GIF Camera” from TapMojo.

It is available for both the iPhone and Android phones.

Click here to view this gallery.

Did you know you can whip up tasty animated GIFs on your iPhone or Android handset, in seconds, free? We’ve found a superb app that will help you animate photographs and GIF-icize video.

Whether you want to join in with a popular meme, give a social avatar a bit of motion enhancement or just create something that will make your friends laugh, we have a super-simple way to do it.

SEE ALSO: 10 Hilarious Animated GIFs that Took the Web by Storm

Take a look through the gallery for our easy-peasy walkthrough. Just remember to use your newly-found, GIF-making superpowers wisely!

More About: android, Android apps, apple, features, iphone, iphone apps, iphotography, photo editing, photography, trending

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