Bitstrips, an app for Facebook and smartphones that lets you create single-panel comics, has only recently exploded in popularity, but is already just as annoying as classically irritating apps such as Farmville, Candy Crush Saga, Vine, and Instagram, sources say.
In a market already choked with soul-numbingly annoying applications for social networks and mobile devices, such a rapid ascent into widespread frustration of others is considered remarkable.
Jacob Blackstock, chief executive and creative director for the Toronto-based Bitstrips, attempted to explain the app’s uncanny ability to irk and depress. “Right now we’re able to make a comic and the next day get to see 20,000 different versions of it online,” Mr. Blackstock told the Baltimore Sun. According to the same article/puff piece/advertisement, Blackstock’s insidious online irritant now has added 7.5 million users on Facebook since January.
This infection rate is even higher than that of even the world’s most deadly viruses, such as Ebola Zaire hemorrhagic fever. The app is available online via Facebook and also for Android and iPhone.
From being a relatively unknown app only a year ago, Bitstrips has grown at an amazing and nauseating speed. Users already vomit forth over 300,000 comics a day onto the Facebook feeds of otherwise happy loved ones and acquaintances, many of whom have no idea how annoying their online friends are until being traumatized by the app’s easy sharing functionality.
“This Facebook app lets anyone make their own one panel comic featuring themselves and a friend,” writes Comicvine blogger Mat Elfring, who inexplicably continues to use the app of his own volition. “I’m a terrible artist, but I have all these ideas for comics or weird moments in my life, which I feel that need to be expressed to the world.”
In an effort to render the products of the app even more cringe-worthy, the app itself encourages each user to create an avatar resembling his or her self, and then to use friends’ online likenesses as guest stars. That’s right: In case Facebook itself did not encourage enough indulgent self-absorption, users are now encouraged to make cartoons starring themselves. Coupled with the fact that most, if not all, users clearly have no talent for visual comedy whatsoever, nor any facility for comics as a medium, this raises Bitstrips up to a new level of exasperation most other apps can hardly match.
Even users of Facebook who do not use annoying applications are already thoroughly familiar with them thanks to the ignorant malfeasance of family and friends, but Bitstrips comics take this to a whole new level. The fact that the new app has so quickly become a daily source of vexation to so many people, who would rather have nothing to do with it, is almost unprecedented.
Regarding the already well-established plague of app requests and online harassment called Farmville, for example, We Out Here Magazine’s Shardé Marie wrote, “I still don’t understand the concept of the game. I’m still annoyed and haunted by the (Farmville) requests that blow up my Facebook notifications. I hate anybody who ever played it.”
Yet, even Ms. Marie was forced to acknowledge the predictable spread of this newer social network pest. “As soon as I saw a handful of my friends posting Bitstrips on Facebook I knew that two things were going to happen. 1) A bunch of people were going to get the app and flood my timeline with their own comics. And 2) people were going to bad-mouth the app and anyone who uses it,” she said. “And boy, did my predictions come true.”
It seems like only yesterday that members of digital networks were content to elicit friends’ eye rolling with the usual offenses. Most people were accustomed to pointlessly over-filtered Instagram pics of American Apparel victims, inexplicable food photography, unsolicited requests for tickets to unlock another Candy Crush episode, or Vine videos of the faces people made while watching episodes of a TV series you don’t watch.
But now, Bitstrips forces an experience onto social media which, previously, was mostly just a source of dread in person: The vicarious embarrassment of watching friends try to be funny and utterly fail.
Thanks to this app, such excruciatingly awkward moments—normally dealt with by trying to ignore it and move on with the conversation as quickly as possible—are now preserved permanently, with bright colors and fully customizable comic avatars.
“I was never good at drawing,” says 20-year-old Greg Klock of Bel Air, CA. “But Bitstrips allows non-artistic people like myself to dabble in something that we couldn’t before.”
Klock’s friend, 21-year-old Joel Huna, agreed; persisting in the troubling proposition that enabling constant artistic output from people who are admittedly talentless, is somehow a good thing. “It makes up for a lack of artistic ability,” Huna told the Baltimore Sun, guilelessly articulating everything horrific about the Bitstrips phenomenon in only a couple sentences. “There are so many situations — like fighting leprechauns for their pot of gold — and you can manipulate your avatar’s facial expressions and such that the possibilities are limitless.”
Even hardcore Bitstrips fans like Elfring are forced to confront the cognitive dissonance of gleefully posting comics while acknowledging the unwelcome insight into how depressingly not funny one’s friends are. Even in an online tutorial on the app’s use, the Comicvine writer felt compelled to state his complaints. “Some of your friends aren’t funny… After a few days, I found myself being used in quite a few terrible, dumb strips, most of which made no sense… You’re also going to have to deal with seeing other people’s Bitstrips that will just annoy the heck out of you.”
Yet having purposefully opted into the app, the blogger offered no thoughts for the rest of us, who would never willingly use Bitstrips, yet are forced to see the cartoons when the app’s sharing functionality posts them as regularly as pictures. Pummeling our Facebook feeds with humorless pabulum that is at best absurd and at worst offensive.
Instead, Elfring complains about the fact that the comics only allow one dialogue bubble per person, and that you can only use yourself and users you are friends with as characters, which is a bit like rearranging deckchairs on the Enola Gay.
America has a history of unfunny single panel comics going back decades. Family Circus, for example, is the most widely syndicated cartoon panel in the world, according to publisher King Features Syndicate, despite never having been funny since its debut in 1960.
Modern society still maintains a stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge that making an amusing comic is actually difficult, with similarly untalented persons trying their hand at the medium constantly, via a wide array of media. Bitstrips is only the latest manifestation of this seemingly willful state of denial, which has caused worldwide sales of compilations of the aforementioned Family Circus to sell over 13 million copies.
13 million copies of Family Circus books. Seriously.
Bitstrips, however, makes the mass production of disturbingly joyless comics available to everyone. Even only mildly annoying apps, such as Words with Friends, were only able to spread so far over so much time. Bitstrips, however, by sharing its humorless results as regular photos, victimized everyone long before it grew to corrupt so many users. This achievement is perhaps unequalled in the history of genuinely irritating apps.
According to We Out Here’s Marie, “The moral of this story is that people are sheep, apps are fun distractions, requests are annoying and talking about how annoying the app is even more annoying than the app itself. But, do what you like.”
In the end, the app is likely to fade like every other fad, but that temporary joy is eclipsed by the knowledge that some even more annoying app will soon take its place. For now, however, the astounding success of Bitstrips in already making its comics so cruelly annoying on Facebook and other networks is an unrivaled achievement.