[UPDATE: 10/25/2013 11:55 a.m. EST]: It appears Bitstrips surge in popularity has led to some server errors. On Friday morning, the Bitstrips app on Facebook was down with an error message reading: "We are currently performing some routine maintenance. We should be back in about an hour." Meanwhile, Bitstrips' Twitter has remained active and answering questions from fans upset the comics-making app is down. "The update is just to perform server maintenance. Apologies for the inconvenience," it wrote.
Has your Facebook resembled the Sunday funnies lately? Is your entire news feed, all of a sudden, inexplicably dominated by personalized comic strips from your friends and family?
Well, it’s all thanks to an app called Bitstrips, which launched its 1.1.7 version for iPhone, iPod and iOS users this week as well as on Google Play for Android users. And already, the free app has made its way to the No. 1 spot on the top free-apps section of the App Store and Google Play as of Thursday with more than 10 million users.
The app, which claims to be “the most customizable avatar-creation tool on the Web,” allows users to create and share comics of themselves and others with personalized messages. With more than 1,000 customizable templates and new ones added daily, users have endless opportunities to create comics about their day, their friends, pop culture or whatever is on their minds.
But when did Bitstrips, which had 3 million monthly average users as of July, become so popular?
Three months ago, Venturebeat.com called Bitstrips “the hottest startup you’ve never heard of” after it garnered 10 million users in just seven months after launching for Facebook and its educational tool, Bitstrips for Schools, in the beginning of this year.
According to Bitstrip vp of marketing Shahan Panth, the app, which they consider “the next step in the evolution of social media,” exploded very quickly, with more than 50 million unique cartoons shared as of July.
CEO Jacob Blackstock believes the app will resolve the “frustratingly flat” status of social media today, especially for its target user demographic in the 18-24 age range.
"Bitstrips is hard to categorize because it's not a game," he told the Baltimore Sun. "It's a new way to express yourself and interact with your friends. Instead of posting the same things as everyone else, you can create something that relates to your life."
The most impressive part? The Toronto company is bootstrapped, without any capital or external help, and uses virtually no advertising.
“We’ve done zero advertising, and our acquisition cost so far has been nothing,” Panth told Venturebeat. “We attribute it to striking a chord with people and providing a visual element to online communication that has been missing.”
According to Venturebeat, the next step for Bitstrips, now that it's landed on mobile devices and grown in regional markets like Mexico City and Lima, is to monetize.
“We’re exploring native ads, and we’re adding premium content and features like premium clothing,” Panth said. “We’ll also be bringing your Bitstrips character into the real world with plush toys … the next big brand is you and your friends. You are the next superhero.”
So how exactly do you create a Bitstrip? Well, we’ve been playing with it all morning at International Business Times, so we can tell you.
First, download the app to your mobile device or access the app on Facebook.
On Facebook: https://apps.facebook.com/bitstrips/
From there, you will have to create an avatar of yourself based on your appearance with customizable hair, clothes, facial features, body type and more. Then, you can sift through and choose from countless pre-made scenes and scenarios to set your avatar in.
You can also create avatars for friends who haven’t already signed up for Bitstrips, or include those who already play along in your cartoon.
After you’ve chosen the setting and characters, you can add the script by typing in your own dialogue and captions. From there, you can share your Bitstrip with friends on social media.