Whether it’s an Obama mic drop, a video game glitch or a dog failing to catch a ball in slow motion, there’s no doubt that GIFs are endless fun, quite literally. But how widespread is their use and why do we love them so much?
First introduced by Compuserve in 1987, the GIF (graphic interchange format) was invented by Steve Wilhite as the perfect way to transfer images across the slow modem connections of the time. There is much debate over the acronyms pronunciation, but Wilhite himself has been said to argue that the correct way to say it is “jif”, as in “jiffy”, rather than “gif” with a hard “g”. I’ve always heard it and read it as “gif”, so won’t be deviating from this anytime soon, even though it’s ‘wrong’, sorry Steve!
Social media platforms and GIFs were always going to marry together well, but over the past few years these two internet mainstays have become closer than ever. With sites like Twitter integrating a GIF search into the tweet input field, it’s now easier than ever to find the perfect reply for when words fail you.
It’s not just the average tweeter either; big name brands are getting in on the action. NASA uses GIFs to educate people about how space works, MTV uses them to simply bask in that #FridayFeeling and Starbucks created their own set of GIFs for the Frappuccino lovers to retweet to within an inch of their lives.
Their low-res format has also wriggled its way into everyone’s favourite messaging apps, such as iMessage and Slack, rivalling the use of emojis. Similarly to Twitter they can now be searched for within the apps, and sent instantly with the aid of indexers like Giphy, a site where billions of GIFs are stored and can be searched for easily. They were recently valued at $600 million and serve over one billion GIFs a day!
Serving over one billion GIFs a day!
The recently closed down Vine application seemed like an evolution of the traditional GIF format, allowing users 6 seconds to create a video that then infinitely looped. Instagram have also created Boomerang, which allows users to record a few frames that then play back and forth in a loop. However, it seems as though none of these new applications have come close to the simplicity and effectiveness of the humble GIF.
The use of moving image on websites isn’t a new phenomenon, and with 93% of human communication being visual it makes total sense for the Internet to be saturated with them, but I’m noticing the use of moving image more and more recently. An example being after watching a YouTube video, the suggested video thumbnails now appear as GIFs flicking through key frames of the video, which is an obvious way to show the highlights of the video before committing to watching it.
I find this crossover of images and video interesting, GIFs seem take the role of the bridge between the two image mediums. Deacon Webster, founder of Walrus, makes a good point that “when there’s a GIF somewhere on your screen, it’s hard not to look at it…”
Personally I have only started really messing around with GIFs in the past year or so, using them in messages and on Twitter to try and be witty and cool. Whether I’m successful in that is up for debate, but from what I’ve seen of their use recently I would say GIFs are here for the long haul, already outliving Vine, and becoming more popular than ever! They have their practical uses for marketing and advertising, but I will always believe their true use is one of less serious intentions.