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A little Gif about gifs

It is hard to be on social media at the moment without coming across GIFs. But what is a GIF, how has it come to be a widely used format for amateur and professional alike? A GIF is a form of computer image that moves as an animation, because it consists of frames, like a movie with no sound.

According to Wikipedia, a GIF, or The Graphics Interchange Format  is a bitmap image format that was introduced by CompuServe in 1987and has since come into widespread usage on the World Wide Web due to its wide support and portability. [1]  GIFs became popular because it used LZW data compression,[2] which was more efficient than the run-length encoding was being used at the time. Remember the dial-up-days?

Its invention was followed by controversy, not just about how to pronounce it (soft G versus hard G), but about its patenting. Unisys patented the compression technique in 1985, and began a lengthy copyright disagreement with CompuServe, up until 1994. Unisys then announced it would allow commercial properties to licence the format for a small fee, but due to the open-source attitude of a lot of developers at the time, the GIF was boycotted in preference to the new PNG format (1996). [3]

GIFs are better suited for buttons and banners on websites, since these types of images typically do not require a lot of colours. However, most web developers prefer to use the newer PNG format, since PNGs support a broader range of colours. But neither JPEGs nor PNGs support animations. A programme by Adobe, Flash animation has been used since the 2000’s, but in 2010, Steve Jobs, officially pulled the plug on Adobe Flash. [5] In a harsh open letter, saying Apple would no longer support Flash. With mobile technology changing at a significant rate, Flash was now changing with the times, and it was to become obsolete.  So, could the re-emergence of the animated GIF be due to the decline of Flash? Or maybe, it is because of the maker, DIY culture, digital skills are no longer the sole preserve of geeks. GIFs are an exploration of images and technology. With more websites offering GIF conversions, both paid and free, GIF libraries, and even the advertisement industry using GIFs, it has become the media of choice for 2015/16. (Vines are short videos, usually 5 to 10 seconds long of compiled clips of random stuff, they seem to veer more towards the stupid, and ‘trying to be funny’ categories, as opposed to GIFs. Introduced by Twitter, Vines don’t seem to have taken off as much as animated GIFs)

Word of The Year

Oxford University Press declared GIF as word of the year in 2012. The press’s lexicographers voted it their word of the year, saying that GIFs have evolved into

“a tool with serious applications including research and journalism”.

Web culture has now wholeheartedly accepted the GIF on a number of different levels. One of the main enablers of the GIF resurrection is social media — specifically, Tumblr. [4] According to Graham Ruddick, in an article in the Guardian Newspaper,

” GIFS are the new emojis as they take smartphone chat by storm”.

But why have they become so prevalent? As more people engage in social media platforms, there is a need to add a more human element to the written text. We are visual animals, and need visual interaction and stimulation. As more people cut themselves off to the real world, and develop screen relationships, there followed a need for a more personal, expressive form of digital communication. The result is Reaction GIFS. Like emojis, they turn written text into a visual features, more instantly recognisable, and potentially cute & cuddly. Instead of saying you are angry now, you simply attach a angry GIF, or a sad GIF, etc. We are trying to make technology more human friendly, and in order to do so, we need screens with more tone and empathy.

Also our attention spans are declining, we seek instant gratification, instant access to our own and others emotions. In this culture of busyness, it is easier to post a GIF of ‘being busy, then to write about all the mundane day-to-day activities we must partake in to survive. I also think it is a reaction to the idea of being superman or superwoman. A majority of GIF taken from shows or movies, or selfie GIFS, show people up to antics, having disastrous moments, or having fun. Could it be a undercurrent of a sub-culture of defiance against the perfectionist qualities of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, one big, beautiful happy, super fit family. Because our attention span has shortened, people can consume information more seamlessly through video and visuals; they cut straight to the point. GIFS are now so ‘in’, that Facebook added support for GIS in just 2015, having previously spurned them. Twitter now offers a choice of GIF reactions to add to your tweet., (tell-tellingly not Vines!)


Education and Access

GIFs let you visually demonstrate ideas and workflows in bite-sized chunks, without resorting to slow-loading videos or series of annotated images. Everyone from kids to adults can take in information with ease, when watching and educational GIF. Below is a GIF on How Sine and Cosine Work.


Everyday more educational GIFS are being released as industry realises the potential intrinsic value of GIFS. Involving kids in the making of GIFs, is also an educational tool, what would be great to include in the digital classroom. Whether they are purely for educational purposes, or adding a bit of fun to education.

I’ve started experimenting with GIFs. They are part video, part GIF, to see if I can incorporate them into my digital toolbox. I’ve used a combination of Photoshop. Video Editing software, Filmora Wondershare and online Giff-making websites.

Map Animation from stitchlily on Vimeo.

This little video is a play on video, well dodgy sound effects and old maps, which I adore. I love the idea of the night sky coming alive. A playground of constellations. The map was downloaded from an open source site, and played with in Photoshop. Quite a laborious but fun project. I then edited it in Filmora Wondershare and added filters, music and sound effects. I saved the project as an MP4, as it is easier to upload/embed to Facebook using MP4 format. I also uploaded the photos to  different GIF making websites, to see how they worked. I found Make-A-GIF to be the easiest to use, though they do tag your project with their logo. The GIF header at the top of this post was also made using Make-A-GIF.

The potential for GIFs is enormous, and I think it will stay for at least another year or two, before, perhaps, falling before some new format. The fact it has lasted as long as it has, 29 years, proves, sometimes simplicity, and ease of use is best.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIF#cite_note-87aSpec-1
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lempel%E2%80%93Ziv%E2%80%93Welch
  3. http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/animated-gif-history/#R.fARItWnGqd
  4. http://mashable.com/2012/12/14/gifs-2012/#AIPRA.iLsaqz
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_and_Adobe_Flash_controversy

So, what do you think ?