Rise of the GIF

If you are active on any major social media site, you have probably come across a GIF (Graphics Interchange Format). It is said by the creator to be pronounced like the peanut butter brand Jif, but a lot of people pronounce it with a hard ‘g’ like in ‘graphics’. At the end of the day, though, it comes down to preference.

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In 1987, the GIF was introduced and, because of it’s compressed format, it was the ideal image format for loading images on slow modems. However, the GIFs we are more accustomed to seeing on our Facebook feed or Twitter timeline today are a compiled group of still images thrown together to play as animation by using timed delays.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve seen modern-day GIFs rise out from places like Tumblr and end up on the bigger social media networks. Image-driven sites like Buzzfeed have also helped bring this image format into the mainstream.

From a marketing standpoint, GIFs have become a way for companies to show more than tell. For example, sport teams’ social networks will show a GIF of the latest goal – not only is a GIF more eye-catching than text, but it will provoke more interaction and it might even get people to tune into the program, if they weren’t already.

But most importantly, GIFs are becoming a key way people communicate. In an age mainly composed of digital communication, it is sometimes hard to convey the meaning behind words. So it makes sense that the use of GIFs would grow because it allows for the sender to add context. It ends up being way more convenient and efficient to simply find a GIF that represents exactly how you are feeling. Plus, what’s better than using a piece of your favorite TV shows or celebrities to get your message across in an amusing, quirky way?

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Gif-making sites like Giphy have capitalized on this phenomenon. On Giphy’s site, you can upload your own video to GIF or paste in a link from places like YouTube, Vimeo, or Vine if you cannot find the GIF you are looking for in their massive GIF library. Instagram created Boomerrang, an app that captures pictures to create a GIF-like file. The same goes for iPhone’s Live Photos feature, along with dozens of others apps popping up in the app stores.

In an interview done by TechCrunch with Adam Liebsohn, COO of Giphy, he stated, “we’re probably later in the stages of visual communication than we actually think.” Which brings up the question: By using GIFs and its counterparts are we (indirectly or not) taking a step into an era where we might communicate purely in visual forms?