The Resurgence of Animated GIFs in Social Media

Posted on January 24, 2015 by Dan S

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Animated GIFs are everywhere these days. They’ve been around since 1987, but for years they were barely used. The animated GIF is a great tool to have at your disposal as a content creator. You can use your expertise with the format as a storytelling method to sell yourself for projects for sites and companies waving the freelance writers needed banner.

The animated GIF is a wonderful example of how something old can be repurposed into something that’s quirky, fun, and useful thanks to Social Media. Sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Pinterest all support posting and sharing animated GIFs; however, Facebook is a notable holdup in supporting the format. They’re also extremely popular on content sharing sites like Reddit and Imgur. Back in the 1990s, animated GIFs were used for simple animations on web pages and earned reputation of being tacky, annoying, and inconvenient. You might like your animated GIF logo, but when your viewership is on 56k dialup the file takes a while to load. It’s different today because we have sufficient bandwidth and great social media use cases.

Using GIFs

The return of the GIF makes sense when you look at how they are used. Animated GIFs are a fun and useful way for showing brief clips for humor, emotional, and news effects. The reaction GIF lets people to express how they feel about something with brief animation in a way emoji and plain text can’t. If something blows your mind, post an animated GIF that’s a pop-culture reference to a popular character experiencing a similar feeling. News and information sites are able to use GIFs to streamline animation examples and share small clips. For example, an animated GIF can get the point across of a time-lapse shot of a crowd.

From a technical perspective, animated GIFs function like audio-free video clips. All major browsers support animated GIFs and don’t need to load cumbersome video players to view them. While animated GIFs may use more bandwidth than identical video clips, they streamline the loading process and end up starting faster. Additionally, the lack of sound support works in the format’s favor because people viewing webpages often find unsolicited audio playback annoying. Animated GIFs are a less disruptive experience than video with social networks.

Making GIFs on YouTube

Animated GIFs have a close relationship to video content in that they are usually generated from videos. YouTube has stepped up their game and enabled a cool new sharing feature that lets you cut a five-second long animated GIFs from videos on the site. The feature isn’t enabled for all video content yet, but if it is you can activate it by selecting “Share” and choosing the “GIF” option. Youtube will display a rudimentary video editor that you can use to select the part of the video you want to cut into a GIF, which you can then share. The sheer amount of available video content on YouTube makes it easy to go from thinking “I could use that as a GIF” to making it one.

Dan S is a former news journalist turned web developer and freelance writer. He has a penchant for all things tech and believes the person using the machine is the most important element.


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