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Evolution Of The Beloved GIFs

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

CompuServe developers developed GIFs in 1987, they had no idea that their hack to compress images will become an internet phenomenon.

Initially, GIFs were a flexible file format that compresses low-resolution images with minimal data loss.

Now it is a part of internet culture and the language of the youth looking to express themselves better via texts.

It is funny how so many new ways have become popular since the conception of GIFs but GIFs are still popular.

It doesn't even fail to attract the younger generation in spite of being 33 years old. GIFs grew up with millennials and continues to evolve with the younger generation.

The Ghost Of GIFs Past

The 90's

People keep saying that bring the 90's back those were the good old days. But when it comes to the internet we are better off.

Flashy designs, websites with loud wallpapers, and unreadable fonts ruled the 90's internet. The website under construction signs of the '90s and other little animated icons was how an average user of the internet got introduced to the GIFs.

Netscape, an early web browser that was popular in 1994-1995, was quite critical in the journey of GIFs. It was the first browser to introduce interactive images. Its 2.0 version, released in 1995 supported the GIF format making use of GIFs easy and accessible.

Another reason why the use of GIFs took off was that these files took up teeny-tiny space on your hard drive. And also required minuscule bandwidth to download.

Then came the early viral images like the "Dancing Baby". They laid the path leading for the future GIF explosion.

The “Baby Cha-Cha,” which began its life as a video in 1996 didn't go viral until its GIF came out a year later.

These GIFs became popular as they informed people that this format was small, fun, and easy to share.

The 2000's

With the evolution of technology, the craze for meme's saw a decline during the start of the millennia.

But the meme fans didn't let their favourite format slip away. As Flash animation, JavaScript, and other sophisticated tools for transmitting video and images online became popular GIFs lost their usefulness.

Although GIFs remained a useful way to send memes and replicate Flash-based animation, it was not the king like it used to be.

Then came the early social media platforms. MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube were all introduced between 2003 to 2005. Flash, not being liked for its long loading time and the bulky frame was replaced with more efficient platforms.

With the appearance of smartphones in 2005 the need for more portable and lightweight web design and image handling emerged. This led to a shift from “Web 2.0” to responsive cross-platform design.

Meanwhile, by 2004, GIFs entered the public domain as the existing patents on its licensing expired. Now there were fewer legal restrictions on the use of GIFs. The increasing number of smartphones users demanded a lightweight substitute for Flash animation. So GIFs made a comeback.

GIF editing also became much easier and advanced as the accessibility of software like Photoshop came into the picture.

With the increasing accessibility of mobile internet, it became easier to share GIFs. GIF was present to capture the whole rise of meme culture and played a significant role in making those memes viral.

Remember the “Leave Britney Alone” meme of 2007. This was followed by a whole new era of Celebrity GIFs taken from famous movies, live shows, or interviews.

The second wave of social media was with platforms like Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr launched between 2005-2007. These platforms were critical in increasing the popularity of GIFs on social media.

Tumblr was especially crucial as it allowed users to upload GIFs in sets of up to 10 images in a single go. On Tumblr, GIF sets were frequently elaborate, and people used them to tell stories or encapsulate and circulate current news. They also worked as a reaction that could be added on "reblog".

On Reddit, arose thousands of subforums dedicated to GIFs. From the perfect reaction GIF to the perfect video moment in GIF form.

The 2010's - Entering The Present

In the 2010's Facebook became super popular and Instagram was born. All these platforms allowed people to share GIFs on broadcasting social media networks.

But one of the biggest steppingstones for GIF was the launch of the world's biggest GIF library "GIPHY". GIPHY made it possible for any app to add GIFs with ease to their library.

Luckily for GIPHY at the time of its launch chatting apps were soaring all over the world.

WhatsApp, WeChat, and Hike were seeing a rising slant as texting became popular. And thanks to GIPHY, GIFs were a part of all these platforms making them part of user conversations.

In the present time, it’s relatively easy for anyone to screengrab a video or still images as GIFS. They can even convert, edit, add text and other cool effects to the GIFs. There are hundreds if not thousands of apps that make this process easy for any user.

Current User Behaviour In Regards To GIFs

People want to connect with other people and when they can't do this online using words so they turn to Conversation Media like GIFs. Its popularity is a direct result of how relatable people find GIFs.

There are three types of things people want to convey using GIFs for expressing emotions.

  • My Face When

  • That Feeling When

  • My Reaction When

Most social media platforms support GIF searches and sharing through platforms like Giphy and Gfycat.

Another interesting thing that has come out of GIFs is the emergence of GIF artists. A unique community of creative individuals that have made strides through animation. In 2013, GIF artist and game designer Roger Von Biersborn was chosen as Tumblr's first artist. He was invited to create original art for the site.

Cinemagraph,” a popular form of Instagram art that photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie brought into life. This platform attempts to create high-level GIF photography.

GIFs Into Marketing

Seeing the viral nature of GIFs marketers looking for out of the box ideas also an opportunity in GIFs. GIFs is one of the first popular forms of Conversation Media Marketing. Can't say the exact brand that did it first but soon GIF became a marketing tool to reach the tech-savvy generations be it millennials, GenZ, or Gen Alpha.

GIFs are being used for the marketing of movies for quite some time. Netflix has seen to be using animated GIFs regularly in its email communication or marketing.

Not just Netflix, many marketers have been using GIFs for Email marketing. One of the reasons behind this can also be that embedded videos are not supported in most email clients. Embedded videos even if supported can be too large whereas GIFs are bite-sized snackable content.

Starbucks has also been using GIFs for promotion. Starbucks created 21 GIFs about its blended beverage targeting its youth-centric consumers. And the campaign, without a doubt, was a hit.

Then there are platforms like Bobble AI that lets marketers market their brands with animated GIFs and leverage Conversation Media Marketing. Bobble AI allows brands to become a part of user conversations no matter which website or social media platform they are using.

The Future Of GIFs

Technology leaves behind older technology or it improves upon it. GIFs have managed to evolve, improved upon, and make their place in users hearts.

GIFs are durable, flexible, bite-sized, and relatable these qualities made GIFs the internet’s primary purveyor of memes. The future of GIFs will depend upon how the internet evolves. But we don't see it going anywhere in foreseeable future.

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