The Staying Power of Animated GIFs

This flexible format fulfills a variety of communication purposes

The individual frames of an animated GIF.
  Eloku / Getty Images

Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) images began circulating the internet in the 1980s, and they're widespread today. GIFs are seconds-long video clips usually set in repeat mode.

For example, you may see a clip of one of your favorite comedic TV characters delivering a particularly hilarious line or exhibiting a facial expression that perfectly sums up a certain mood. Today, GIFs are used to share that humor with others or to express emotions online.

The individual frames of an animated GIF.
 

Why People Use GIFs

Still photos satisfy our desire for visual content on social media, and videos are great at conveying complex messages in a simple way. GIF files are a happy medium between the two.

They're mini-videos that usually convey just one thought. GIFs are silent, though subtitles are often added to show what the people in them are saying.

Where GIFs Are Used

GIFs can be used anywhere online, but they've been particularly popular on specific sites.

  • Tumblr: This microblogging social network allows users to post quotations, photos, videos, and links, so it's the perfect place for self-expression, including GIFs. The platform makes it easy to share, so GIFs shared by one person can easily be reblogged throughout the site.
  • Facebook: Like most social media networks, Facebook lets you share visual content like video photos and, yes, GIFs.
  • BuzzFeed: This news and entertainment site has made liberal use of GIFs to get its messages across, particularly in the entertainment area. Because the site is the source of many shared articles, it's also become the source of many shared GIFs.

GIFs and Social Media

Google has actually launched a separate GIF filter in its image search for people who want to find specific animated images related to certain keywords.

Apps like Cinemagram owe their success to the GIF trend. Not only do they give users an easy way to create their own GIFs, but they’ve also created successful social networks built entirely around the trend.

With access to so many apps like Cinemagram, GifBoom, and others, almost anyone can create a GIF in as little as a few seconds.

What Does the Future Look Like for the Animated GIF?

The GIF isn’t going anywhere. If anything, people will figure out ways to use them even more.

The trend will most likely call for more social networks to offer GIF support. Twitter, for example, makes it possible for a variety of content types to be embedded directly in tweets through, but the GIF format wasn't supported until 2014.

Websites and blogs are also looking at how the GIF can enrich the visitor experience and encourage them to share their content. Many are taking inspiration from BuzzFeed and sites from the Gawker network, which are already using GIF imagery to drive more traffic and create more interest. Some say that GIFs are the future of photojournalism. Others say they’re just dumb animations that teenagers like to make instead of doing their homework. Either way, the animated GIF is here to stay. You don’t exactly need to be on Tumblr or need to be a dedicated BuzzFeed reader to know it.