The GIF and Its History Explained

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  • 24 Mar, 2022  |
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1 The GIF and Its History Explained

Understanding The GIF and Its History

For those of you that aren’t sure what a GIF is, it is essentially a moving image. It is a lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images. GIF’s are an extremely popular subculture of digital media that has its own apps, programmes and forms of communicating. The GIF is officially around 30 years old, and living its best life on the internet.

Where Did GIFs Come From?

30 years ago, on June 15, 1987, the most beloved image file extension on the internet was released. It was created by a team of CompuServe developers, their intention was to find a way to make a file smaller without losing too much of the original data. Their solution to this problem, was the GIF, a simple, adaptable file format for lower-resolution pictures.

The first introduction the public world and the internet ever had to a GIF, was the website Under Construction sign. That Under Construction sign was loaded to a web page when the website was not ready and hadn’t been officially launched yet. It was the two words “Under Construction” with animated flames rising up through the wording, and those flames moved.

For web builders in the 90’s, GIFS were vital to site building and site production. Web designers would use GIF’s almost always. Coders were using the single-pixel transparent spacer GIFs to act as the buffer between the code and their web design.

Even from its earliest days, GIFs were not confined to static images.

David Hayes, the head of creative strategy for Tumblr, recently pointed out how integrated GIF’s are in our digital culture. Not only were they used for the Under Construction sign, but also for the spinning globe that you saw in the early Mozilla browser too. On a daily basis, Tumblr sees more than 23 million GIF-based posts.

One of the places that GIF’s were used a lot and could be found in their millions was on the personal website hosting platforms, such a GeoCities. GeoCities was launched in 1994 and quickly become one of the most used and well known website builders.

It was a free platform for anyone to build a personalised website on. GeoCities was bought out by Yahoo in 1999 for over $3.5B. And just like that, GeoCities was a thing of the past, but they left behind the legacy of the part they played in bringing the almighty GIF back to life and into the digital age.

GIFs: Never Say Die

With the rise of video in the digital world and social media, one would think that the GIF may have died a silent death. Why choose a silent moving picture when you can download a mobile pokies app or upload an entire video with sound and all the bells and whistles?

But there is something special about a GIF. It offers a form of communication and creativity that many other expressive platforms do not. It’s a way of saying what you’re really feeling and thinking without actually having to say it. GIFs are also a way to bring humour and light to what is going on in the world, and pretty much anything that has gone viral. GIF’s are a culture of their own and will very likely be around for decades to come.

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