The Internet is rife with them, but if GIFs still baffle you, here's the lowdown. Just like a .jpeg or a .doc, a GIF is a file format that acts like a digital flip-book through various images. But it's also so, so, so much more...
An endless silent loop, infinite yet finite: If there’s one thing the internet loves, it’s a good GIF. A well-used GIF can shut down a Twitter row or have the WhatsApp group in stitches. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a GIF is worth a million.
What exactly is a GIF?
The GIF (which turns 30 this year) is one of the oldest image file types of the information age and also one of the most enduring.
GIFs didn’t always move, in fact they began as a way of displaying still images such as logos. An animated GIF is essentially a digital flipbook of images cycling through a stack of images on a loop.
Despite their popularity today, they almost didn’t survive the modern internet. They were developed as a universal way of displaying images on computers with relatively slow connections, to supplement JPEG images (which were more suited to displaying photos).
GIF me a break
Animated GIFs are used to convey complex emotions in an online world of abbreviations (LOL, LMAO, ROFL). They’re also a way of demonstrating an understanding of popular culture, with a huge number being clips from TV shows.
In fact, they became so popular online in 2012, it led to ‘GIF’ being chosen as word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries USA.
And these days, you’ll often find that gifs can become memes – but don’t get confused. Memes are very different.
What’s in a name?
Although GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format there has been some controversy over the correct pronunciation of the word GIF. Is it GIF as in ‘gift’ or GIF as in ‘jif’? Literally thousands of words have been written about this controversy.
In fact the creator of the GIF, Steve Wilhite, believes it should actually be pronounced with a soft ‘g’ sound, while the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations.
Where can you find these GIFs?
Two of the best libraries are giphy and tumblr – where pretty much anything funny that happens on TV, in film, in sport or music ends up eventually. Reddit also has several excellent subreddits like r/gifs and r/reactiongifs.
So you want to have a go at making some? Good for you! Put on your helmet and head down into the GIF mines. Online tools such as makeagif and giphy’s GIF maker and the and then I was like… app are perfect for making your own GIFs. Have fun!