The GIF Economy

Are GIFs the new emoticons?

(Ellsbeth Reeve, The Atlantic)

The shorthand capacity of the GIF has aided and abetted viral meaning blitzes to such an effective degree, the Oxford University Dictionaries USA named “GIF” its 2012 word of the year. That’s not just the noun, but also the verb, “to GIF”. (Or not to GIF.) The ubiquity of GIFs across viral meme-land remains undeniable, with 2012 Gangnam Style remix riffs in abundance:

(Know Your Meme)

The Nieman Journalism Lab
has this take on the effectiveness of GIFs:

The GIF, invented by CompuServe in 1987, has many advantages over video: It requires no Flash and works in any browser on any device. It is silent, and therefore viewable in environments where sound is not available or desirable (i.e., the office). It’s incredibly shareable, as any visit to Tumblr will attest. And, perhaps most interestingly, a GIF is harder to take down than, say, a YouTube video, where one DMCA notice or the whim of the uploader can turn a video into a black void.

Like any disruptive, creative medium, the GIF is easy to spread and difficult to control. The files are small; anyone can host them without relying on third-party servers. Most importantly, a GIF is a moving story compressed to its most essential form.

GIFs traveled through London Summer Olympics analysis and euphoria:

(Ellsbeth Reeve, The Atlantic)

and the 2012 Election Cycle:

A PBS doc “Animated GIFs: The Birth of an Artform” provides another take on GIF innovation:

and Daily Dot’s Celebration of GIF’s 25 Year Anniversary timelines an overview of the medium!

Highly recommended in GIF country innovation:

Sean Godsey’s Scanned Life
Politico GIFs at GIF Hound
Jenna Wortham the Summer Olympics at The New York Times: “Digital Diary: How GIFs Became the Perfect Medium for the Olympics
Ann Friedman’s overview at the Poynter Institute: “What Journalists Need to Know About Animated GIFs–Really

….and a the launch of The Stereogranimator, an open source, DIY GIF animation tool for vintage photographs by none other than The New York Public Library. Enjoy the GIF Economy!


There are 3 comments

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  1. Peta Mni

    Great post! I didn’t know that much about GIFs before and this post taught me a lot. One thing though, people in the video pronounced it as “jif” but I’ve always heard it said with the “g” sound. Can anyone weigh on that?

  2. Sara

    I love this post! GIFs are such an important piece of social media. I love that they tell quick compressed stories. They allow readers to emotionally connect with a story through visuals and words. Also, PETA MNI, I believe it is “jif.” However, the pronunciation is a hotly debated topic.

  3. R.Stauffer

    GIFs are like the new illustrations! In fact, they’re illustrations come to life. They’re quick, compact, and thusly are able to make points (even if the point is laughter!) sufficiently. I also think GIFs are excellent for establishing a tone, or breaking up large stories that contain numerous paragraphs. I was thinking: I’ve seen GIFs via social media, of course, but I’ve yet to see news or journalistic media pick them up and make them part of everyday communication and news. Will we one day see GIFs alongside our headlines?

    Fun fact: I’ve never saved/used a GIF myself! Perhaps I’m behind the times…

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